Monday, March 26, 2018

Māori option time

Every few years, following a Census, New Zealand offers Māori people the opportunity to choose which Electoral Roll to be on: The General Roll or the Māori Roll. The video above is the TV ad announcing that the Māori Electoral Option to change electoral rolls will begin soon.

The point of the Māori Electoral Roll is to ensure that Māori people are represented in Parliament by setting aside some seats in Parliament for Māori people. The number of Māori Electorate seats is determined by how many voters are on the Māori Electoral Roll. This affects the number of General Electorate seats, too, since Parliament is limited to 120 seats. The census determines the boundaries of all electorates by ensuring the population of electorates are similar.

The Māori Electorates were created in 1867 because (white) conservatives didn’t believe that Māori people were fit to serve in Parliament, so a separate system was designed as a way to ensure Māori representation without forcing conservatives to allow Māori people into their midst directly. This also got around the problem of property ownership: In those days voters had to own a certain amount of property, and Māori owned property collectively. Proponents considered the Māori Electorates a temporary measure to last until Māori adopted the European individual property ownership model. Ironically, the first Māori elected in under this system were also the first members of Parliament who were born in New Zealand.

In the 1860s, and for more that a century afterward, it could have been difficult for Māori people to win in majority European electorates. But as times changed, and more Māori people entered Parliament through the General Roll—especially since the first MMP election in 1996—conservatives have resumed their calls for abolishing the Māori Electorates. Most on the centre-left say that the decision on when the seats will be abolished is up to Māori themselves.

The electorates are becoming something of an anachronism, and it’s difficult to see how they could not become irrelevant in time. For example, the Deputy Prime Minister is Māori, as is the Deputy Leader of the party leading government, the NZ Labour Party. Labour has a record number of Māori MPs, and represents all seven of the Māori Electorates. The Leader and Deputy Leader of the NZ National Party (the Opposition) are both Māori; National is on record as wanting to abolish the Māori Electorates.

All up, this is good progress—not the end, certainly, but progress toward fair representation nevertheless.

The video below is from the Electoral Commission and is intended to explain the Māori Option is more detail. The important thing is that the option is open to anyone with Māori ancestry—the specific amount doesn’t matter, just that they can trace it, they know their iwi, etc (this is known as whakapapa; see also Wikipedia’s explanation).

People of all other ancestries can only choose the General Roll (Māori can choose either). Voters on either roll get two votes: One for the person they want to represent their electorate in Parliament, and the other for the Party they want to form government. Everywhere in New Zealand is covered by both a General Electorate and a Māori Electorate, and on Election Day they share voting places. So, there’s a lot of literal overlap, even though the rolls and electorates themselves are entirely separate.

Some day the electorates will be abolished. I have no idea when, especially because there’s no groundswell demanding it—not from either Māori or Pākehā. Public opinion can sometimes change quickly, but unless that happens, there will be no change any time soon.

The Government has set up a special site to help with the process: maorioption.org.nz

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