Vote against Maori constituency or have a referendum

This is a submission against a proposal by the Taranaki Regional Council to set up a Maori constituency. There is no evidence that this is a step strongly desired by Maori roll voters. Sufficient opportunities for all citizens are available to contribute to decision-making processes. Maori constituencies and wards set up elsewhere have not increased participation by Maori voters. If the council wishes to test this option, the council should put the matter to a vote. The submission is on behalf of equality group Hobson’s Pledge, which was set up to debate such issues.


1. At the beginning of this year, signatures were being collected for petitions in nine districts where councils had proposed Maori wards or constituencies. At that time, residents in an area where a Maori constituency was proposed had the right to petition for a binding referendum on whether the proposal should proceed. A referendum would be triggered if the validated signatures of five percent of the area’s electoral population had been collected. That was until February, when the Government amended the law under urgency to outlaw such petitions, with the result that all petitions were rendered of no effect despite many collecting the required number of signatures. More than 25,000 in nine districts signed petitions asking for the right to vote. (See appendix 1).

2. The Taranaki Regional Council is considering a Maori constituency under Section 19 Z of the Local Electoral Act 2001, by which all councils have the option of establishing Maori constituencies or wards by resolution of council.

3. The discussion document titled “Should the council establish a Maori Constituency?” (see says that a decision must be made by May 21, 2021. The council had decided last August against creating a Maori constituency, but the right for residents to vote on the matter was outlawed last month, and the Taranaki Regional Council decided to revisit the constituency proposal.

4. The overall electoral population for New Plymouth, South Taranaki, and Stratford is 88,484. There are 81,187 on the general and 7297 on the Maori roll. The discussion document asserts that 19.8 percent of the Taranaki population identify as Maori. The document fails to state how many Maori are on the Maori roll. If that figure was included, it would show that the proposed Maori constituency would benefit just 9 percent of the Taranaki electoral population, which is less than half those who identify as Maori.

5. Three of New Zealand’s 78 councils currently have Maori Wards or constituencies. They are the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (established in 2001 by specific legislation), the Waikato Regional Council (established in 2013 by council resolutions), and the Wairoa District Council (established in 2019 as the result of a poll at the 2016 general election).

6. When the South Taranaki District Council proposed a Maori ward, and when residents were entitled to petition for a vote, a total of 903 signatures were collected when 847 were required to trigger a binding referendum, although a number of signatures were declared invalid.

7. The main pressure for Maori wards or constituencies is not an outpouring from Maori roll voters. It comes from a handful of activists, mainly a number of Maori Party, Green, and Labour MPs, and a few iwi leaders, who present former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd, the self-described “recovering racist”, to testify about his experience in trying to introduce a Maori ward.

8. The actual Treaty of Waitangi is a brief document consisting of three articles with a preamble and a postscript. In Article 1, the chiefs cede sovereignty. In Article 2, the Queen guarantees that the chiefs own what they own and may sell land to an agent of the Queen if they so wish. Article 3 says that the Queen will protect the Maori people of New Zealand and grant them the rights and privileges of British subjects. The treaty has no mention of treaty principles, treaty partnership, or reserved seats for Maori. See Appendix 2.

9. This is what the Local Government Act 2002 says about Maori participation in local government. The treaty clause (Section 4) says:

In order to recognise and respect the Crown’s responsibility to take appropriate account of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and to maintain and improve opportunities for Maori to contribute to local government decision-making processes, Parts 2 and 6 provide principles and requirements for local authorities that are intended to facilitate participation by Māori in local authority decision-making processes.

Section 14 (d) says:

a local authority should provide opportunities for Māori to contribute to its decision-making processes

And Section 81 of that Act says:

A local authority must—(a) establish and maintain processes to provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to the decision-making processes of the local authority; and (b) consider ways in which it may foster the development of Māori capacity to contribute to the decision-making processes of the local authority; and (c) provide relevant information to Māori for the purposes of paragraphs (a) and (b).

