Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mike Butler: What Maori and non-Maori think about separate seats

What do Maori and non-Maori think about separate seats and whether the Waitangi Tribunal should be abolished? Two polls four weeks ago gave a taste of current thinking – one was a poll on separate representation in Waikato and the other a Colmar Brunton survey.

A poll conducted by the Waikato District Council got a clear message, from 80.06 percent of those who voted, that the district was not ready for separate Maori seats. Of the 12,672 (30.16 per cent) electors who voted, 10,111 were against the idea, while 2517 favoured it. Results were announced on April 5.

The Waikato council conducted the poll after agreeing to establish Maori seats for next year’s local body elections in response to a push from Human Rights Commissioner Joris De Bres. The Nelson City Council also agreed to set up separate Maori constituencies, but a poll there by the Nelson Mail showed 78 percent of those who responded said no to a Maori Board.

 A week earlier, Consumerlink, a private research department of Colmar Brunton, questioned 1031 people throughout New Zealand asking:
Do you believe that Maori seats and the Maori electoral roll should be abolished - as recommended by the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System?

Do you believe that separate Maori representation on local bodies should be abolished?

Since historic Treaty of Waitangi claims can no longer be lodged, do you believe it is time to abolish the Waitangi Tribunal?

The responses showed that 70.46 percent (73.29 percent non-Maori) of those who responded yes or no believe that separate Maori representation on local bodies should be abolished, while 69.36 percent (72.41 percent non-Maori) thought that Maori seats and the Maori electoral roll should be abolished, and 67.81 percent (70.08 percent non-Maori) were in favour of abolishing the Waitangi Tribunal.

The questions were included in the Colmar Brunton online "Omnijet" poll, so respondents would have been typically browsing through their email when the survey offer appeared. A check back at news reports shows that at the time of the poll five treaty settlements were passed into law. The row over the Takapuna Navy base being used as in a treaty settlement was going on. Relativity clause top-ups for Waikator-Tainui and Ngai Tahu was reported at the beginning of the poll period.

The polls offer a sample of public opinion where data is difficult to find. The polls are relevant since the Maori electoral option, Maori electoral participation, and Maori seats in parliament and local government form part of the terms of reference of a current constitutional review into the rules that determine who exercises power and how. The review is a Maori Party initiative and is a part of the accord between that party and the National Party.

Responses to the Colmar Brunton survey questions generally split along the Maori-non Maori line, with 61.51 percent of non-Maori opposing separate Maori MPs and 60 percent of Maori supporting them, 63.7 percent of non-Maori opposing separate Maori seats on local bodies and 57.33 percent of Maori supporting them. Only 49.33 percent of Maori supported abolishing the Waitangi Tribunal now that historic claims can no longer be lodged, while 55.13 percent of non-Maori wanted to abolish the tribunal.

The ratio of Maori to non-Maori responses was 75 to 956 on the first question, and all responses were mostly from Auckland (423 out of 1031 responses).

Clear Maori support for the status quo is not at first sight surprising. But when viewed in light of recommendations of the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System, which showed that the separate vote had significantly disadvantaged Maori interests, the attitude shown in the poll result could be self-defeating. The 1986 Royal Commission noted a number of disadvantages for Maori in separate representation, arguing that they marginalised Maori concerns. The commission argued that under MMP, all parties would have to pay attention to Maori voters.

Following a referendum, parliament drafted an Electoral Reform Bill, incorporating the abolition of the Maori electorates. Both the National Party and Labour's leading reformer Geoffrey Palmer supported abolition, but Maori strongly opposed it. Eventually, the provision did not become law.

National announced in 2008 it would abolish the electorates when all historic Treaty settlements have been resolved, which it aims to complete by 2014. Prime Minister John Key shifted his position during the 2011 election campaign by saying that under his watch it would be a decision for Maori voters.

The 1986 Royal Commission imagined that MMP would bring more Maori representatives to parliament, and that has happened. In 2011 there were 23 Maori MPs in five political parties out of a 122-member house while in 1986 there were four Maori seats and at least one other Maori MP. Four separate electorates–-three in the North Island and one taking in the South Island and Stewart Island–- were established by the Maori Representation Act 1867 to bring Maori to Parliament. The four Maori electorates were intended as a temporary expedient, but within 10 years they had become a permanent feature of New Zealand’s electoral legislation.

Green MP Denise Roche criticised the Waikato poll, saying not enough resources went into educating voters. "By the council not outlining the pros and cons of the proposed changes, the whole process seems half-hearted," she said. "It doesn't strike me as a very real process and I don't think they will get a real outcome."(1)

Not all Maori support separate Maori representation. Hamilton councillor Margaret Forsyth, who strongly represents Maori in her role, 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."(2)

Sir Tipene O’Regan, who is co-chair of the current constitutional review panel, said: "The Maori electorates are the most dysfunctional single caucus we have got. Even when we had the balance of power, we did not use it." He said he feared separate Maori seats at a local government level would not work, although he said he was not strictly opposed to the idea as long as it was not deemed necessary under the treaty.(3)

Both the Waikato poll and the Colmar Brunton survey show a large number of “don’t knows” and non-participation. Voter turnout for the Waikato poll was just 30.16 percent, under the nationwide local body election voter turnout in 2010 of 40.11 percent. The Colmar Brunton survey had “don’t knows” ranging from13 percent to 21 percent.

