Monday, July 04, 2005

Maori Seats

Why do we have a racially segregated parliament? I assume the motivation is to ensure that Maori are adequately represented, but isn't universal suffrage and MMP sufficient to take care of that? All Maori adults get to vote for their chosen representatives, just like everyone else. They can vote for the Maori Party if race is a big issue for them, or the Greens if they care about the environment and social justice, or Act if they want lower taxes, and so forth. They will be represented in proportion to their numbers, just like every other group in the country.

If we do not trust open democratic elections to provide adequate representation for minority groups, then why don't we also have separate seats for Asians, women, Muslims, Fundamentalist Christians, old people, young people, computer nerds, and so forth? The absurdity of it becomes more obvious then, of course. But exclusive focus on ethnicity fails to recognize the multiplicity of each unique individual, and the many group "identities" under which they could potentially be subsumed.

Further, such segregation is antithetical to the ideal of integration that I have previously argued we should aim at. As David Farrar writes:
Dividing even more electors up on the basis of race is appalling... Labour's legislation moves NZ to a Fiji style country where racial quotas are enshrined. It is not the future I want for NZ.


  1. Race is an arbitrary way of grouping people, but so is geographical location, which is the current alternative.

    Your objections to race based representation also apply to location-based representation.

    The main disadvantages of race-based electorates are that race-based measures have been used by bad people in the past, and that an MP for a limited geographical area can deal with his constituents more easily.

    The advantage is that it allows people to choose how they are represented.

    I would have no problem with allowing people to choose their own electorate groupings on any criteria they choose, expect that it would be logistically difficult.

  2. I don't think it is only to ensure Maori representation, although that is one reason and in the past was probably necessary. Less so now.

    The other, and more substantive, is that it is recognition of the complexities of NZ's colonial heritage. The bottom line is that we are comprised of two "nations" - the original Maori and the colonisers. Maori cannot be considered just another minority. I'm not a supporter of Maori sovereignty, but the Maori seats give expression to that aspect of Maori political identity without the need for separate political structures.

    The other aspect is that it is a pragmatic political solution to the problems resulting from our past. Maori suffered wrongs and the seats are there because Maori want them and see them as partially making up for what they see as a usurpation of their society. Without the seats and other mechanisms of redress those feelings of discontent would fester more greatly than they already do.

    Many other countries have to face the fact that different ethnic groups demand representation as ethnic groups and not just as individual citizens. It is just a political reality.

  3. Fiji has five layers

    Each person votes according to their ethnicity and for the general seats. It ensures a more stable system as no minority is constantly disenfranchised based on geography.

    the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System recommended scrapping the seats but allowing Maori parties who did not pass the threshold to get in anyway.

    The geographic model of representation is slightly outdated.

  4. Sock thief,
    I accept your argument but I think that acting as if somthing is true helps to make it true.

    for example if we act as if maori and Europeans are different and give them different voting rights or whatever it will forever make those two groups different. This will mean there will always be this problem.
    That is acceptable if it is the best of a set of bad options but I dont think it is. I think NZ is more than capable of treating peopel equally regardless of their ancestory. If you want to right a wrong then do it on a case by case basis, or based on current situation - not collectively and based on race - otherwise you will benefit the wrong people as well as the right ones.

    regardless of all of this I think future NZders (less caucasian) will find it hard to accept that maori have special rights sicne htey wont identify with the "abusers" anyway.

  5. Over time circumstances and emotions change and so as time goes by I think the idea of Maori seats will become less tenable.

    National/cultural/ethnic identity is a very strange and often distubing creature but people do strongly identify along these lines and at times the best option is to give political recognition of this.

  6. You are right in theory.
    Still - it was not all that long ago that I thought we were fairly close to social harmony (Of course I was pretty young then).

    and then we had a long drawn out treaty resolution process and had a hikoi and a foreshore debate, and created a maori party. All these attempts to solve problems seem to only ignited the fire.


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