The case against a Maori constituency

1. Why do some councillors see Maori constituencies as a part of a regional council’s role? Regional councils are responsible for managing water, erosion, floods, emergencies, and transport. Effective management of those five areas of responsibility is for the benefit of everyone irrespective of ethnicity. The usual justification for Maori constituencies, wards, committees, or appointees is to hear the “Maori voice” and bring a “Maori dimension” to council decisions. However, a closer look at what this entails touches on the absurd. For instance, what is the Maori dimension of erosion? What is the Maori dimension of transport? Why not apply this approach to other ethnic groups? Is there a Chinese dimension to emergencies? Is there a race angle to erosion? If councillors stepped back from the rhetoric, perhaps councillors would see what they are proposing is absurd.

2. Would reserving a council seat for Maori roll voters, as the discussion document proposes, actually bring a “Maori dimension” to council? Arguably, not necessarily. Because 45 percent of Maori voters are on the general roll, a Maori constituency councillor would could only bring to their work the views of their Maori roll constituents. This would only represent the views of the 53 percent of the Maori residents of Taranaki who are on the Maori roll.

3. Does a separate Maori seat on the council actually reflect the intent of the Treaty of Waitangi? Definitely not. Article 3 of the Treaty (appended below) actually affirms equality for all. Of course, we are now New Zealand citizens and no longer British subjects. The right to vote in local elections is shared by all New Zealand citizens. As you can see in the treaty text appended to this submission, there is no mention of separate Maori representation.

4. Is a Maori constituency necessary because it is difficult for Maori to get votes? This is not true. In fact, Maori are very well represented in both local and central government. In 2019, 13.5 percent of all elected local body officials were Maori – compared with 13.7 percent of the New Zealand population being Maori (according to the 2018 census).  And in the current Parliament, almost 30 percent of all MPs are Maori.  Maori would still be “over represented” in Parliament, relative to the Maori share in New Zealand’s total population, even if the seven Maori electorates were scrapped, as the Royal Commission on the Electoral System recommended in 1986. 

5. Councillors who propose Maori constituencies are either mistaken or disingenuous when they assert that the Local Government Act requires them. They appear unaware that there is no apparent limitation for any such opportunities afforded to Maori citizens. There is in fact no impediment for people of any ancestry in New Zealand either to enrol to vote, to vote, or to stand for council since the right to vote and stand for council is open to all New Zealanders 18 and over.

6. Do “Maori” live as some sort of separate class of citizen that exists in a partnership relationship with the Crown? No. In the world outside of central and local government, there is no separated society with Maori as a group and everyone else in another group. We are aware of the civil rights struggles in the United States in the 1960s, and the protests against apartheid in South Africa up to the 1990s. New Zealand is not and has never been a segregated society. The push for Maori constituencies looks like an attempt to create segregated local governance

7. Maori constituencies have existed in the Bay of Plenty Regional Council since 2001, as well as in Environment Waikato. Wairoa has had a Maori ward since 2016. Yet, during the current push for race-based voting on local authorities there has been not one reference to how creating separate systems for Maori roll voters has increased voter turnout. For instance, voter turnout at the Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s three Maori constituencies continued to lag. Turnout in 2010 turnout was between 27 percent and 41 percent, and in 2013 was between 20 percent and 32 percent, when the general constituency turnout was 45.7 percent. Overall turnout there in 2019 was 43.2 percent. With no figures for the Maori constituency turnout, it looks like there was little interest because only the Kohi Maori constituency had a vote.

8. No one appears to have considered the downsides for Maori roll voters in a Maori constituency.

9. Maori roll voters vote for the Maori Ward candidates and no other ward candidates. This limits choice for Maori roll voters.

10. Decisions on so-called Maori issues will be channelled to Maori roll councillors who are there to give a distinctive Maori perspective. This would lead to such decisions being left to the Maori roll councillors, which would tend to reduce the amount of effort put into such decisions. Before MMP, such side-lining of Maori issues has been a substantial disadvantage of the Maori seats in central government.

