Thursday, June 10, 2021

John Robinson: Maori Wards - a corruption of democracy

The removal of a democratic right

We no longer can have a say on the manner in which our local community is governed, on voting rights for local councils. 

Until this year, separate representation by race has been allowed: Maori wards and constituencies establish areas where only those on the Maori Parliamentary electoral roll vote for the representatives. But ratepayers could insist on a binding referendum when Maori wards were proposed. These are not wanted; significant majorities are opposed to Maori wards.  Polls indicated 60% opposed in the Western Bay of Plenty, 63% opposed in Palmerston North and 63% opposed in Manawatu. When binding referenda were held in five municipalities, all opposed race-based Maori wards; those voting against were 80% of ratepayers in Kaikoua, 78% in Western Bay of Plenty, 77% in Manawatu, 69% in Palmerston North and 56.4% in Whakatane.[1]

The public have since been shut out.


In February 2021, Parliament passed a change in the law denying ratepayers the right to call for any such referendum.  The Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Amendment Bill[2] amended the Local Electoral Act 2001 by removing provisions that previously allowed binding polls in the decision to establish Maori wards or constituencies. It removed the use of binding polls in decisions about whether a local district or region should be divided into multiple Maori wards or constituencies.

The Bill noted that previous law had allowed “the decision of an elected council to introduce a Maori ward to be overturned by a local poll.  Just 5 per cent of support is needed for a poll to be demanded.”  This Government has refused to accept such direct democratic involvement, because they don’t like or accept the opinion of the puobllic.  “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.”  Never mind that removal of a democratic right, which had been clearly expressed on many occasions, is unfair to the rest of us, race-defined, citizens.

The very existence of separate race-based (remember that in New Zealand law, “a Maori is a member of the Maori race”) voting and representation is divisive and in no way justified or acceptable.

Once done, is that separate representation of equal value, and fairly derived?  The number of Maori wards is determined by multiplying the number of total members by the fraction of the Maori electoral population in the total electoral population.  I understand that those on the Maori roll would then vote in the Maori wards.  How fair that would be depends on how this particular, and important, measure of Maori, the Maori electoral population, is derived.  This requires a study of the basic features of Maori seats in Parliament.

Unequal representation: Maori seats in Parliament

Special Maori seats in Parliament were introduced in 1867 as a temporary measure, for good reason.  Maori were equal citizens but the right to vote depended on property ownership.  Since few Maori held land as individuals, few had the vote.  This (the number of seats compared with population numbers) was less unfair than it might appear at first sight, since the two peoples were living separately to a considerable extent, and Maori continued the effective management of their own places.  The number of seats was chosen to reflect the part that Maori played in the formal economy at the time.

That is well and truly in the past.  Voting has long been universal, by all adults, with no such requirement.  The Royal Commission on the Electoral System in 1985-6 gave considerable thought to the future of the Maori seats, and concluded that the seats had not helped Maori.  They would achieve better representation through a proportional party-list system.  If the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system was adopted (as it was), the Maori seats should be abolished.  This was for some time National Party policy.  But instead, the number of Maori seats was increased by a Labour government.

When it gained power, National turned away from its stated policy.  Both parties have ignored public sentiment and refused a referendum on the Maori seats.  There has even been an effort to entrench Maori seats – a provision that would make an end to separate voting rights difficult to pass; overriding an entrenched clause may require a considerable majority or a referendum, rather than the simple majority that set it up.  However, that failed, being defeated on 10 December 2019.

We might think that the number of Maori seats would be straightforward, based simply on the proportion of New Zealanders who are Maori, and who have decided to be on the Maori roll rather than the General roll, so that every vote would have equal value.  

But no.  The distribution of general seats is based on the whole population, not on registered voters.  A similar approach is followed for Maori wards.  Both require an estimate of a population to represent those on the Maori roll.  The obvious number is then to use the Census descent Maori population, but no, this has been doctored to produce a far greater Maori population, and hence a much greater representation.

