Sunday, December 22, 2013

Arthur Answers Again, Part One

Last week, I posted my latest “Ask Arthur”, and now it’s time to start answering. As I’ve done before, I’m going to split the answers among several posts so they don’t get TOO long. This also means you still have time to ask questions of your own: Just leave a comment on this post or on the original linked above (or my shares on Facebook or Google+).

So, first question comes from Roger Green, who asked:

“OK – a possibly complicated one. How does the structure of New Zealand government assure Māori representation in national government? How does that work?”

The reality isn’t as complicated as the history, actually, but both take some explaining. First, how it works.

All Māori voters can choose which electoral roll they want to be on: The General Roll, which is open to all New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, or the Māori Roll, which is open to Māori only. Those on the Māori Roll can vote for MPs in their Māori Electorate (there are currently 7 of those, the number determined by the number of Māori enrolled on the Māori Roll). These Māori Electorates sit on top of, as it were, the General Electorates. Those on the General Roll can only vote for the candidates in General Electorates.

To understand how this all works in practice, it’s first necessary to understand our electoral system, MMP. The make up of Parliament is determined by what’s called the “Party Vote”. Each person votes for the party they want to form government: When seats in Parliament are allocated, it’s according to each party’s share of the Party Vote. All voters cast this vote, regardless of which roll they’re on.

Next, voters vote for the candidate they want to represent them in their electorate: General Electorate voters for their candidate, and Māori Electorate voters vote for theirs. The number of electorates a party wins—the total of both General Electorate and Māori Electorate—is then subtracted from the percentage of seats they should have based on the Party Vote.

If a party hasn’t won enough electorates, they “top up” with MPs from their Party List. If they’ve won too many, then Parliament has an overhang—extra MPs.

So, to recap, ALL voters vote for the Party they want, and this determines the make-up of Parliament (and who forms government). Voters also vote for a local candidate in their electorate, but which electorate that is depends on which roll they’re registered on, Māori or General.

The Māori Seats were established in 1867 by the Māori Representation Act as a way of ensuring Māori were elected to Parliament. At the time, only males who were 21 and owned property could vote, and since most Māori owned land communally one way or another, very few Māori men qualified to vote. For example, in New Zealand’s first general election in 1853, only about 100 Māori voted out of a total potential electorate of 5849.

The Māori seats were supposed to fix this by assuring Māori representation in Parliament, something many European politicians of the day thought was vital after the New Zealand Wars of the early 1860s. However, they only established four seats—three in the North Island and one for the entire South Island—when by proportion of population Māori should have had 14-16 seats.

The four seats lasted 128 years—from 1868 to 1996, when the MMP era began and the number of Māori seats was increased to five (it became six in 1999 and seven in 2002). The South Island still has only one Māori Electorate, but it’s also much lower in population generally, so has fewer General Electorate seats, too.

MMP was the result of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System, which believed that a proportional electoral system would make Māori Electorates unnecessary. However, being used to historical under-representation, Māori were sceptical and demanded—and got—the retention of Māori Electorates.

Since then, there’s been a steady increase in the number of Māori selected to the Party List for the main parties, and Labour (in particular) has several Māori MPs. The current party of government, the conservative NZ National Party, has pledged to abolish the Māori Electorates once all claims under the Treaty of Waitangi are settled, which they’d originally planned for 2014 (that date will not be met). Several other major and minor parties back abolition of the seats, but Labour and the Greens have tended to back retaining them until Māori themselves call for the abolition of the seats. The Māori Seats have never been “entrenched”, that is, they can be abolished by a simple majority vote in Parliament.

While the existence of the Māori Seats may look like a sort of political apartheid, their history shows that they were created and maintained as a way to ensure that Māori were represented in Parliament (and, more than a century later, on some local government boards, too). The move may originally have been motivated by condescension based on 19th Century prejudices and assumptions, but the seats did what they were designed to do.

The reality is that the two main parties—Labour and National—could have made the seats unnecessary decades ago if they’d made sure that Māori had proportional representation in Parliament though General Electorate selection of Māori candidates (and, later, high Party List placements for Māori candidates).

My opinion—and it is only that—is that the seats will inevitably be abolished, but only when the two main parties have higher percentages of Māori as MPs and in leadership positions (there has never been a Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition who was Māori, for example). Concluding the Waitangi Tribunal claims process also has to happen first, I think.

The current system was set up to address a problem, and succeeded up to a point. I think it’s worth noting that this representational system, for all its faults, was debated at a time when the USA was debating whether people who were of non-European ancestry were equal to citizens who were, and established when the USA was bedding-in Jim Crow laws. Very different countries, indeed.

I’ll have more answers tomorrow—and that’s not something I can say every day…

For further reading:
Setting up the Māori seats – Māori and the vote – NZ History Online
Change in the 20th century – Māori and the vote – NZ History Online
The Origins of the Māori Seats – Research papers from Parliamentary support, New Zealand Parliament
Māori electorates – Wikipedia (a pretty good overview)


rogerogreen said...

OK, and maybe this is a separate question that should go to AAA: how is a Maori defined? And what happens in case of intermarriage, for instance, in terms of ethnic identification?

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

This is actually quite easy to answer: Basically a Maori person is anyone who says they are—for most purposes, it's a cultural rather than racial description. Prior to the Māori Affairs Amendment Act in 1974, bloodlines were used to determine who was (and wasn't) Māori, especially for which electoral roll a voter should be on (at one point, "half castes" were allowed to enrol and vote in the general electorate).

From 1974 onwards, though, people would self-identify as Māori. However, to claim financial benefits, such as iwi (tribal) scholarships or grants, or to participate in a settlement under the Treaty of Waitangi, one does have to prove ancestry by providing one's whakapapa (fah-kah-PAH-pah, which is basically genealogy), and that's handled by the relevant iwi (which have their own whakapapa records, of course).

The only similar government thing I can think of is that when people register to vote (either Māori or General Roll) and identify as Māori, they're asked to name their iwi, but don't have to provide proof of that, as far as I've ever seen.

In no case is there a minimum percentage of "Māori blood" people must have to call themselves Māori.