Guest Opinion - Time for a decision on Maori seats
Do we retain or abolish the Maori seats? This is the question New Zealand First wants to put to New Zealanders in a binding referendum at the midpoint of our next term in government.
At the same time we want to ask, do we maintain or reduce the size of Parliament to 100 MPs?
This was announced at New Zealand First’s 2017 Convention on July 16 in Auckland. The decision is a stand for equality regardless of race, gender or background.
In recent times, the Maori seats have come under scrutiny for their usefulness in serving the lives of ordinary Maori.
In fact, the seats are contributing to Maori being side-lined on important social and economic issues.
This is because the Maori seats are a form of tokenism that prevents Maori from being taken seriously.
The plight of Maori is serious and New Zealand First will not stand by, like National and Labour have done for fear of political correctness, while Maori continue to be overrepresented in negative statistics.
Poor health and a low level of home ownership are indicators of a low standard of living, and Maori have featured disproportionately in these statistics compared with others for many years.
Maori home ownership has fallen by 38 per cent, and Maori continue to feature highly in prison populations.
Clearly the Maori seats worked once but recently the seats have not improved Maori lives.
It’s time for New Zealanders to decide whether this oddity of colonial times should stay or go.
Many Maori know the seats aren’t working for them and today the majority of the entitled Maori roll voters are nevertheless on the general roll.
When MMP was first mooted in 1986, a Royal Commission recommended the Maori seats be abolished, recognising Maori would gain many more MPs if MMP was in place, however the seats remained.
By 2014, 22 per cent of MPs identified as Maori in their background.
New Zealand First won all the Maori seats in 1996 but as part of the National coalition government we discovered there was no mood to better the lives of ordinary Maori.
We soon found also that some of our Maori MPs holding Maori sets lapsed into regarding Maori within the caucus as the A team and the rest the B team.
In 2001 New Zealand First asked all its Maori members for their view on the effectiveness of the Maori seats under MMP. We got a resounding message and from 2002 we have not stood anyone in the Maori seats, preferring to promote people regardless of their ethnic background.
Set up in 1867, the Maori seats were put in place for five years as a temporary measure to give time for a unified electoral system. That five years was extended twice, the second time never thereafter to be addressed.
The seats have now been in place for 150 years and we think it’s time for a change and a new way of thinking.