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Dr Muriel Newman

Undue influence

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With the closing days of the colourful US Presidential race upon us, New Zealand’s 2008 general election campaign has, in comparison, been particularly dull.

Much of the blame can be placed at the feet of Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and the Progressives, the four parties that gave us the draconian Electoral Finance Act. Opponents warned it would have a “chilling effect” on election year debate. The new legislation is so badly drafted that even the Electoral Commission is unable to make rulings, saying that it will be up to the courts to decide whether someone has broken the law. Rather than achieving its purpose of promoting “participation by the public in parliamentary democracy”, the Act has effectively prohibited public participation in the election.

The international financial crisis has also overshadowed the campaign and completely dominated the agenda. Fears over how it will affect New Zealand have pushed domestic concerns about our failing health system, falling education standards, and rising crime out of the limelight.

The MMP system itself is also responsible for emasculating the campaign. Parties have turned a blind eye to the radical policies being promoted by some, lest they offend those who may become bedfellows after the election. As a result, policies are not being exposed to public scrutiny and the radical agendas of some parties are largely unknown to voters.

MMP also threatens good government and the democratic process by allowing minor parties to exert influence far beyond their electoral support. This is particularly true of the Maori party which only attracts the support of mainly activist Maori (about 2 percent of the population) yet is likely to win around 5 percent of the seats in Parliament through the racially based Maori seats.

That influence may well place them in a king-maker role after the election and in a position of privilege to secure a permanent Parliamentary power base. They intend to do that by not only entrenching the Maori seats, but according to the Maori Party President Professor Whatarangi Winiata, by establishing the “Te Rangi Maori house in Parliament”.[1] This will push the country towards independent Maori rule, which has long been the goal of the Maori separatist movement.

Former Labour Prime Minister Mike Moore puts it this way: “No major party dare question the Maori party because they know they will have to do a deal, best save that until later. But what some Maori party leaders have said should be reason for some tough media questions. For example, when a leader says they want equal representation in a government because it’s not about numbers, it’s a partnership, what does that mean? Sorry, democracy is about numbers. I heard a compelling argument that Maori MPs didn’t want to be in Cabinet but only wanted power over expenditure on Maori people. What does that mean? Does that mean what I think it means, does it mean channelling taxpayers’ money for Maori through Maori institutions, does it cover education, health and what else? The claim that the Tuhoe people ought to have their own Government like Scotland went unchallenged. Scotland has its own courts, police, education system and ability to tax. If this is what it means, this is an issue of historic importance that must be argued before an election. Others have suggested an upper house of equal representation, Maori and non Maori, a partnership that could veto the decisions of the House of Representatives. These are issues fundamental to the future of NZ. These changes can be bought in by stealth – it begins with a powerless Council of elders and Maori models of parallel development.”[2]

Essentially, the Maori Party have stated that entrenching the Maori seats is a “bottom-line” issue in any post-election negotiations. That means that they want section 35 of the Electoral Act 1993, which defines the Maori seats, to be categorised as a reserved provision as defined in section 268. Entrenching reserved provisions protects special areas of electoral law – such as the term of Parliament, the number of seats and electoral boundaries, the voting age and the method of voting – from the influence of a Government and Party. It does this by raising the bar for amendment or repeal from the standard 50 percent plus one vote majority of the House, to a majority of 75 percent. Alternatively, reserved provisions can be changed through a majority of votes cast in a public referendum.[3]

Radical Maori have long pushed for the Maori seats to be entrenched. The 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System considered the issue and concluded that “the question of entrenchment does not arise”, instead recommending that the Maori seats (established as a temporary option in 1867 to give Maori the vote) be abolished: “In the form of Maori representation we have proposed for MMP, there would be no separate Maori constituency or list seats, no Maori roll, and no Maori option”.[4] The Royal Commission also went on to say that the issue of the Maori seats is of concern to all New Zealanders, not just to Maori. In other words, Maori alone should not determine their future.

A proposal to entrench the Maori seats was also considered by the Select Committee set up to review MMP in 2001. It was supported by the Alliance, Green and Labour parties, but opposed by ACT, National and United parties. The report states, “The ACT party considered the reserved seats were a debasing form of privilege, which had benefited only major parties and a tiny political class among Maori”. It went on to conclude, “ACT believed they should be removed without any question of entrenchment”.[5]

During the minor party leaders’ debate on TVNZ last week, the Maori Party, the ACT Party and the Green Party supported entrenchment, while the United Party and New Zealand First did not. The Prime Minister has now added Labour to the list of parties supporting the entrenchment of these racist seats – after saying last weeek that she wouldn’t.

