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Barry Soper

Seven Maori seats are obsolete

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The seven Maori seats in Parliament should be scrapped. The need for them has long passed.

Originally they were only meant to be there for five years to give Maori the right to vote in the general election 150 years ago this year. That was extended by another five years but in 1876 it was extended indefinitely.

Now a bill pulled out of the ballot box aims at entrenching the seven Maori seats, sponsored by Labour’s Rino Tirikatene.*

It’s hardly surprising given at the last election all the seats went back to their natural home, Labour. To entrench the seats means 75 per cent of Parliament would have to vote to get rid of them. Currently they could be scrapped with a simple majority.

Without the seats, Labour wouldn’t be the Government today but their retention has always been up for debate.

The Royal Commission, which proposed our MMP electorate system, said if it was adopted the Maori seats should go. It rightly argued that under MMP all parties would have to pay attention to Maori voters and their concerns and they felt their continued existence would marginalise those concerns.

Around that time the seats came the closest they’ve ever come to abolition with an Electoral Reform Bill, but it failed after strong opposition from Maori.

The seats have been something of a political football ever since. The First MMP election in 1996 saw them all going to New Zealand First, which lost the lot of them just three years later. At the last election Winston Peters promised a binding referendum to consider their abolition and on reducing the number of MPs to 100. His coalition deal with Labour put paid to that.

Before the 2008 election John Key promised to get rid of the seats but in his first coalition deal embraced the Maori Party, which served as National’s insurance policy right up until the last election.

Look at the statistics and see how well Maori have done. The Royal Commission was right, they’ve been marginalised, even though they have their own ministry.

And today there are the most Maori MPs ever in Parliament, 29 with our indigenous culture’s heritage, or 24 per cent of Parliament and most coming from the general electorate roll.

All of the political leaders with the exception of Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw lay claim to Maori heritage. So surely Maori are, or should be, better catered for then ever before.

The seats have become redundant; other than a political crutch for Labour, they serve no purpose and rather than entrenching them, Parliament should be doing away with them.

*This article was first published in the Herald on May 6 2018, just after the Electoral (Entrenchment of Maori Seats) Amendment Bill was drawn from the Parliamentary Private Members’ ballot. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.