The Maori seats were put in place for five years as a temporary measure to give time for a unified electoral system
OPINION : At our 2017 New Zealand First Convention last week we announced that the next government we belong to will offer a binding referendum mid term to ask two questions:
First, do we retain or abolish the Maori seats?
Second, do we maintain or reduce the size of Parliament to 100 MPs?
Parliament doesn’t need 120 MPs. Do Maori need the Maori seats and the tokenism they represent? This is not a criticism of Maori or any worthy Maori MP.
Over the years there have been standout Maori electorate MPs, and there still are today. But today the system isn’t working well for Maori. Poor health and a low level of home ownership are indicators of a low standard of living. Maori feature disproportionately in these statistics compared with others.
Maori home ownership has fallen by 38 per cent. Maori also feature highly in prison populations. Furthermore, Parliament has become a burgeoning treaty industry preoccupied with an elite group of Maori who have secured their own futures while the great majority of Maori continue to struggle.
Set up in 1867, the Maori seats were put in place for five years as a temporary measure to give time for a unified electoral system. That five years was extended twice, the second time never thereafter to be addressed. Now 150 years later the seats remain.
National and Labour have stood by and allowed this to happen for votes and political correctness. New Zealand First acknowledges that the Maori seats played an important role in the past but recently the seats have not improved Maori lives.
When MMP was first mooted in 1986, a Royal Commission recommended the Maori seats be abolished, recognising that Maori would gain many more MPs under MMP.
By 2014, 22 per cent of MPs identified as Maori in their background. That percentage increased when New Zealand First’s Ria Bond entered Parliament in 2015. Curiously, New Zealand First has more MPs with Maori in their background than any other major party. The difference is we consider ourselves New Zealanders first.
New Zealand First won all the Maori seats in 1996 but as part of the National coalition government we discovered there was no mood to better the lives of ordinary Maori.
We soon found also that some of our Maori MPs holding Maori seats lapsed into regarding Maori within the caucus as the A team and the rest the B team. In 2001 New Zealand First asked all its Maori members for their views on the effectiveness of the Maori seats under MMP. We got a resounding message and from 2002 we have not stood anyone in the Maori seats, preferring to promote people regardless of their ethnic background. The Maori seats are actually diluting the strength of the Maori vote.
The majority of Maori have already voted with their feet and switched from the Maori roll to the general roll. New Zealand First wants to stop Maori from being sidelined by the separatism of the Maori seats.
There are four things Maori want:
- A safe, affordable home
- An easily accessible health system
- An education system with escalators onto which any child can step, and go as far as they wish
- And, First World jobs and incomes
These four things everybody wants and Maori, in particular, are missing out. We say it’s time for a change. We say it's time for a new way of thinking and that we’re all in the same boat together.
These referenda will give you a chance to have your say.
Winston Peters is the leader of the New Zealand First party.