Andy Nicholls, a Public Law specialist and partner at Chapman Tripp explains that to entrench any new provision, Standing Orders and constitutional conventions come into play, whereby “a proposal for entrenchment can only be passed by the super-majority it proposes – in this case, 75 per cent. The entrenchment rule was introduced by the non-partisan Standing Orders Committee following a review of Standing Orders in 1995. The rationale for this rule, of course, is that it is inequitable for a Parliament to pass a law under a simple majority vote that seeks to bind future Parliaments and generations by requiring them to assemble larger majorities to amend or repeal that law”.[6]

In essence this means that both major parties will need to support an entrenchment motion, but with one of the major parties likely to be left feeling rejected in opposition post-election, obtaining that support may be difficult.

Sir Robert Jones, this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator with an article Maori seats give unwarranted influence based on race, not only vehemently opposes the entrenchment of the Maori seats but believes that they should have been abolished years ago: “I dislike the Maori seats, which are both racist and undemocratic. Introduced as a short-term measure, they should have been abandoned decades ago. Why not allocate Asian, left- handers, Pacific Islanders or even homosexuals special seats. Anyone’s at liberty to start a left- handers’ or Asian party, but there would be great indignation were they to be automatically guaranteed seats in the House, a privilege currently accorded Maori. If an argument could ever have been made for Maori seats, which is questionable, then it has long since gone.”

Another minor party that could, under MMP, win influence far greater than its party vote percentage should allow is the Green Party. Already there is an expectation that under a Labour-Green Government their proposal to introduce a capital gains tax may be in place by Christmas.

If the Greens form part of a new government, this socialist party, which would have to be one of the most radical parties in the western world, has demanded Cabinet positions from which to wield greater power. David Farrar of Kiwiblog, concerned about the propensity of this “ultimate nanny state party” to ban anything they don’t like, has read through all of the Green Party policies in order to compile a list of 85 things that the Party would like to ban. While he admits that he hasn’t looked through press releases and speeches where other treasures will undoubtedly be hiding, the list, which makes for seriously depressing reading, includes:

Ban fizzy drinks from schools, ban companies that do not comply with a Code of Corporate Responsibility, ban Urban Sprawl, ban battery cages for hens, ban smacking, ban advertising during children’s programmes, ban coal mining, ban the direct to consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals, ban the sale of chips and lollies on school property, ban fixed electricity charges, ban further large hydro plants and thermal generation, ban imported motor vehicles over seven years old, ban new urban highways or motorways, ban private toll roads, ban landfills, ban all food and drink advertisements on TV if they do not meet criteria for nutritious food, ban irradiated food imports, ban crown agency investments in any entity that denies climate change, ban promotion of Internet gambling, ban cellphone towers within 300 metres of homes, ban new buildings that do not confirm to sustainable building principles, ban migrants who do not undertake Treaty of Waitangi education programmes, ban new prisons, ban limited liability companies by making owners responsible for liability of products, ban funding of PTEs that compete with public tertiary institutes, ban the importation of goods and services that do not meet quality and environmental certification standards in production, lifecycle analysis, and eco-labelling, ban new houses without water saving measures, ban programmes on TVNZ with gratuitous violence…[7]

Should the “five headed monster” that John Key has warned about take control of New Zealand’s biggest and most influential monopoly (government itself), there is a very real threat that wealth creating Kiwis will turn their backs on New Zealand and leave in even greater numbers than they are already.

Let’s hope that good judgment prevails and that New Zealand gets a Prime Minister that will serve the interests of the whole community not the vested self-interests of activist minorities.


1.TVNZ Agenda, New Maori Structure Top Priority for Maori Party

2. Mike Moore, Inherent Flaws of NZ’s MMP

3. Electoral Act 1973, Section 268 (reserved provisions)

4. The Report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System

5. MMP Select Committee, Inquiry into the Review of MMP

6. Andy Nicholls, Maori Party faces big hurdles to entrenchment of Maori seats

7. David Farrar, The Greens Banned List

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