Towards the end of more than forty years in front line journalism I became increasingly aware of the development of an informal duality of citizenship in New Zealand, the acceptance of that duality by community leaders and the long-term potential for dis-harmony and, in 1991, I wrote a rather long essay on my observations. This is the fourth part of that essay
Maori in Central and Local Government
Maori seats in Parliament were established by Maori Representation Act 1867 and there were originally only four. Up to that time only men who held legal title to land were able to vote or stand for the New Zealand Legislative Council. In the
1860s, with a total population of about 800,000, only 3500 men were able to vote or stand for election. They included about 200 Maori men who had bought land with Crown title but, as Maori land was owned tribally or communally, the majority of Maori were not allowed to vote and few were interested until the impact of legislation on their lives became apparent.
Traditional Maori society was consensus driven and patriarchal. The strict rules of democratic debate in a western style parliament in the English language were serious impediments to Maori participation regardless of their outstanding skills in oratory, memory and altruism in their own setting.
The 1867 law gave all Maori men aged 21 years and over the right to vote. A non-Maori man could vote only if he owned, leased, or rented property of a certain value. A residential qualification to vote was introduced in 1879.
By 1967 any person could stand for a Maori seat regardless of ethnicity and the Electoral Act 1893, which gave women the vote, set the number of Maori seats on the Legislative Council on the same basis as the general seats at four by the level of the electoral population and we now(in 2022) have seven Maori seats.
Only voters who have registered on the Maori roll are eligible to vote in the Maori seats. To be on the Maori roll, a voter must be of Maori descent. Since 1975, voters of Maori descent have been able to choose whether to go on the general roll or the Maori roll.
While it can be argued that the original justification for the Maori seats no longer exists, removing them would create unnecessary disharmony but many Maori leaders now see the seats as a form of separatism and a means of confining Maori political influence to an easily manageable group.
It has been predicted by influential Maori leaders we will have more Maori MPs in general seats and on the general roll than otherwise within the next decade. Some also see the newly established Maori Party is yet another form of separate rather than inclusive political representation which will soon be abandoned by Maori voters. Others see recently-created Maori wards in local government also as a form of patronising separatism (Hon Simon Bridges et. al. pers com).
However, if the majority of ratepayers in a district want to establish a Maori ward on their district council, they should be allowed to do so without impediment. Similarly if they decide against a Maori ward one hsod ne opt be imposed but the finmal decision must be made by ratepayers, not the district council or central government.
While there will always be those who will take advantage of any opportunity to further their political agendas most Maori don’t want separate representation but tThe fate of the Maori seats in Parliament should be decided by Maoridom alone.
Contrary to recent public comment (Waikato Times April 1 2021: submission to Hamilton City Council) that the Maori “voice” in local government has not been silenced. There has never been any impediment to Maori or any other New Zealand citizen from standing for election. If Maori are under-represented in local government it is more likely due to a lack of candidates, or lack of interest than anything else.