My instinct has always been that Maori seats in Parliament have had their day and that the allocation to Maori of specific seats on local authorities is just not on. But now, after pondering the question at length and reading all the arguments for and against, I believe that the Maori seats in Parliament should stay for as long as Maori want them, and that at least two seats on the new Auckland Super City council should be set aside for Maori.
I am persuaded that the concept of “one nation, one people”, on which the argument for abolition or non-provision of Maori seats is invariably based, is a myth. We are not one nation, one people, any more than the British are one nation, one people.
Just as the British are one nation, several people – English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh and a whole heap of others – so New Zealanders are one nation, several people – Pakeha, Maori, Pasifika, Indian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, African and so on.
It seems to me that those who espouse the “one nation, one people” concept are invariably white, and stand to the right of the political spectrum. That, in itself, is a cause for suspicion.
Their understanding of one nation, one people seems to be that all the people who make up this nation have become, or will soon become, integrated – that is just like them – so there is no need to give any other people any special consideration.
That is nonsense. Each of the multiplicity of ethnicities that make up this cosmopolitan country is different from all the others – in language, in culture, in religion, in diet, to name just a few.
Given time and tolerance – a virtue not nearly as common as we would like to believe – this hotchpotch of people will meld into an inclusive whole, but not in 1000 years will it ever be one nation, one people. Since Pakeha and Maori (so far) predominate in our racial mix, and since this is a dissertation on Maori representation in the corridors of power, let’s look at the difference between the two. Maori and Pakeha are much more different than I ever realised until after I had spent more than a year delving into Maori language, culture and spirituality. And long may those differences remain.
Socially, the differences are marked, for nowhere in Pakeha society will you find the whanau, hapu, iwi, tribe construct upon which Maori society is built.
Nor will you find among other races the innate spirituality which connects Maori with their natural environment and possessions. And, probably because most Pakeha have never bothered even to try to understand any of those things, Maori have been double-crossed, exploited and otherwise screwed ever since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
None of that, of course, is a reason to give Maori their own means of achieving meaningful representation in the nation’s power structures.
The reason we have done so, and must continue to do so, is that if we don’t Maori will never get their hands anywhere near the levers of national or local power. And that – and it’s time we admitted it – is because the bulk of the New Zealand electorate remains, either deliberately or subconsciously, racist. As Tukoroirangi Morgan pointed out on this page on Monday, Maori have achieved just eight members into local government in wider Auckland in more than 100 years.
And if separate Maori seats in Parliament had not been established in 1876, I suggest that the number of Maori MPs elected to Parliament would be about the same. If there were no Maori seats and Maori chose to stand for any party in general electorates – think Remuera, Epsom, North Shore – I doubt whether any would be elected, even in areas of dense Maori population and even if he or she was by far the most qualified and suitable candidate. Why? Hard as it is to accept, the answer is simply because he or she is brown.
It is hard to fathom why Prime Minister John Key, who has given Maori more political power than they have ever had, should talk about abolishing the Maori seats in Parliament and flatly refuse to set aside seats for Maori on the Super City council.
According to the Elections New Zealand website, “the involvement of the indigenous Maori people in New Zealand’s electoral system is one of the most remarkable stories of New Zealand’s political history.”
According to the Herald on Sunday, in an editorial last weekend criticising the Super City council Maori seats decision, “The new council could and should be a template of 21st-century local government …”
The remarkable story of Maori seats in Parliament must be allowed to continue to unfold; and if Maori are not allocated seats on the Super City council, they will have been screwed – again.
By Garth George