A local body with separate Maori representation is Environment Bay of Plenty. 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.

While the data may seem expected or unexpected depending on your beliefs, if the current constitutional review has a major lurch towards separatism, or treatyism, there are always these poll results to measure the recommendations by.

1. Poll clearly renounces Maori seats, 05/04/2012,
2. Regional council votes in Maori seats but city against, NZ Herald, October 28, 2011,
3. O'Regan - Treaty principles stretched too far,


Anonymous said...

When elections were first held in New Zealand it was men only, it was also men that held a certain amount of property, since Maori land tended to be communally owned it was felt this system was unfair to Maori (men) so the separate seats were introduced. The land ownership requirement is long gone so should the racist seats.


Anonymous said...


Why do we have separate Maori seats in the first place? And is a valid argument for their retention? If not, they must be abolished.

When the Maori Representation Act was introduced in 1867, the right to vote rested on a property qualification, and was restricted to property-owning males.

It is now widely held that the Act was introduced because Maori were disenfranchised by their multiple ownership of land. This is incorrect.

Maori in possession of a freehold estate to the value of twenty-five pounds – even if “held in severalty” – were entitled to vote.

The real problem was the disputed ownership of customary Maori land which had not yet become subject to a registrable proprietary title, the proof of the then prevailing electoral requirement.

When the 1867 Act was still at the Bill stage, the view was expressed in Parliament that the Maori Land Court (established in 1865) would have resolved all these questions within five years.

The Maori Seats created by the Act were intended as an interim measure for five years only. It was hoped that after this time enough Maori would hold land under freehold title to remove the need for separate representation.

Anonymous said...

However, in 1872, the temporary provision was extended for a further five years. Before that period expired, the Maori Representation Continuance Act 1876decreed that separate representation would continue “until expressly repealed by an Act of the General Assembly.”

In effect, the 1867 Act gave Maori the manhood franchise 12 years before European males were accorded the same right. It was not until 1879 that the Qualification of Electors Act introduced European male suffrage as an alternative to the property qualification.

Universal suffrage in 1893 extended voting rights to all New Zealanders, subject only to an age qualification. Any practical reason for separate Maori seats had altogether disappeared.

Anonymous said...

However, “politics as usual” kept the Maori seats in place for more than a century past their use-by date. The bottom line: politicians liked the fact that a separate Maori constituency could be pork barrelled in return for political support.

When Parliament finally reviewed the Maori seats in 1953 along with a major re-alignment of Maori electoral boundaries, the vested interests of both Labour and National meant the issue was quietly shelved.

In the 1946 General Election, the two parties were tied for general seats. It was only Labour’s hold on the four Maori seats which enabled it to remain the government. National, for its part, feared that cutting the Maori seats would bring thousand of Labour-voting Maori flooding onto the general roll in its marginal rural electorates.

In the 1980s, the Maori seats were increasingly linked with the independence aspirations of Maori nationalists, and turned into a political hot potato. Pressure exerted by these groups meant that after the MMP electoral system was introduced in 1993, the number of Maori seats became tied to the number of New Zealanders electing to register on the Maori roll. After several well-publicised taxpayer-funded enrolment drives, these seats have increased in number from four to seven.

It is today widely believed that the Maori seats have some kind of quasi-constitutional status and should be retained as long as Maori want them. This is a bogus argument for retention.

The Treaty of Waitangi does not provide for separate Maori political representation. Nor is there any constitutional basis for its existence.

What the Treaty does provide for is that all New Zealanders, irrespective of cultural affiliation, ethnicity, religious belief, or indeed any other distinguishing characteristic, will enjoy equality in citizenship. This means the universal suffrage subject only to an age qualification that has been in place since 1893.

The Maori Party’s demand for the Maori seats to be entrenched in law with all 18 year olds of Maori descent placed automatically onto the Maori roll thus poses a serious threat to our representative democracy.

The Maori seats have got to go, as do the race-hustlers of the motley Maori Party, none of whom would stand even a remote chance of gaining election in a general seat by playing the race card.

As the poll results show, most New Zealanders of all races are roundly sick of identity politics.

Chuck Bird said...

Mike, how do the pollsters determine who is Maori or non-Maori for the purpose of the polls?

Mike Butler said...

Chuck, part of the poll includes demographic questions which includes a box to tick for ethnicity.

Nick Nikora said...

