One of the most disturbing comments made by any politician in the election campaign so far was the comment by John Key when he said that, though abolition of separate Maori electorates is National Party policy, he had no plan to abolish them because such a move would provoke “hikois from hell”. What he was saying was that, even though abolishing racially-based political representation is the right thing to do – a view shared by ACT, New Zealand First and the Conservatives – he was willing to be intimidated by a mob.
This is an extraordinary situation, and one with serious implications for New Zealand’s future. As almost everybody now knows, separate Maori electorates were set up with the very best of intentions in 1867. At that time, only men who owned land got the vote, and since most land owned by Maori was owned collectively, very few Maori men got a vote. So Maori electorates were set up in which all Maori men got a vote – indeed, that was the first “universal suffrage” in New Zealand. Initially, the electorates were intended to last for only five years, later extended to 10 years.
But here we are, nearly 140 years later, with the Maori electorates still in existence and the Prime Minister saying he won’t scrap them for fear of a mob. And that despite the fact that the Royal Commission on the Electoral System in 1986 recommended that Maori electorates be scrapped if New Zealand adopted the MMP voting system; and despite the fact that New Zealand voters have long since proved that they are quite willing to elect Maori to Parliament without the crutch of the Maori electorates.
When I was in Parliament there were some 21 MPs entitled to claim Maori ancestry, but only seven of them elected in Maori electorates. Virtually every party in Parliament has Maori MPs – the only exceptions are the two parties with only a single MP each. I once pointed this out to somebody interviewing me for a programme for Maori TV, but the response was that Maori who got to Parliament only got there in the Maori electorates or on a party list. But that is nonsense of course. There are many Maori who have been elected in general electorates – Simon Bridges, Jami-Lee Ross and Paula Bennett come immediately to mind, and Winston Peters held the electorate of Tauranga for many years. I recall Ron Mark (himself Maori) pointing out to me that when a Maori former transvestite prostitute can get elected in rural Wairarapa by defeating Paul Henry the New Zealand electorate has clearly shown its willingness to vote for Maori in general electorates.
And even if all Maori got to Parliament on the party list, that simply demonstrates that all parties are willing to put good candidates who happen to be Maori on their lists.
It has been suggested that before the Maori electorates could be abolished Maori voters would need to be consulted, the implication being that unless Maori wanted the separate electorates scrapped they shouldn’t be scrapped. But the Maori electorates were created by Parliament to meet a particular need. That need has long since gone – all adults, male and female, of whatever race, now have a vote. There is simply not the slightest logic in retaining the Maori electorates and Parliament should abolish them without further delay – waiting 137 years after they were supposed to have been abolished is surely a great many years too many.
But what about the “hikois from hell”? Yes, I can imagine that some people would resent losing their privileged electoral position – who wouldn’t? – but since when did we allow policy to be dictated by a mob? I disagreed with many things that Helen Clark said and did, but she was right when she referred to those who led a hikoi which took place when she was Prime Minister as “haters and wreckers”.
There have been too many disgraceful incidents lately when groups of Maori have put themselves above the law. One which comes to mind involved the case of the burial site for a man who died in Christchurch. His wife wanted him buried in Christchurch, where he had lived for many years. His whanau not only wanted him buried in the Bay of Plenty but literally stole his body, took it north, and buried it where they chose. The man’s wife went to court over the issue, and eventually the Supreme Court decided that she had the right to decide where her husband’s body should be buried. She went with police to disinter her husband’s body, but they were prevented from doing so by the man’s whanau, in clear breach of the Supreme Court’s decision – and the police apparently did nothing!
I have no view on where the man should be buried, but New Zealand has come to a very sad state when a mob can successfully face down the police and those seeking to comply with the ruling of the court.
On a smaller scale, we recently saw the same intimidation of a shop-keeper in Whangarei who wanted his staff to address customers only in the English language. People came from miles around, some from as far away as Auckland, to demonstrate in front of the shop. The shop-keeper was surely in the right in choosing the language his staff should use in addressing customers.
John Key should make it absolutely clear that, if he is re-elected Prime Minister, he will implement National’s long-standing policy to abolish the Maori electorates, and he will not be intimidated no matter where the hikois come from. I suspect such a clear statement would win him more votes than any other policy he could announce. Most New Zealanders – and I suspect even most Maori New Zealanders – want an end to the pandering to the Hone Harawiras of this world.