The first step is to calculate a revised estimate of Maori, the ‘Maori descent electoral population’.[3]  In the 2018 census, 625,600 responded that they were Maori by ticking the Maori descent box.  This number is then adjusted to take account of possible Maori amongst those whose response for Maori descent was not ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – those who did not tick a box for ethnicity (I am one of those, who refuse to be categorised by race).  That adjustment is based on the 2013 Census, birth records or on a ‘within household donor’ imputation (find the person of closest age in the usual residence and copy their Maori descent response as long as the response is a Yes or No value).  All of that is based on the assumption that many who decided not to tick the Maori descent box were actually Maori, and should be counted as such, no matter what they chose to say when faced with a Census form.  This is nonsense.  There would be few, or none, who would fail to acknowledge Maori ancestry in the Census but at the same time have such a strong Maori identity as to wish to vote as Maori, in either a separate seat or a separate ward.

The result is a considerable increase in the Maori number.  The ‘Maori descent electoral population’ is 896,600, an increase of 43% over the Census count.  The Statistics report tells us that this is an increase from 16.4% of those who gave a response to the question of ethnicity (not the whole population) to 19.1% of the New Zealand population.  In terms of the whole population, the increase in descent Maori is from 13.3% to 19.1%.  It is not difficult to get confused in all this play with numbers.

There are 240,273 Maori on the General electoral roll and 268,407 on the Maori electoral roll (2018 numbers).  Thus, 52.8% of Maori are on the Maori electoral roll.  That is used to calculate a ‘Maori electoral population’, a population number to use to estimate the number of Maori seats. As a result, the Maori electoral population used to determine the number of Maori electorates for the 2020 and 2023 general elections is 473,077 (52.8% of the inflated ‘Maori descent electoral population’).  The number of Maori electorates is calculated by dividing the Maori electoral population (473,077) by the South Island quota (65,458) which results in 7 electorates. The number of people required for each Maori electorate (or quota) is slightly higher than the general electorates at 67,582.   

This same arithmetic can be followed through using the actual Census count of descent Maori, 625,600.  This would give five Maori seats, not seven.

I found it difficult to find the information used here, and to figure out what was going on.  My research was considerably aided by the response to an information request from H P Ross (January 20, 2020) to the Electoral Commission under the Official Information Act: “Is the number of Maori representation seats determined by the Maori population or those on the Maori Electoral Roll?”[4]  The following table is from that response.  

The conclusion of all this is clear.  From further information given in that response we learn that there are 47,022 electors for each General electorate MP, and 34,825 electors for each Maori electorate MP.  One Maori vote has 1.35 times the value of a general vote (that of the rest of us), or 35% more.

This point is important, and is worth repeating.  Some 52.8% of those who identified themselves as Maori are on the Maori electoral roll.  When applying that ratio to the population in order to calculate a population number on which the number of Maori seats will be based, the same measure, of those who identified themselves as Maori, must be used.  That is the actual Census count of descent Maori, 625,600, and there should be five Maori seats, not seven.  (This, assuming that there should be any Maori seats at all.)  The rejigging of numbers has been carried out, with the inclusion as Maori of some who gave no ethnicity only, for an addition to provide the ‘Maori descent electoral population’, but not to the electoral roll.  The process is internally inconsistent.

This inequality would carry over to Maori wards, with the use of the same inflated measure of Maori, the ‘Maori descent electoral population’.  And with the same difficulty in following what is going on.

The extraordinary power of the chosen 4% in Kapiti

We should be one people, voting together for central and local government.  There should be no place for separate Maori wards, and no acceptance of unequal value to votes, based on race.  The situation in Kapiti, where I live, is far worse.  Maori wards would give Maori separate representation, but with each Maori vote having around 35% greater value.  Then there might be 12 council places for non-Maori and two or three council places for Maori, who make up 14% of the Kapiti population – according to information provided in the recent Long Term Plan.

The Kapiti Coast District Council has decided, in negotiations with the ‘mana whenua’, to not introduce Maori wards, but to keep the current system, which is a ‘partnership’ between the two parties, council (we vote for) and mana whenua (a select few). 

This, the ‘mana whenua’, is not all Maori in the district.  It is the people of three iwi, Ngati Toa, Te Atiawa and Ngati Raukawa, who are less than 30% of the 14% who are Maori – less than 4.2% of the Kapiti population.  Here I have no idea which ‘Maori’ is referred to, those measured in the Census or the inflated measure, the ‘Maori descent electoral population’.