The Maori Representation Act 1867 was introduced at a time when eligible Maori voters outnumbered eligible European voters. This was done in order to prevent Maori from interferring in the process of colonialization. All eligible Maori voters had their names removed from the General Roll and placed on the newly established Maori Roll whether they wanted to be there or not.

Four Maori electorates were created and Maori were effectively marginalized from the political process of this country. The Maori seats now have real importance which many white New Zealanders see as a threat to their continuing hold on power in this country. Maori will never back down. Any attempt to dismantle the Maori seats without the say-so of the Maori electorate will be seen as an act war.

Ngamoko Nikora

Mike Butler said...

Nick Nikora says "any attempt to dismantle the Maori seats without the say-so of the Maori electorate will be seen as an act (of) war". Let's look at what the numbers tell us.

A total of 233,892 were on the Maori roll in 2011.

The 2006 Census said there were 565,329 people who identified with the Maori ethnic group and usually lived in New Zealand.

An estimated 421,708 voters of Maori descent were enrolled in the 2011 general election – 55% (233,100) were enrolled on the Maori roll and 45% (188,608) were enrolled on the general roll.

Less than half (49%) of those on the Maori roll voted.

So if only 114,219, or 49 percent, of those on the Maori roll were motivated enough to turn out for the 2011 election, 45 percent of those of Maori descent opt for the general roll, how many would be motivated enough to go to war over Maori seats being disestablished?

Note, the discrepancy between the number of self-identified Maori in 2006, and the number enrolled indicates that 143,621 are not even interested in participating.

Nick Nikora said...

'So, if only 112,219 or 49 percent, of those on the Maori roll were motivated to turn out for the 2011 election and 45 percent of those of Maori descent opt for the Maori roll. How many would be motivated enough to go to war over the Maori seats being disestablished?'

Well, Mike using your figures for 2010 55% of Maori voters are on the Maori electoral roll which indicates to me that the majority of Maori are still in favour of retaining the Maori seats. If as you are saying that Maori were unmotivated to vote at the last election, how about we allow ONLY those Maori currently on the Maori electoral roll to decide the fate of separate seats in New Zealand's parliament.

How unmotivated do you think Maori voters would be then? I think you would find that an overwhelming majority of Maori would vote for the retention of the Maori seats which you are probably well aware of. The National government has recognised that the future of the Maori seats is up to the Maori people. Thank God common sense has prevailed.

Ngamoko Nikora(Nick)

Mike Butler said...

Nick, I take it you are in favour of retaining the Maori seats. If so, why?

Nick Nikora said...

Mike, yes I am in favour of retaining the Maori seats. The reason is that they allow Maori a voice in the governance of New Zealand which is crucial not only for Maori but also New Zealand. If New Zealand is ever to emerge as a truly multicultural society then the Maori seats will play an important part.

Those who oppose the retention of the Maori seats see them as an obstacle in the furtherence of the corporatization of New Zealand by the business elite. Just as the early white settlers saw Maori voters in the 1860's.

The best advice Mike regarding this issue is to let sleeping dogs lie. The government has decided rightly to let the fate of the Maori seats rest with the Maori people, where it rightly belongs.

Nick Nikora

Mike Butler said...

Nick, you say the Maori seats allow Maori a voice in the governance of NZ.

But it would appear the Maori voice in governance is loud and clear without the Maori seats.

In the current parliament, there are 21 MPs who have self-identified as being of Maori descent. There are seven Maori seats. Therefore, Maori candidates have shown that they are more able to get into parliament via the general seats.

It is unclear how reserved seats for Maori is somehow promoting multi-cultural NZ. To follow this line of thought, surely reserved seats for Pacific Islanders, Chinese, Indians, Iraqis, Somalis etc would be required to create multi-cultural representation via the reserved-seat route?

The Royal Commission on the Electoral System pointed out in 1986 that the Maori seats could shut the Maori voice out. This occurred when Labour took all the Maori seats but lost the election.

Something similar occurred when the Maori Party took five of the seven Maori seats in 2008. I read numerous complaints from Maori roll voters who did not agree with the Maori nationalist line pushed by Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia, and to make matters worse, they could not get on to the general roll because the Christchurch earthquake cancelled the 2011 census, and census time is the only time possible to switch rolls.

There are a few issues with the Maori seats and we haven't even talked about overhang, proportionality, and tail wagging the dog.

Nick Nikora said...

Why don't we let just let Maori decide the future of the Maori seats?

Mike Butler said...

A decision on the Maori seats is a decision on the future of this country, in which everyone has a vested interest, therefore everyone deserves a vote.

Nick Nikora said...

Well, thank goodness the government has decided that the fate of the Maori seats rests with Maori. Your comment has further convinced me that powerful interest groups have much to gain with the demise of the Maori seats.

Mike Butler said...

The government didn't decide that the fate of Maori seats rests with Maori. John Key suddenly said that the fate of Maori seats rests with Maori during a debate in the last general election. Policy on the hoof, it would appear.