Do we really still need the Maori seats?

The Maori seats are becoming a bit of a joke.

They have the lowest voter turnout, were supposed to be temporary and now after the last election seemingly irrelevant when 19 Maori were elected in general seats.

About the only use I can find for Maori seats is that it parks a whole bunch of Labour votes that might make the difference in general seats like Bay of Plenty, Rotorua and East Cape and sequesters them in irrelevance.

Parliament now has more Maori MPs than ever before, prompting one commentator to question whether Maori seats were still needed.

Nineteen Maori MPs have been elected in general electorates and on party lists. Once the seven Maori seats are included, the total number of MPs who identify as Maori is 26 – up from 21 in 2011.

This means one in five MPs in the new Parliament were Maori, compared to one in seven in the general population.

The National Party’s caucus is 15 per cent Maori, including two MPs likely to be given high-ranking portfolios – Paula Bennett and Hekia Parata.

The growing proportion of Maori in Parliament was met with mixed responses from Maori leaders. 

Former Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels said increased Maori representation was a step forward, especially because many were elected in mainstream parties.

But former Alliance MP and Maori commentator Willie Jackson said it meant little unless those Maori MPs fought for Maori interests.

“It’s only a victory if they take a pro-Maori position with their work. You could have 50 Maoris in there but if they don’t act like Maori and don’t work along kaupapa Maori lines and advance Maori position it’s absolutely meaningless.”

The election of 26 Maori MPs was likely to fuel the argument over Maori seats, established to ensure Maori had a minimum representation in the House.

Mr Samuels said Maori needed to have an “informed debate” about whether the Maori electorates were needed.

Mr Jackson disagreed, saying Maori seats were created to guarantee strong advocacy for Maori, not simply representation.

“When you have a Maori seat, in my view, you have an obligation to advocate for Maori. That’s what the strengths of the seats are.”

Willie Jackson is both right and wrong.

The Maori seats were only meant to be a temporary arrangement. Whilst he thinks that Maori seats create an obligation to advocate only for Maori that is a separatist view that is no longer relevant to NZ society.

We know this because 19 other maori got themselves elected in general seats. Being Maori is no longer the barrier to representation that it once was.

New Zealand needs to take a leaf out of Fiji’s book and remove race based election rorts and criteria. We are all Kiwis, we have grown past patronising special seats based on race.

Let’s have a real discussion and remove the seats now.


– NZ Herald

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