Brash: Maori seats referendum a defining issue

It looks as if whether to have a referendum on the Maori electorates will become a defining issue in the post-election negotiations.

Mr Peters has said having such a referendum is one of his “bottom-lines”.  Jacinda Ardern said this morning that under no circumstances will she agree to such a referendum, and Duncan Garner (on Three’s AM Show) said that agreeing to such a referendum would be “cutting [Labour’s] own throat”.

So IF Mr Peters remains adamant that a referendum is one of his bottom-lines, and IF Jacinda Ardern remains firm, then we will have a National-NZ First Government.

Of course, Mr Peters can’t afford to admit that a referendum is an absolutely firm bottom-line: if he does admit that, then his bargaining power with National is gone.

But what are the merits of the case?  Maori electorates were set up 150 years ago for a good reason: at that time, only men who owned property got to vote, and with most Maori property owned communally, virtually no Maori men qualified to vote.  The 1867 law gave every Maori man the vote – 12 years before every European man got the vote in 1879.

But when the Royal Commission on the Electoral System considered our voting arrangements in 1986, they recommended scrapping the Maori electorates if New Zealand adopted MMP, partly because they argued that, with the very large size of the Maori electorates, they were a poor way for Maori voters to influence their MP; and partly because they recognized that MMP would lead to more Maori in Parliament.

Well there are certainly plenty of Maori in Parliament now – 29 out of 120, or almost a quarter of the total Parliament, only seven of them elected in Maori electorates.  The Deputy Leader of both National and Labour, the Leader and Deputy Leader of NZ First, and even the Leader of ACT all have Maori ancestors and would be entitled to enroll on the Maori roll – and none of them needed a Maori electorate to get them into Parliament.

Willie Jackson, who debated with me on the AM Show and argued strongly in favour of retaining the Maori electorates, is just starting his second three-year stint in Parliament – and he didn’t need a Maori electorate to get there either.

And if all Maori electorates were to disappear tomorrow, it would not make the slightest difference to how many MPs the Labour Party has because the ONLY thing which influences how many MPs Labour has is Labour’s share of the party vote.  So Labour would not be “cutting its own throat” even if the Maori electorates were scrapped!

Yes, Maori social statistics suggest that there is much wrong with the situation of too many Maori – and that just shows that having separate Maori electorates over the last 150 years has done little to improve that situation.  Indeed, arguably Maori social statistics have got worse over the last 30 years, not better, despite the Maori electorates.

The race-based laws which favour Maori are doing great things for the Maori elite, but are doing nothing positive for most ordinary Maori – and indeed, may well be affecting them adversely.

Duncan Garner has suggested that having a referendum on the Maori electorates would invite a “hikoi from hell”.  But when a veteran Maori politician (Winston Peters) suggests not scrapping the Maori electorates, but simply asking the public whether or not they should be retained, that should surely be applauded, not something warranting any kind of hikoi, let alone one from hell. 

And it is grossly irresponsible for high profile media people to suggest that those who disagree with a referendum would, or should, threaten intimidation, which should have no place at all in a mature democracy.

Let New Zealand be a country where people are treated as people, not as members of a particular racial group.  That is the only way to a peaceful future.