Maori seats referendum and other policies

The 2017 election campaign has well and truly started with both the Green Party and New Zealand First launching major policie.

At the Green’s Annual General Meeting, co-leader Metiria Turei stunned the audience during her welfare policy announcement, with the extraordinary admission that she had deliberately defrauded the Social Welfare Department while a solo mother on the Domestic Purposes Benefit.

She told the conference that she had not declared to Work and Income that she was deriving income from flatmates who were paying rent. Acknowledging that she could still face fraud charges for her illegal behaviour 24 years ago, she said she felt she now had a responsibility to “tell it how it is, because other people don’t have the privileged position that I do.”

Having been in her ‘privileged’ position as an MP for fifteen years, that reasoning does not ring true. It is more likely that confessing simply suited her politically now – just as it suited her to defraud taxpayers back then.

When asked whether she thought other beneficiaries in a similar position should defraud authorities, she said she neither encouraged nor dissuaded them, saying it was up to them.

Ms Turei explained that her experience on the DPB was one of the driving forces behind her party’s plan to radically transform New Zealand’s welfare system. In a move clearly designed to steal the beneficiary vote from Labour, the Greens not only want to make welfare far more generous – by raising all core benefits by 20 percent – but they also want to eliminate what they call an “excessive burden” on beneficiaries, by removing all sanctions and obligations.

Under the Greens’ proposals, anyone who doesn’t want to work wouldn’t need to work as there would be no obligation for anyone on the unemployment, sole parent, or disability benefit to look for a job, accept a job, or undertake drug testing for a job.

As well as scrapping work testing for beneficiaries, “excessive appointment attendance requirements” and “forced budgeting appointments” would also be removed. 

Parts of the Social Security Act, which “take money from beneficiaries”, would be repealed, including Section 70 A, which requires women on the sole parent benefit to have their benefit docked if they fail to name the father of their child.

In addition, in order “to stop the government intruding into the personal lives of sole parents”, boyfriends would be entitled to move in and live with solo mothers on the benefit.

The Party claims their policy would deliver greater social justice, but in reality, by further entrenching state dependency, it would introduce gross social injustice to New Zealanders.

To fund their social madness, the Greens are planning to change the tax system. They say “the economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful”, and as a result, they would increase the top tax rate from 33 to 40 percent. In doing so, they would be forcing the 3 percent of New Zealanders who earn over $150,000 a year – who at present pay more than a quarter of all of the country’s income tax – to shoulder the whole increased cost burden.

It is indeed ironic that a party that emphasises that taxpayers should pay their “fair” share of tax, appears to believe it is “fair” for beneficiaries to lie to obtain pecuniary advantage.

To spread their largesse further, the Greens also plan to lower the bottom tax rate from 10.5 percent to 9 percent, to increase Working for Families payments by at least $72 a week, and to raise the minimum wage by $2, from $15.75 to $17.75 an hour. Their goal is to increase the minimum wage to 66 per cent of the average wage – or $21.25 an hour – by 2020.  

The Greens’ policies are an indictment of the Party in general – and Metiria Turei in particular. Judging by the standing ovation she received for her speech, the Party appears to see no wrong in beneficiaries defrauding others, if it makes the defrauders’ lives a little easier – and if they can profit politically from it.

Such arrogance about the superiority of their world view is especially dangerous coming from a party that wants to be part of the next government. By condoning benefit fraud they are encouraging others to do the same: right now, someone will invariably be saying, “If it’s OK for an MP to rip off the system then why not me too?”

In fact, the Green’s “holier than thou” image should be damaged by their leader’s confession – while reasonable people will see the hypocrisy, one-eyed Green supporters will no doubt see it differently.

As an update, Metiria Turei has apparently now decided that she should pay back the benefit money she stole. Whether anyone will press criminal charges remains to be seen.

The second important policy launched last weekend was the announcement by Winston Peters, at New Zealand First’s Convention, that a binding referendum of all voters to retain or abolish the Maori seats would be a bottom line policy for the party.

The Maori seats, of course, were created by Parliament in 1867 as a temporary measure to ensure that Maori men who owned communal land were able to vote, since they didn’t qualify under the prevailing private property requirements of the time. The introduction of universal suffrage in 1893 should have signalled the end of the Maori seats, but instead, they were retained.

In 1986 the Royal Commission on the Electoral System closely examined the Maori seats, concluding that race-based representation was not only creating an “undesirable degree of division” within New Zealand society, but that it was at the heart of growing Maori disadvantage.

The Commission recommended that if MMP was introduced as a new electoral system, the Maori seats should be abolished to avoid an undemocratic over-representation of Maori in Parliament – as more Maori entered Parliament through list seats.

The Royal Commission has been proved right on all counts.

The Maori seats have not only led to an increase in racial division, but the disadvantage remains as well.

