Sunday, February 19, 2012
Mike Butler: Abolish race relations commissioner
De Bres complained that the change would reduce the visibility of the office and also reduce its independence. But if you think separate Maori council seats are a mistake, his constitutional foray into local government is evidence that less independence would constrain commissioners to actual race relations issues. This backgrounder shows the sort of administrative damage an activist commissioner can inflict.
Last year, the now beleaguered commissioner wrote to all councils, asking them to consider the question of Maori seats in their three-yearly representation review. His campaign resulted in councils in Nelson and Waikato agreeing, last November, to establish Maori seats for next year’s local body elections.
As part of his push, he provided a copy of a 2010 Human Rights Commission report titled “Maori Representation in Local Government – The Continuing Challenge”. (2) The commission identified Maori local government representation and Maori involvement in the decisions of the new Auckland Council as being among the top 10 race relations priorities for 2010
In response, of 78 councils nationwide, 49 told De Bres that they had considered the Maori seats option last year, and two councils – Nelson City Council and Environment Waikato regional council –agreed to establish Maori seats, the Human Rights Commission reported on November 30, 2011. (3)
The Nelson decision was reported as unanimous, but Cr Ian Barker, who heads the council's governance portfolio, and who wants the council to reverse its decision, said the vote was made in his absence the day after he asked for a delay in the decision. Grey Power is circulating a petition demanding that the council conduct a poll on a separate Maori Ward seat. (4)
The Environment Waikato vote was eight-to-four in favour. The council was to notify the decision publicly, advising that a poll can be held on the issue if five per cent of electors call for it. The Hamilton City Council voted to retain the status quo for its 2013 and 2016 elections and will instead look at better ways to engage with Maori. (5)
Margaret Forsyth, who strongly represents Maori in her role as a Hamilton councillor, said she did not think Maori should be given special treatment. "All my life I have always played on an even playing field ... I have never felt that I needed to say, 'What about me, I'm Maori, I would like some special treatment here.' I have always felt you get the best people for the job with an all-out open process." (6)
Nelson and Waikato are not the first local bodies to set up separate representation; Environment Bay of Plenty regional council established three Maori seats in 2001. Details of how and why those seats were established make up much of his 2010 report since De Bres presents the Bay of Plenty set-up as a precedent for all councils.
Environment Bay of Plenty’s Maori Regional Representation Committee in 1996 proposed Maori seats, arguing for some sort of affirmative action since there were no Maori councillors at that time despite Maori constituting 28 percent of the population in the region, the De Bres report said.
A joint Maori-council working party proposed legislation to establish a Maori constituency based on the Maori roll to elect three councillors. The council
called for submissions, receiving 760 in favour and 252 against. Judge Peter Trapski, who was appointed to conduct hearings, reported in 1998 that the submissions reflected a very strong desire of Maori to proceed with the proposal. He listed arguments both for and against, the report said.
Legislation in the form of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Act 2001 prescribed a formula for calculating the number of Maori council members as Maori electoral population divided by the total electoral population times the proposed number of members of the council.
The report includes details of a private member’s bill proposed by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell seeking to enhance the provisions for Maori representation. The bill was defeated on its first reading in June 2010.
Environment Bay of Plenty Maori voter turnout in 2010 for the two candidates for the Mauao constituency was 27 percent, or 2404 votes, 32 percent or 3072 votes for the eight candidates for Okurei, and 41 percent, or 3788 votes for the three candidates for Kohi, according to details supplied by Environment Bay of Plenty.
By comparison, nationwide local body election voter turnout that year was 40.11 percent. General elections draw a bigger turnout; 73 per cent of general roll voters cast a vote last November, and only 48 percent of enrolled Maori voters turned out.
Electoral Commission figures for the Bay of Plenty in 2011 show that of an estimated eligible voter population of 53,100, a total of 47,356 were on the general roll, and 4739 were on the Maori roll in November 26, 2011. (7) A total of 9264 electors voted in the three Bay of Plenty Maori constituencies in 2010.
Environment Bay of Plenty confirmed that voting for Maori constituency members was limited to only those voters registered on the Maori roll. The council also noted that the boundary areas that make up the Bay of Plenty Regional Council constituencies not directly match general electoral boundary areas, a possible reason for the disparity between regional council and Electoral Commission Maori roll figures.
Judge Trapski predicted possible problems with separate Maori seats. He said separate seats could: Create conflict or an apartheid situation; increase the overall running cost of local government; and could sideline issues of Maori concern to only being the business of the Maori constituency councillors. (8)
A more fundamental question is that in an age when councils are more of an impediment to rather than a catalyst for progress, can a further coterie of racially allocated local body politicians enhance or inhibit effective local government? Ask any builder or developer what it is like dealing with a council.
The race relations commissioner has been part of the Human Rights Commission since 2002. The term of the current commissioner, Joris de Bres, ends in September.
1. Bid to scrap race relations office, http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/6441823/Bid-to-scrap-race-relations-office
2. “Maori Representation in Local Government – The Continuing Challenge”. http://www.hrc.co.nz/hrc_new/hrc/cms/files/documents/13-Oct-2010_11-46-09_HRC_Maori_representation.pdf
3. Nelson and Waikato agree to establish Māori seats on Council, Whitiwhiti Korero, Human Rights Commission, http://www.hrc.co.nz/newsletters/whitiwhiti-korero/english/2011/11/nelson-and-waikato-agree-to-establish-maori-seats-on-council/
4. Cr Barker on Maori ward row, Nelson Mail, November 22, 2011, http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/6011255/Cr-Barker-on-Maori-ward-row-I-told-you
5. Regional council votes in Maori seats but city against, NZ Herald, October 28, 2011, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10762152
6. Regional council votes in Maori seats but city against, NZ Herald, October 28, 2011, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10762152
7. Elections NZ, Enrolment statistics. http://www.elections.org.nz/ages/electorate_02_bay_of_plenty.html
8. Maori and local government. Dedicated seats: Challenges or opportunities. http://policyprojects.ac.nz/stuartmullin/risks-created-by-dedicated-maori-representation/
at 1:07 PM