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The Year of Division

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has declared 2021 to be “the year of the vaccine”. It’s a good marketing plan considering all her government needs to do is distribute someone else’s success.

However, the government won’t be able to sit on its hands for the year and bask in the sunlight of the vaccine. In fact they’ve learned little from the previous three years of government, convinced they’re capable of implementing successful public policy, starting with big promises on the housing market.

With Parliament still days from resuming, Labour have some breathing space prior to tripping over their own feet on this issue. Just in time for Waitangi Day, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has announced the government will remove provisions permitting voters to challenge council decisions to implement separate Maori wards for election. Currently, a council which votes to implement Maori wards can have that vote challenged, should 5% of eligible voters sign a petition to trigger a referendum on the decision. Only 2 out of 24 attempts to implement Maori wards have been successful.

The proposed law change would be effective for the next three years and uphold the decisions by nine councils currently planning to run Maori wards in the 2022 elections. That means any petitions currently gathering signatures, or submitted since a council has voted to introduce Maori wards, will be null and void.

In January 2021, a petition to hold a referendum challenging Tauranga City Council’s support for Maori wards reached the 5% threshold. In 2020, New Plymouth District Council voted to create Maori wards as did Ruapehu District Council. Both decisions are facing a petition campaign to force a referendum on the decision.

The New Zealand Parliament has had separate Maori seats since 1867, which were introduced due to the prerequisite of property ownership disenfranchising most Maori who traditionally owned property collectively, in tribal structures. The property ownership requirement was abolished in 1879 and in 1967 the law was changed to allow Maori to contest and vote in general electorates. Non-Maori could also contest Maori electorates but not vote in them.

If racial representation in the House of Representatives is of value to you (it isn’t to me), then the practical argument in favour of the seats ensuring equitable representation for Maori is a dead duck. Neither ACT nor the Greens won Maori seats in 2020, yet both have three out of ten MPs (30%) of Maori descent. Labour has 15 out of 65 (23.5%) and National has two out of 33 (6%). There are seven out of 120 seats reserved for Maori (6%) but 25 out of 120 MPs (20%) are Maori. Women hold 48% of seats in Parliament and “LGBTQ” MPs hold 11% of seats. If you’re an advocate of identitarian equity, then MMP has done more to achieve this than separate racial seats could ever achieve.

Personally, I despise identity politics, whether it be practised by the left or the extreme-right. There is no moral difference between either ideological practice, just different identities. The success of western liberal civilisation is founded upon the supremacy of the individual over the collective. Free speech, free enterprise, free association and the protection of property rights have resulted in historic low levels of poverty. Communism, socialism, fascism and totalitarianism have created terror, misery, oppression and over 100 million corpses in the 20th century.

Based on the utterances of the leadership of the five parties currently in Parliament, this law change could pass by as much as 110 votes to 10. ACT has been unequivocal in its opposition to Maori wards. Seymour said on Tuesday, “ACT believes in the inherent dignity of each and every individual. Making laws that give people different rights based on who their great grandparents were is fundamentally divisive.”

It goes without requiring political analysis that Labour’s 65 MPs, the Greens’ 10 MPs and the Maori Party’s 2 MPs will all vote in favour of removing the ability of voters to challenge the creation of Maori wards at local government level. The position of the National party remains disappointingly ambiguous. National leader Judith Collins announced on Monday that National will contest the Maori seats for the first time since 2002, in the 2023 election. She says the caucus is yet to discuss and form a consensus on Maori wards. That is not a promising signal.

In a nation which prides itself upon fighting fascism in the Second World War, opposing apartheid in the 1980s and correcting the injustices inflicted upon Maori by our early colonial government, it is bizarrely contrarian that the current government seeks to entrench further racial division and legal privilege. Entrenching the creation of Maori wards in local government doesn’t just discriminate against non-Maori; it also insults Maori by treating this particular racial group as being incapable of participating in democracy on an equal footing.

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A Free Taste of an Insight Politics Article
The BFD Staff

The BFD Staff

A contribution from The BFD staff.