The predicted over-representation of Maori in Parliament has also occurred. At the 2014 election 21 percent of all MPs elected were of Maori descent, compared to 15 percent of the overall population.

Abolishing the 7 Maori seats would restore proportionality.

And on the issue of proportionality, in 2010 – in response to a proposal by the Maori Party to increase Maori representation in local government – the Attorney General ruled that such a measure would be discriminatory, since, “In a representative democracy, it is important to maintain approximately the same level of representation for everyone”.

Using that reasoning, retaining the Maori seats under an MMP electoral system is creating a disproportionately higher representation of Maori MPs in Parliament, thereby discriminating against all non-Maori New Zealanders.

In his conference speech last weekend, Winston Peters outlined why abolishing the Maori seats was a bottom line issue for the party: “Today, as we look at the state of Maoridom, we see the four things Maori want: a safe affordable home, an easily accessible health system, an education system with escalators onto which any child can step and go as far as they wish, and First World jobs and incomes.

“These are four things many Maori want, yet haven’t got. The reason, in short, is the burgeoning treaty industry that Parliament has become – the preoccupation of an elite group of Maori, at the expense of the great majority of Maori.”

He explained that the Maori seats send the terrible message to young Maori, that they are to be handicapped and pigeon-holed through ‘tokenism’, when they should be good enough to be equal.

He then said, “I am therefore announcing today that the next government we belong to will offer a binding referendum mid-term to do two things:

Retain or Abolish the Maori seats.

“And there will be second referendum on the same day and that will be to Maintain or Reduce the size of Parliament to 100 MPs.”

Unfortunately the announcement was contradicted by members of the New Zealand First caucus. Maori Affairs spokesman Pita Paraone is reported as saying that any referendum on the future of the Maori seats should be decided by voters on the Maori roll: “I’d like to see that it’s left to Maori voters to make that decision”.

This followed earlier comments by the new Whangarei candidate, Shane Jones in support of Maori seats.

Although, both eventually agreed to abide by the caucus decision, what should have been a very clear and powerful policy announcement was undermined by seemingly contradictory and muddled comments from within the party.

Winston Peters appears to have now clarified the matter by restating that the position of New Zealand First is that retaining or abolishing the Maori seats is a constitutional issue, and as such, it must be decided through a binding referendum of all New Zealand voters.

Following New Zealand First’s announcement of the binding referendum on the Maori seats, TVNZ news said Labour leader Andrew Little “will not agree with the proposals if the parties are to go into coalition after the September general election”. This comes as no surprise given Labour holds all but one of the Maori seats.

Since Winston Peters claims the referendum is a “bottom line” policy for New Zealand First, if they are to be believed, we cannot expect them to form a coalition government with Labour.

In response to Winston Peters’ referendum announcement, National’s Stephen Joyce said abolishing the Maori seats was something their Party had been considering and that they expected to clarify their policy in a month or so.

National, of course, used to be opposed to Maori privilege, pro-actively campaigning on a policy of abolishing the Maori seats. In fact the last time Bill English was National’s Leader, one standard of citizenship was a major election theme.

However, under the leadership of John Key, the policy was deferred until after the Treaty settlement process was finalised: “At the conclusion of the settlement of historic Treaty claims, National will begin a constitutional process to abolish the Maori seats. National wishes to see all New Zealanders on the same electoral roll.”

In other words, John Key sidelined abolishing the Maori seats in favour of policies that supported Maori privilege and generously appeased iwi leaders.

Perhaps National is finally getting the message that such policies are not only harming national unity, but are costing the Party dearly, as potential National voters migrate to New Zealand First to support a party and a leader who is opposed to race-based privilege.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, free-lance journalist Michael Coote, explains:

“New Zealand First has consistently opposed Maori racial privileging in law and public policy. It offered to support the National government on Resource Management Act (RMA) reform if references to the Treaty of Waitangi were stripped out. National chose to reject this opportunity and instead fell captive to the Maori Party in making the RMA even more racist… Perhaps it is time the septuagenarian Mr Peters practised the activism in government he threatens from opposition and led New Zealand First into meaningful and lasting political achievements.”

National now stands at a crossroads. Will they support the New Zealand First position, with a policy they used to promote by agreeing to a binding public referendum of all New Zealanders on whether the Maori seats should be retained or abolished, or will they support the Maori Party and commit to retaining the Maori seats – or promise a binding referendum of only voters on the Maori roll.

The Maori Party and Hone Harawira’s Mana Party are threatening protest action to bully and intimidate politicians and voters to dissuade them from supporting the abolition of the Maori seats. One can only hope that New Zealand voters will understand how important it is that the power base of Maori supremacists is removed once and for all – by standing firm and supporting the abolition of the Maori seats.

By former ACT MP Muriel Newman. First published at on July 22, 2017.