Currently, those of the mana whenua have a double power.  Each has a vote in selecting the mayor and councillors, equal to that of the rest of us.  In addition, this small minority of around 4% of the electorate act in partnership with council – and so have a considerably greater power than all others.  It is no wonder that these three iwi, this highly privileged 4%, prefer to stick to the status quo.

What is the basis of this privilege?  That their ancestors came in the 1820s to attack, kill and drive off the then inhabitants from their lands, before continuing to murderous raids on the South Island and fighting bloody battles among themselves in 1834 and 1839. 

This is wrong.  It is a sad day when we must consider ourselves as Maori or non-Maori, mana whenua or the other, instead of all together as citizens and as ratepayers living in Kapiti.

The above comments are from a submission I made to the Kapiti Coast District Council.  I had discovered the influence of the iwi Consultation Group, Te Whakaminenga o Kapiti when I saw that vehicles were driving across a valued Scientific Reserve, the sandspit at the Waikanae River estuary.  When I became active, I found that most people were sympathetic to my call to obey the law and protect that important environment, and it took effort to find where the pressure was coming that resulted in inaction, as the authorities were sitting back and allowing that vandalism to continue.  The clue was a comment by the Mayor in the Kapiti News: “In 2014 DoC officers attempting to enforce the bylaw at the beach during whitebaiting season faced serious objections including from local iwi members.”  Yet despite that identification of local Maori as major players in that thoughtless behaviour, he continued with an all-too-common, imagined statement of trust, that they had a special bond with the environment: “I’m confident, given the strong iwi commitment as kaitiaki of the environment, they will continue to partner with council, DoC and the police to protect those values.”  On the contrary, when I spoke to that iwi committee, they showed no concern for the sandspit and the birds that would wish to live there undisturbed, but rather made claim to special rights, to drive across the Scientific Reserve to fish for endangered whitebait.

The local iwi attitude and power were again evident when I made my oral presentation at an official hearing of the Kapiti Coast District Council.  I thought I was addressing our Council, but (after my less than three minutes) I was faced by a strong, long, negative argument by a woman from the iwi group who was sitting at the long table with the mayor and councillors.  Clearly, ‘partnership’ gives them a seat at the table, with a right to take a vigorous part in the debate and to berate any ratepayer with who might challenge their position.


This is part of much bigger, picture, with increasing inequality and racial separation, including changes in education, health, law and more.  The full extent of this frightening transformation of New Zealand society can be seen in the recent report, “He Puapua: report on the working group on a plan to realise UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand”.[5]  There we find a projected dismantling of the basic features of society, from equality to domination by a select minority.  “The vision is that, should Maori have the ability to exercise full authority over our lands, waters and natural resources, uphold our responsibilities as kaitiaki and implement indigenous solutions with resources and support to do so, Aotearoa will be a thriving country for all.”  All power (full authority) to “members of the Maori race”?  With respect, I dissent.  What do you think?  Should we do something?

[1] John Robinson, Dividing a nation: the return to tikanga, 2019, second edition 2021, Tross Publishing

Dr John Robinson is a research scientist, who has investigated a variety of topics, including the social statistics of Maori.  His recognition of fundamental flaws in the interpretation of nineteenth century Maori demographics led him to consider the history of those times in several books.


Geralddownunder said...

What do you think? Should we do something?
ABSOLUTELY !!! BUT WHAT ??? The next election is too long to wait, This disgraceful Government will do all sorts of damage by then, We must act now.

Gwenda said...

If only we had a recall election in this country.
So much damage is being carried out by this divisive Government, and there are to many New Zealander oblivious to this deceitful government, or just to apathetic about what is occurring under their very noses,!
The question is asked what can we do. It’s a pity a signed petition of no confidence in this government presents to the Governor General , want sufficient to oust them.
The other is to rally and a organise a huge March on Parliament giving the PM a signed petition of the many facets of discontent in how she is treating 85 percent of the population.
But I guess a March is in the to hard Basket, but I feel that’s our only answer , one thing Maori are very good at is Marching.