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Dr Muriel Newman

Discrimination or Equality?

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C4C-imageThere was a time when New Zealand was predominantly made of just two cultures – Maori and European. We were bicultural and we took faltering first steps to make it work.

But bicultural is not who we are any more. Who we are is a nation of peoples from all over the globe. Maori. Europe. Asia. Africa. The Pacific Islands. Australia. The Americas.

We all call New Zealand home – the place where we raise our families, where we watch our kids play sport, where we work and vote and try our best to do right by each other.

New Zealand is our country. We are a multicultural nation of equals.

But are we stuck in the past?

How do we honour New Zealand’s historical past without being continually defined by it?

How do we shape a better future?

There are no easy answers. But fundamentally, we must live by the principle of equality that underpins all human rights and underlies the Treaty of Waitangi: “he iwi tahi tatou – we are now one people.”

New Zealand’s Parliament contains a number of seats reserved especially for people of Maori descent. These seats guaranteed Maori a direct voice in Parliament.

The Maori seats were first introduced in 1867 and for good reasons. Despite the Treaty promising full equality in terms of the rights, privileges and duties of citizenship, the land ownership requirements of the day denied many men – both Maori and European – the right to vote.

To address this, protected Maori seats were created as a temporary measure to give Parliamentary representation to Maori men until they were able to vote on the common roll.

Although full voting rights for men were granted in 1879 and for women in 1893 – giving all New Zealanders of age equal rights to vote – the reserved Maori seats were retained.

This continues even though Maori representation in Parliament now disproportionately exceeds their relative national population.

As a result, the seats that once preserved equality are now a form of discrimination based on race. By reserving this privilege for Maori alone, it suggests that one race is worthy of more consideration than all the others.

As New Zealanders, do we truly believe this is right?

To ensure that our Parliamentary system provides fair and effective representation for all New Zealanders, the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System made a series of recommendations.

In their report “Towards a Better Democracy” the Commission recommended our First Past the Post voting system be replaced with Mixed-Member Proportional representation, or MMP.

They also proposed that the Maori seats and the Maori electoral roll be abolished on the basis that separatism is not the answer to Maori advancement. Equality is.

Their recommendation was ignored.

The time has come to reshape things to reflect the many races-one people-all equal nature of our nation. If we want that change, one common electoral roll for all is an essential starting point.

To move forward, we must convince our politicians that during the next term of Parliament, a law change is needed to abolish the Maori seats and establish a common electoral roll. The process must involve every voter – not just those who enjoy the present constitutional privilege.

Will the new government do it?

Only if enough New Zealanders convince the politicians that doing so is in the best interests of the country, and that our future must be ‘One people. One nation. Together’.

If you agree, there are three things you can do.

Firstly, contact MPs and candidates and ask if they will support the change to a common roll. Ask for their party’s commitment to abolishing the Maori seats, with all New Zealanders involved in the process.

Secondly, share this call to action with your friends and ask for their support for our campaign for change.

Thirdly, and most importantly, send a donation so we can publish this message throughout the country.


What you have just read is the text of a public information advertisement that we would like to publish in as many newspapers as possible. You can see what this campaign for change advertisement will look like HERE. The web address for the campaign is Campaign4Change.org.nz.

It is a fundamental tenet of democracy that all citizens should be treated equally in law. We believe that should start with the removal of race-based seats and electoral rolls. We would like to reach out to as many other New Zealanders as we can with that message, and we are asking for your help.

If you would like to support our campaign for change advertisement being published in newspapers throughout the country, please click HERE.

Concerns about racial privilege in law and the legal discrimination it creates are widespread throughout the world.

Just last week, the Swedish government announced that it intends removing ‘race’ from its statute books, arguing that race is a social construct, which should not exist in law.

The Swedish Immigration Minister, Erik Ullenhag, explained that “the fundamental grounds of racism are based on the belief that there are different races, and that belonging to a race makes people behave in a certain way, and that some races are better than others.” The government rejects these sentiments.

The report states, “The concept of race is included in around 20 Swedish laws, including criminal code, student financial aid laws, and credit information laws. On Thursday the Swedish government began an investigation into how to remove the concept from all legislation, as has been done in Austria and Finland.”[1]

France embarked on this journey to remove the concept of race from the country’s law books last year. Proponents of the law change argued, “The word ‘race’ has no scientific validity and it has been the basis for racist ideologies. Under the new law, France will not recognise the existence of any distinct race or races.”[2]

Closer to home, Fiji removed the concept of race and racial privilege from law in their new constitution in 2012. As a result, race-based electoral rolls and race-based seat quotas were eliminated. Under the new system, all Fiji citizens are now called “Fijians”, irrespective of their origin, and the use of race and ethnicity to define communalism and privilege, is no longer lawful.[3]

