Rational, Compelling, and Defendable

On 21 November the Western Bay of Plenty District Council debated the establishment of Maori Wards.  This is something that is legally mandated to happen every six years and is part of a wider representation review.

www.waateanews.com

The thrust of the arguments by Maori in favour of race-based wards were summarised under the headings:

  • The opportunity.
  • Mandate for change.
  • Politics, rhetoric and reality.
  • Telling our story.
  • A time to lead.

The Opportunity:

The opportunity is based upon the existing Maori forums used by Maori to inform Council about issues that are important to Maori.  Think of them as similar to Community Boards.  Apparently, the Chairs from the Community Boards and the Chairs from the Maori Forums are invited to fully participate in all Council workshops, but not formal Council meetings.  It would be interesting to know if the Chairs of the Maori Forums have ever taken up that opportunity to be involved.  These Forums were described as “workable structures that bring results to Tangata Whenua”.  So, if the existing structures work – why the need for race-based wards?

The meeting was told that a Maori Ward would address equity and fairness but was not told precisely how.  Rua Kenana was quoted. “ We are one nation but two cultures, we are not monocultural. Our democratic systems should properly reflect our duality.”

New Zealand is long past being two cultures, New Zealanders celebrate Matariki, Diwali, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Ramadan and so on.  To assert that New Zealand is only two cultures is “so last century”. It is true that Pakeha and Maori are currently the two largest demographic groups but it seems that Asian will soon surpass Maori.

Mandate for change:

“The reasons for change are based on reality and fact”, but none were given.  “We are operating under a new political reality with an appetite for change as evidenced by Central Government with a Coalition cabinet and new or revised Ministries.”  How any of that is relevant to Local Government and the establishment of Maori Wards was not made clear.

The appeal to Central Government actually weakens their case as there are now 23 MPs of Maori descent who got there without race-based seats.  Excluding the 6 race-based seats, 23/114 is 14.9%.  According to Wikipedia the percentage of Maori in NZ is 14.9%. What a strange coincidence!

If the mandate for change among the electorate delivered a proportion of Maori to the Government then the same mandate for change will deliver the correct proportion of Maori to Local Government positions without the need for race based seats.

Another statement given but not supported by facts or background was that race-based wards give, “principal expression of Tangata Whenua’s constitutional position under the Treaty.”    

The key drivers for representation included the old chestnut of the enduring connection Tangata Whenua have with their whakapapa, whenua, moana and taonga. Someone needs to explain where, and when, Maori were awarded exclusivity over caring for one’s heritage, land, water and the treasures of New Zealand that so many Kiwis care deeply about.  Were 14.9% of all environmental care organisations in New Zealand begun by Maori?

Once again the phrase “rational, compelling, and defendable reasons” was used.  Still waiting for this to be fleshed out.

Politics, rhetoric and reality:

The rhetoric says that race-based seats are anti-democratic and separatist but apparently this is not true.  Race-based seats are an expression of the concept of partnership and show proportional representation.  Proportionality is an extremely slippery slope to venture down.  Where does proportional representation start and stop? Proportions based on age, gender, marital status, race (why only one race?) disability, intellect?

The example given was, “if it is Government by the people, for the people, then geographically based wards are undemocratic.”  What?  The clue is in the name LOCAL Government. The people who represent us should be local to us so that they understand the local issues.   Geographically based ward representatives on Council are, currently, a prime example of separatism.  Really?

Once again the assurance was given that there were “rational, compelling, and defendable reasons” to change.  Still waiting to be convinced.

Telling our story:

Maori Wards would support the current forums and Council communications which had already been commended by Maori for how well they were working.  “We would all be singing from the same song sheet” and the reasons for change were rational, compelling, and defendable.

Time to lead:

This seemed to revolve around the fact that WBPDC could be at the forefront of change in this space as only two other Local Authorities, Wairoa and Palmerston North Councils currently allow for Maori Wards so the reasons for change were rational, compelling, and defendable.  (Yes, this was asserted four times.)

The quote chosen by the Maori presenters to sum up their presentation appeared to shoot down their whole argument.

“With your basket and my basket put into the same basket, the people thrive”

Fantastic sentiment but the reality of their argument was:  ““With your basket and my basket put into separate baskets, the people ….?”

The vote to establish race-based wards for Western Bay of Plenty District Council was passed 9 – 3.

 


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