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Tipping the scale with Māori seats is only patronising and divisive

August 29, 2020

Has the Tauranga City Council embarked on a new era of inclusiveness with the decision to establish a Māori Ward for the 2022 local government elections, or have they driven the wedge of division even deeper into an already seriously divided community?

Wellington City Council has also recently discussed the same possibility and both councils were divided by ill-informed and acrimonious argument.

It is too easy to label those who disagree, or agree, with the concept as racist but both sides to the debate have done that already. With a few notable exceptions in recent times, including the reaction to the return of wrongly taken land in Tauranga to Māori not long ago, that is an overly simplistic and unhelpful reaction to what is a much more complex issue than it may first appear.

While there is racism in all communities there is also a significant number of people on both sides of the question with strongly held opinions based on equality and the high principles of true democracy and it is simply wrong to suggest they are all racist. They are not.

During the Tauranga discussion it was claimed that there had not been an elected councillor of Māori descent in the past 28 years but there was no indication of how many unsuccessful Māori candidates there had been in that time either. There was an unsuccessful Māori candidate in the 2017 who only missed out by a few votes but that is the very nature of elections.

There appears also an assumption that non-Māori voters will not vote for Māori candidates so having dedicated Maori seats is the only way to have Māori on councils. The number of Maori in general seats in Parliament suggests there is more to the matter than simple racism. A lack of Maori candidates and a voter turn-out of little more than forty percent are more important considerations.

Much has been said of nebulous partnership between Māori and the Crown but local Government is not the Crown, neither are Pakeha nor the wider non-Māori community. The Crown is exclusively the executive wing of the government and does not even include opposition members of Parliament.

The concept of a permanent partnership between Māori and the Crown came from a misused comment by Justice Robin Cooke who said the 1987 lands case against the Crown ‘signified a partnership between Pakeha and Māori requiring each other to act towards the other reasonably and with the utmost good faith.’

He clearly meant the Crown as there was no partnership with Pakeha who are not the Crown. There is in fact nothing to substantiate the concept that an ongoing permanent partnership in the governing of the country centrally or locally was ever contemplated by either side.

The British of the time had never agreed to share sovereignty with anyone over two centuries of world-wide colonisation. Māori on the other hand simply wanted to govern their own people in their own way under their own rules leaving Pakeha to do the same.

The Māori seats in Parliament have also been cited as a precedent, but they were established to ensure Māori could vote in general elections and stand for Parliament as only men with Crown issued title to land could vote in those times, and they were exclusively Pakeha. There are now no such impediments to Māori candidates in local body or general elections.

Many Māori leaders now see the Parliamentary seats as a form of separatism and a means of confining Māori political influence to an easily manageable group. While there will always be those who will take advantage of any opportunity to further political agendas Māoridom generally does not want separate representation. That was clearly shown when the Māori Party was voted out of Parliament in the 2017 general election by Maori voters who abandoned the concept and turned their efforts to winning general seats through major parties.

All Māori people originally asked for was to be treated the same as all other New Zealanders. Until recently they never asked to be treated as special or different; only that those things which belonged to them prior to 1840 would still be in their ownership after 1840. That reasonable and lawful expectation is still is denied them in many instances today but our current electoral laws treat all people equally and that should never be altered.

Having Māori involved in local government can only bring positive outcomes but special seats would be far too divisive. The best option would be for Māoridom to put up good candidates and for all Maori residents to vote. Given the traditional low turn-out that would give an indisputable result without relying on the sycophantic paternalism of the colonial era.