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is David Round, a Canterbury University Lecturer in Law and the Spokesman for our Campaign for Change, who argues that the concept of equality is deeply ingrained in New Zealand’s national identity:

“If one idea could be called New Zealand’s founding principle, it is equality. Our pride in ourselves, admittedly still sometimes a little self-conscious, springs from the daring confidence of our forebears that given the right opportunities, many Jacks could be as good as their masters. We are fiercely egalitarian. It is what has made us what we are. It is the spirit of the pioneers and the trenches, the mateship of the pub and the hills, the ordinary people who watch carefully and disinterestedly the government of their country, because it is in a very real sense their government and country. This egalitarian spirit is our national idea.”

“There were to be no classes here, legal or otherwise, if we could help it. We have no hereditary nobility; hunting is not reserved for the upper classes; we are all ‘just a little bit socialist’, as Mr Key has said of us; and we are all ruled by the same law. Any different treatment for any citizen would have to be justified not just by law but by good reasons.”

In his article, Voltaire! Thou shouldst be living at this hour!, David reflects on how bowing to racial privilege undermines the cornerstone of our democracy – the rule of law. To read the full article, please click HERE.

As we know, in the lead up to an election, the debate on controversial issues can become illogical. That was certainly the case when the Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, attempted to close down the debate about Maori in New Zealand enjoying privilege in law. She said that politicians should “do the right thing and stick to those major issues that will help make New Zealand a better place for all our children to grow up in”.

When Dame Susan was first appointed to her position in 2013, in our article Race Relations we considered her biggest challenge was to avoid being ‘captured’ by the strong vested interests that seek to protect and preserve Maori privilege: “The real issue here is … whether Susan Devoy will allow herself to become suppressed by those radical factions who will do all they can to ‘break’ her and turn her into their mouthpiece. This will be her greatest challenge.”

Her outburst demonstrated that she has been captured and has now become an advocate for Maori privilege.

In her release, Dame Susan claimed, “Accusations of Maori privilege are not borne out by Maori socio economic statistics”. She explained that, “ethnicity and disadvantage are connected and found in damning statistics that on average sees Maori New Zealanders life expectancy, education and health outcomes lagging behind non Maori New Zealanders”.

We take exception to her statements.

Firstly, removing racial privilege from law is absolutely a legitimate public policy issue of major concern, not only here in New Zealand, but in a growing number of countries around the world, including Sweden, France, and Fiji. In fact, one might have expected the Race Relations Commissioner to be at the forefront of an international effort to stamp out racial privilege, by recommending that the social construct of “race” be removed from all New Zealand legislation.

Secondly, knowing that to be categorised as “Maori” by Statistics New Zealand, a person needs only a smidgeon of Maori ancestry, Dame Susan’s argument that “ethnicity and disadvantage are connected”, is clearly ridiculous. She is, in effect, arguing that someone with a smidgeon of Maori ancestry is pre-determined, on average, to a shorter life, educational failure, and poorer health, than a person without that smidgeon of Maori ancestry.

With the full resources of the State at her fingertips, Dame Susan should be only too aware that while disadvantage does exist in New Zealand, it is not linked to race, but to a host of social factors, such as long term welfare dependency, family breakdown, alcohol and drug dependency, child abuse and neglect, educational failure, poor health care, violence and crime. These unfortunate factors do not have racial exclusivity. Since they are largely behavioural, to stop the cycle of disadvantage repeating itself through the children, interventions are needed to support such families to move off welfare and take responsibility for their future.

In 2004, Don Brash’s Nationhood speech elevated race relations into a major public policy concern. With widespread unease that the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process was getting out of hand, it became a key election issue in 2005. Helen Clark was one of a number of party leaders that pledged to end the historic claims process, announcing a cut-off date for lodging such claims – September 1st 2008. On 8 December 2006, the Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act, setting that deadline, was passed by Parliament. The parties that voted in favour were Labour, National, New Zealand First, United Future, and the Progressives, while the Greens and the Maori Party were opposed. ACT failed to vote.

The point is that political parties and governments will make tough decisions on contentious issues, if public concern is strong enough to force their hand. To abolish the Maori seats and establish a common roll, we need people up and down the country to call for change. Please donate generously so we can publish our ad in as many newspapers as we can to get the ball rolling.



How important is abolishing the Maori roll and seats to you: – very important, important, or not important? 

Click HERE to see all NZCPR poll results



1. The Local, Race to be scrapped from Swedish legislation
2. France 24, No such thing as ‘race’, say French lawmakers
3. US Library of Congress, Fiji: New Constitution Signed into Law
4. Human Rights Commissioner, Human Rights Commission urges politicians to stick to the major issues