It's been a mini season of elections over the past few months, writes Rino Tirikatene (Labour) in From the Beehive.
There's been a by-election in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti electorate and soon, one in Christchurch East. We've had a Maori electoral roll option, triennial schools board of trustee (BOT) elections and we are soon to vote for local body representatives, and of course there's been the Labour leadership vote. Since becoming elected as the representative for Labour in Te Tai Tonga Electorate I have pored over the demographics and one variable appears throughout - both Maori and Pakeha are not participating in the democratic process.
Some 800,000 voters did not vote in the 2011 general election. An anecdote I often hear in relation to local body and BOT elections is "if we get a 20-25 per cent voter turnout then we are happy".
Is that a fair representation of our democratic process, is that why our grandfathers and great uncles joined the 28th Maori Battalion and went with the NZ regiments to East Africa and Europe to fight and in many cases die? Haven't all our military involvements been about supporting the right to democracy and freedom to choose in countries where citizens haven't had that right?
My focus for this column is about encouraging Maori to vote in the upcoming local body elections and following on from that the general elections in 2014. If we remain apathetic to the process and offer up the same excuse of "it doesn't affect me or they don't listen to me" then don't we continue to get more of the same and nothing changes for the greater good?
I recently had constituents approach my electorate office for support relating to a decision by the BOT to close the bi-lingual unit at their school. They felt marginalised and disenfranchised by the lack of discussion, consultation and leadership.
This is one example of why Maori need to involve themselves in the democratic process both as enrolled voter and candidate. We have a huge collective vote that is underutilised and that really can make a difference if we vote.
I know that locally there are a handful of Maori candidates who have put their hands up to be representatives on councils and district health boards. I encourage you all to make sure your voice is heard at the table by completing your voting papers to ensure the people who represent you are reflective of your community. If we don't participate then we will always get "more of the same".
» Rino Tirikatene is the MP for Te Tai Tonga.
- The Southland Times