May 18, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Garth George: Maori seats the only way to gain power

4 min read

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.

Maori have more political power now than ever. Photo / Mark Mitchell

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

4 thoughts on “Garth George: Maori seats the only way to gain power

  1. Kia ora whanau

    I’m actually curious as to how the Labour Party would’ve treated this kaupapa?

    And are whanau from Auckland likely to organise around the Rugby World Cup??

  2. Super city Bill flawed and undemocratic
    Friday, 4 September 2009, 3:03 pm
    Press Release: New Zealand Labour Party

    4 September 2009
    Media release

    Super city Bill flawed, undemocratic and without a mandate

    The Bill setting up the super city remains undemocratic and still delivers our largest city a flawed governance model, says Labour Leader Phil Goff.

    “This is deeply disappointing. Labour has consistently advocated for the reform of Auckland’s governance structures and set up the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance in order to ensure Auckland’s future as an internationally competitive, dynamic, socially inclusive city and region.

    “But much-needed progress has sadly been compromised by bad decisions, poor process – including a sham consultation process – and a lack of vision.

    “The result is an unbalanced model which centralises power in the hands of a privileged few. It is highly unlikely to achieve the Royal Commission’s goal of increasing community engagement in Auckland’s local governance,” Phil Goff says.

    “Submitters forced the Government to give local boards more significant decision-making roles. But its determination to stick to its plan to establish 20-30 boards means they will be too small to have real influence and that communities of interest such as Manukau and Waitakere will be split up and disempowered,” Labour’s Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford says.

    “Significant opposition to at large councillors also forced the Government into a back down, but by encouraging large multi-member wards it has effectively re-introduced at large councillors via the backdoor. Large wards will favour those with deep pockets.

    “The Government has done nothing to create a more balanced relationship between the new mayor and councillors, despite widespread concern by submitters that the mayor will have too much power,” Phil Twyford says.

    “Labour is also concerned that too few councillors are proposed – which will undermine their accessibility and accountability to the public. There should be 25 councillors and there should be provision for Maori seats.

    “The reform amounts to fundamental constitutional change for one third of New Zealand’s population and requires the consent of those directly affected,” Phil Goff says.

    “Yet National used urgency to rush legislation through and took from Aucklanders the right to vote on the proposals in a referendum provided for under the Local Government Act (LGA). This leaves the changes without any mandate from those who will live under and pay for the new structure.

    “This determination to ram through major change without proper public consultation has been further highlighted by its pre-empting of the select committee report-back over the past two weeks. Cabinet decisions have already been taken over the region’s boundaries without regard to local concerns and it has turned its back on submitters’ support of the Maori seats,” Phil Goff says.

    “The Government’s plan to carve off parts of Rodney and Franklin is a terrible mistake and will place the Hunua dams and some of Auckland’s most precious parks outside the city limits,” Phil Twyford says.

    “There is no protection against the privatisation of about $28 billion in assets which will transfer to the new Auckland Council.

    “This isn’t a pie in the sky prospect. Local Government Minister Rodney Hide openly advocates privatising council assets and services and is due to present a paper to Cabinet proposing significant reform of the LGA by the end of the year.

    “He wants councils reined back to the delivery of core services only. This second tier of reforms will fundamentally influence how the new Auckland council operates,” Phil Twyford says.

    “Prime Minister John Key has backed Mr Hide’s mismanaged handling of the Auckland reform process, raising questions about his own leadership. Public concern will only deepen if Mr Key lets Mr Hide run riot with the LGA.”


  3. Tukoroirangi Morgan: Maori or Pakeha candidate – who’d get your vote?

    The Government’s denial of Maori representation on the Auckland Super City Council is a stark sign of the lowly status accorded to Maori in New Zealand.

    It was clear from leaked memos and the posturing of Local Government Minister Rodney Hide that the Government would ignore the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance.

    The commission said three seats on the 20-member Auckland Super City Council should be allocated to Maori. It recommended two seats be elected by voters on the Maori roll and one be appointed by mana whenua, or iwi.

    Three seats reflect the percentage of the population that Maori make up in the country’s largest city. It’s not an extreme proposition when it is considered that not too many years ago Maori owned all the lands over which the council will soon preside.

    It would also be a relatively fair compromise for an indigenous people who can demonstrate through the Treaty of Waitangi that they are entitled to representation. The royal commission, in its recommendations, regarded Maori seats as crucial to the fulfilment of Treaty obligations.

    Three seats would ensure that the views of Maori figure in some form within the new Super City council, without giving an excessive influence on decisions which will impact on more than 1.3 million people.

    Critics of the allocation of Maori seats use the Don Brash-coined one vote for all to undermine Maori demands. Mr Hide smugly stands on a so-called principled platform in opposing Maori seats.

    It’s a platform, however, that he was prepared to hop down from briefly when threatening the Government that he would quit as Local Government Minister if the Government did not support his opposition to Maori seats.

    On television Paul Henry also supported the view that everyone had the chance to be elected to the Super City council [and] if Maori wanted representation they should do what everyone else does – stand and seek the people’s votes.

    It is a simplistic position and a convenient stance. In reality, election to the new council will be about cash and political machinery that is able to unleash a powerful campaign.

    It is big money, for example, through which the far right, middle-aged to elderly, wealthy residents of Remuera and Epsom have elevated Hide to power.

    The reality is that Maori have achieved just eight members to local government in wider Auckland in over 100 years. It is simple to smugly smile and point the finger back at Maori.

    But let me draw a parallel which demonstrates the hurdle Maori candidates must overcome. Advertising is a delightful medium to monitor where advertisers feel there is money to be made and what groups they feel best reflect the potential or existing clients they are attempting to attract or keep.

    The beauty of monitoring the positioning of advertising is that adverts are driven by economic and financial imperatives, and not by personal bias or prejudice.

    Now think of how many advertisements across the various mediums that feature Maori.

    There is social service advertising, quit smoking campaigns, labour hire adverts and family violence ads. There have been some advancements of late. Westpac now have a Maori couple occasionally appearing on their adverts and a young Maori boy learning to snowboard figures in a Toyota ad.

    However, the vast majority of those featured in advertisements, especially those attempting to promote quality, high-value, prestigious items, are dominated by white, rich, attractive people.

    I identify this anomaly not to highlight bias. I do so to highlight the reality of what is in the subconscious of most of the public. Advertisers are driven by the dollar and seek to embed perceptions.

    It is a sad reality that often leaves me pondering the long journey it will take to change deeply held views and bias within the communities we all share.

    Until the Maori brand is not lumped with the negative or controversial extremes, it will continue to struggle to receive equitable treatment.

    Ask yourself this – which name appeals more to you as a voter – Hone Peeke, or John Banks? Rawiri Paraone, or David Brown? I suspect David and John would hold more appeal.

    And if in reality both names appeared on the ballot, despite being the same person, who do you think would get the vote?

    The reality is the voting population will continue to brown, and a generation of New Zealanders who now support an environment of inclusiveness and respect for tangata whenua will ensure the Maori place at the decision-making table will be restored.

    However, the change in this country’s demography will take more than 30 years, and we are no longer prepared to wait.

    * Former MP Tukoroirangi Morgan is chairman of Waikato Tainui.

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