When she appeared on Agenda in June Tariana Turia said:
I think what our people are starting to realise though is that when they voted Maori people into Labour they never got a Maori voice, they got a Labour voice and that was the difference, and they’ve only begun to realise it since the Maori Party came into parliament, because it is the first time that they have heard significant Maori issues raised on a daily basis.
That’s a pretty damning indictment on the dedicated electorates because she’s saying it’s not the Maori seats but the Maori Party which give Maori a voice.
Given that, do we need the seats?
Dr Lachy Paterson says we do:
However, any moves to abolish the Maori seats are likely to provoke an outcry from Maoridom. The fact that all the main parties select Maori for electable seats is irrelevant.
Maori now have their own effective and independent voice within parliament, and the thought of all its representatives returning to the control of Pakeha-dominated parties would be galling.
Maori also see the Maori seats, and the Maori Party, as an expression of tino rangatiratanga, of embodying their tangata whenua status. Perceived attacks on Maori as a whole, such as the fiscal envelope or the Foreshore and Seabed Act, have galvanised Maori opposition in the past and abolishing the Maori seats would no doubt provoke a similar response.
The Maori Party MPs have, for the most part, been moderate and effective representatives.
Their presence in parliament, providing a Maori voice, has defused much of the anger and protest previously expressed by Maori who felt marginalised within the political system and society’s institutions.
Philip Temple, disagrees:
What would most likely happen to the Maori Party if the Maori seats were abolished? Dr Paterson believes that those currently on the Maori roll would vote for Labour with both their votes.
What is much more likely is that their voting pattern would reverse: ex-Maori rollers would give their electorate vote to a Labour candidate and their party vote to the Maori Party.
Even if I am no more than half right, the number of ex-Maori roll voters who would support the Maori Party would almost certainly carry it over the 5% threshold, giving it six or seven seats.
So there would be no fewer Maori Party MPs and possibly several more than they are likely to get while keeping the seats without significantly increasing the party vote.
. . . The number of Maori seats is based on the number of people on the Maori roll.
After the last Maori roll option in 2006, the number of seats did not increase.
Maori leaders expressed disappointment that more Maori had not shifted across from the general roll, despite heavy promotion.
Many Maori roll voters shifted the other way, cancelling out about half the Maori roll increase.
The number of Maori seats is unlikely, therefore, to increase in the future, and certainly not by more than another one or two.
Given that these will almost always be split between the Maori Party and Labour, it is severely limiting for the Maori Party to depend on the Maori seats alone.
In other words, they are shooting themselves in their collective foot.
They should be aiming to take pakeha with them, not remain planted in a fortified political pa shouting threats of civil disobedience across the palisade in response to calls to come out.
Dr Paterson’s thinking seems to be rooted in 19th and 20th-century resentment.
No other country with similar democratic traditions – Australia, UK, Canada, USA – uses race-based separate rolls and electorates for elections to their national parliament.
The MMP electoral system has increased Maori representation in Parliament regardless of the separate Maori seats.
It was one of the key arguments for having MMP in the first place.
It is now entirely legitimate to ask why there should continue to be a separate Maori roll and electorates that distort MMPs democratic and proportional representation.
It is no longer appropriate or fair in the 21st century to sustain racially separate electorates established in the entirely different political, social and demographic circumstances of the 19th century.
Nor is it appropriate to leave the decision on the future of the seats up to Maori.
Whether they stay or go is a constitutional matter which affects us all so any decision on their future should be a matter for us all.
No group of people speaks with a single voice, but the Maori Party does speak for many of what Tariana Turia calls “her people”.
So when she admits it’s not the seats but her party which give Maori a voice, she’s effectively sabotaging any arguments in favour of keeping them.