11. It’s not as though the Taranaki Regional Council is short of Maori representation. The 11-member council already has six iwi appointees who vote on the council’s main standing committees.


A close look at the Taranaki Regional Council’s proposal to set up a Maori constituency shows that it is virtue signalling that touches on the absurd. With nearly as many Maori voters on the general roll as on the Maori roll, such a move would cater for just eight percent of the Taranaki electoral population. Those who say a Maori constituency is treaty based are unable to point to any part of the treaty for justification, and Article 3 of the treaty affirms equality for all. The numbers of Maori councillors and Maori MPs show that Maori have no difficulty getting voted into office. A Maori constituency in Taranaki would be unwanted and unneeded paternalism. There is no reference to separate Maori seats in the Local Government Act 2002. Maori in New Zealand do not live as a separate group so why segregate some New Zealand citizens? No evidence has been presented to show that Maori constituencies or wards increase voter turnout. No one has considered the actual impact on Maori roll voters who may not want to vote for the candidates on offer and who would have to wait until the next census to move to the general roll to be able to vote. We recommend against proceeding with a Maori constituency in the area of the Taranaki Regional Council, or at least put the matter to a vote. A race-based voting arrangement is simply racist.

Appendix 1

More than 25,000 people in nine districts had signed petitions demanding binding referenda on proposals for separate Maori wards. Despite Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta sabotaging the process by announcing, on February 1, a law-change to prohibit such referenda, sufficient signatures were collected in seven of the nine areas to trigger votes.

Signatures received compared with those required were:

                                                       Received         Required             

Northern Regional Council                  8703                6027                    

Whangarei District Council                 5133                 3080                    

Kaipara District Council                      1376                  790                      

Tauranga City Council                         6000                4742

Taupo District Council                         1756                1241

South Taranaki District Council            903                    847

Ruapehu District Council                     551                    385     

Gisborne District Council                     792                  1625

New Plymouth District Council            Not available      2874

TOTAL                                               25,214             21,611

Tauranga’s Concerned Citizens were the first to have their petition validated on January 29.

Appendix 2

The Treaty of Waitangi

This English text is closest to the Maori text because it has just one word that differs from Te Tiriti, being the addition of the word “maori” in Article 3.

Her Majesty Victoria, Queen of England in her gracious consideration for the chiefs and people of New Zealand, and her desire to preserve them their land and to maintain peace and order amongst them, has been pleased to appoint an officer to treat with them for the cession of the Sovreignty [sic] of their country and of the islands adjacent to the Queen. Seeing that already many of Her Majesty’s subjects have already settled in the country and are constantly arriving: And that it is desirable for their protection as well as the protection of the natives to establish a government amongst them.

Her Majesty has accordingly been pleased to appoint me William Hobson a captain in the Royal Navy to be Governor of such parts of New Zealand as may now or hereafter be ceded to Her Majesty and proposes to the chiefs of the Confederation of United Tribes of New Zealand and the other chiefs to agree to the following articles.-

Article first

The chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes and the other chiefs who have not joined the confederation, cede to the Queen of England for ever the entire Sovreignty [sic] of their country.

Article second

The Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the chiefs and the tribes and to all the people of New Zealand, the possession of their lands, dwellings and all their property. But the chiefs of the Confederation of United Tribes and the other chiefs grant to the Queen, the exclusive rights of purchasing such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to sell at such prices as may be agreed upon between them and the person appointed by the Queen to purchase from them.

Article third

In return for the cession of their Sovreignty [sic] to the Queen, the people of New Zealand shall be protected by the Queen of England and the rights and privileges of British subjects will be granted to them.

Signed, William Hobson

Consul and Lieut. Governor.

Now we the chiefs of the Confederation of United Tribes of New Zealand assembled at Waitangi, and we the other tribes of New Zealand, having understood the meaning of these articles, accept them and agree to them all. In witness whereof our names or marks are affixed. Done at Waitangi on the 4th of February, 1840.