The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
A Nelson Incident
People being what they are, some years ago a move was initiated to confer more political power on those of part Maori descent, giving them a special Maori ward on the Nelson City Council. In a ratepayer-initiated poll in May 2012, 79% of voters rejected this move. The result was abundantly clear – Nelson did not want such racist privilege.
And so councillors elected in 2019 were surely well aware of the wishes of those they were to represent.
But in New Zealand, racism never sleeps. At its meeting on 22 September 2020, the Nelson City Council “voted not to pursue a Maori ward”, citing “discriminatory laws” as a reason.[ii]
Well now, by just what twisted line of reasoning does the worthy Council consider that legislation is “discriminatory” - in the reported words of Mayor Rachel Reese[iii] - when it protects us against flagrant racism which would give more power to one section of the community? Moreover, she is to write to the Local Government Minister, asking for a change to the 2001 Local Electoral Act to remove this protection of what she calls, inexplicably a “discriminatory piece of legislation” which is there to thwart racist discrimination!
To all this, Ngati Rarua spokesman Shane Graham comments “All we want is a voice at the table, ... to partner with our partners”. Well, what other special interest group would not likewise want “a voice at the table”? Nice work if you can get it. And of course he trots out the fake “partnership”, now a basic article of faith to Governor-General Patsy Reddy[iv] and through all ranks of government.
Labour Party member Brian McGurk is quoted as saying ”the racists and bigots will be in full cry” if another poll were to be conducted. Racists and bigots, Brian? Surely not those people who oppose the special privilege of racist representation? Perhaps you could look in the mirror to see what a real racist looks like!
And to teenage councillor Rohan O’Neill-Stevens, the recommendation did not go far enough to condemn the “disgraceful and racist law regarding Maori wards”. Well no, Rohan, the present law is there precisely to protect us against any disgraceful and racist provision for special Maori wards. Chiming in, councillor Pete Rainey calls the absence of an elected Maori voice a “dark scar on local government”.
Well, no, worthy councillors. You appear to have forgotten the people you are there to represent and 79% of them do not want any section of the community to have any council members chosen by a racist process.
In concluding Mayor Rachel Reese claims that “the legislation is poor” and that “to say nothing ... is not representative of the partnership we have with iwi”. Such a “partnership” may be her delusion. It is not shared by 79% of those Nelson people who expressed their views. As she received less than 30% of the valid votes for mayor cast at the 2019 Council election, she may care to reflect on how limited is her support amongst the people of the city of Nelson and to temper her actions accordingly.
But the Issues Go Far Beyond Nelson
The issues which this incident raise go much beyond the prejudices of the Mayor and some members of the Nelson City Council. In fourteen polls around the country, by my count, voters have said “No” to Maori wards, in most cases by very emphatic majorities. The issue has now been raised again in New Plymouth District Council, notwithstanding 82% of voters in a poll there in 2015 saying “No” to a Maori ward.[v]
It is quite evident that most New Zealanders do not want to be defined by race, as even Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), the union representing the country’s 78 local bodies has discovered. Indeed some councils having been informed by a variety of Maori groups that “such wards would not have the support of mana whenua”.[vi]
Yet LGNZ, led by Dunedin Mayor, Dave Cull, wrote an open letter in March 2018 to the Government seeking the abolition of petition rights to demand a poll where a council has sought to establish a Maori ward. Such people hold in contempt the Treaty of Waitangi which promised equal rights to all the people of New Zealand “tangata katoa o Nu Tirani”.
There are constitutional issues here in which the public voice has a fundamental right to be heard. The existing poll right with respect to a Maori ward is a constitutional right of all New Zealanders and any attempt to remove it should properly be put to a national referendum. Again, if a Maori ward were to be established on any Council, it would be necessary to use the Maori electoral roll to determine who were enfranchised for it, another constitutional change on which we are all entitled to have a say.
New Zealanders have shown that they will vote for any good candidate. Racial origin does not count.
We may ignore these danger signs at our peril or very soon we shall find ourselves accelerating down that slippery slope which already the Government’s fake “partnership” is propelling us until the day comes when the concepts of universal and equal suffrage are but a distant memory.
[i] For several months I was a volunteer storyteller at Nelson South kindergarten and so speak from personal experience.
[ii] Tim Newman, ‘stuff’, 22 September 2020.
[vi] As noted by Muriel Newman, “Breaking Views”, 8 April 2018.
Bruce Moon is a retired computer pioneer who wrote "Real Treaty; False Treaty - The True Waitangi Story".