Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill close on Thursday 11 February 2021 at 5pm.
SUBMISSION: Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill
11 February 2021
Maori Affairs Committee
Thank you for providing the opportunity to make a submission on the Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill.
This submission on is on behalf of New Zealand Centre for Political Research, a public policy think tank established in 2005.
The NZCPR opposes the Bill and asks the Select Committee to recommend that the Bill be withdrawn on the basis that it is anti-democratic and misleads the public of New Zealand.
Our concerns are as follows.
In seeking to abolish the right of ratepayers to veto decisions by councils to establish Maori wards without a community mandate, this Bill represents an unprecedented attack on local government democracy.
Furthermore, the reasons given for the law change are totally misleading.
In her press release announcing the law change the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta claimed, “Polls have proven to be an almost insurmountable barrier to councils trying to improve the democratic representation of Maori interests. This process is fundamentally unfair to Maori. Increasing Maori representation is essential to ensuring equity in representation and to provide a Maori voice in local decision making.”
But this statement is totally misleading. According to a survey carried out by Local Government New Zealand in October 2020, the proportion of Maori elected to local authorities is now 13.5 percent. With the 2018 census showing Maori as 13.7 percent of the adult population, there is no under representation.
These figures confirm that Maori seats are not needed to increase Maori representation because Maori are quite capable of getting elected in general seats.
The Local government veto rights were introduced into law by Helen Clark’s Labour Government in 2002 as a constitutional safeguard to protect the voting system.
In any democracy the voting system is sacrosanct and needs protecting to prevent those in power from manipulating it. That’s why democratic convention requires decisions to change the electoral system to have a higher threshold than ordinary decisions.
The veto right safeguard in the Local Electoral Act takes the form of petition rights - ratepayers can challenge a council decision that changes the electoral system without a community mandate if 5 percent of voters support a petition calling for a binding referendum.
Veto rights were applied to two new provisions in the Act that changed the electoral system.
The first enabled councils to introduce STV voting. Since single transferable voting completely changes the way the voting system operates, the veto right safeguard was applied.
And the second provision requiring the veto safeguard was the introduction of Maori wards. Since only voters on the Maori electoral roll can vote for candidates standing in the Maori seats, any council that establishes Maori wards has to change the voting system to introduce the Maori roll.
To justify the abolition of petition rights, the Minister is claiming, “The current system has a different set of rules for establishing Maori and general wards and that uneven playing field needs to change. The process of establishing a ward should be the same for both Maori and general wards.”
But this is also a serious misrepresentation. Petition rights only apply when the voting system is changed. Since establishing Maori wards changes the voting system, whereas establishing general wards does not, petition rights only apply to Maori wards, not general wards.
If the Minister is sincere about making the provisions for establishing Maori wards and general wards the same, then, to protect New Zealand’s democracy, the petition right should be expanded and applied to the creation of general wards as well.
Under the Bill as it stands, tens of thousands of ratepayers in local authority areas where petitions have already been announced and signatures have been collected, will have their lawful democratic rights revoked. This is unconstitutional.
At the very least, the retrospective provisions in the law should be removed and the current legislative arrangements should stand for those local authority areas where legitimate petitions are being collected. That is the only responsible course of action.
Last year, the Prime Minister’s reminder that we are all part of the team of 5 million struck a chord. Kiwis want to be united by the things we have in common, not divided by our differences.
That’s why communities oppose Maori wards. They don’t want to be divided by race. They will vote for anyone of any ancestry who earns their respect. But they do not want to be told that because they are or are not on the Maori roll, they can or cannot vote for a particular candidate. They don’t want to be segregated by the voting system – and, most importantly, they want to retain their right to tell their council that dividing their community by race is wrong.
In conclusion, the Labour Party’s 2020 election manifesto stated, “Labour will uphold local decision making in the democratic institutions of local government… Labour will ensure that major decisions about local democracy involve full participation of the local population from the outset.”
In light of that election promise to New Zealanders, to abolish democratic rights retrospectively and under urgency, with no proper consultation amounts to a total abuse of power.
For the sake of democracy and the integrity of the law and Parliament we urge the Committee to recommend that the Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill be withdrawn.
Dr Muriel Newman
New Zealand Centre for Political Research
Dr Muriel Newman is a former Member of Parliament who now runs the public policy think tank the New Zealand Centre for Political Research at www.nzcpr.com.