OPINION: I have written before about my two ancestors who were Maori MPs during the 19th century. They both represented the Southern region and very much saw their role as acting in the specific interests of Maori.
For several decades the seats were the only means for most Maori to gain representation in Parliament.
The MPs had full participation rights and they were able to affiliate with party politics if they chose but generally they saw themselves purely as a voice for Maori.
The basic reason for the Maori vote being introduced was a belief from some MPs that representation in a democracy was important and that the policy of the time tied voting rights back to land ownership, which denied many Maori that right. Although Maori owned land they did not have their property rights represented in the same way as Pakeha land owners so they could not vote.
The original proposals were that Maori could participate like all other citizens but this was challenged. Considering the recent comments from ACT leader, Jamie Whyte, about special treatment for Maori, with the Maori seats being used as an example, it is ironic to note it was originally the conservatives who wanted Maori in separate electorates. They didn't like the idea that Maori might be allowed to influence voting for Pakeha candidates, especially when they were the majority of the population.
One might argue that everything is different now and the conservatives' position has shifted but interestingly it remains perversely focused on colour and race, albeit from a different angle.
The Maori seats are currently portrayed by ACT as some wonderful privilege that disadvantages other New Zealanders but it is very convenient to omit the fact that until 1976 Maori were only allowed to vote in the Maori electorate. The first 30 years of my father's voting life he was denied the same democratic right as his Pakeha wife and neighbours.
Wading in to the same debate and attempting to share some of the red-neck territory with Whyte is Winston Peters. We know he has an answer for everything so I am sure he will be able twist the tale to justify his current opposition to the seats but, without a doubt, his rise to political prominence with New Zealand First, was on the back of the Maori Electorates. In 1996, all the Maori seats were won by Winston's party which also gave rise to Tau Henare and Tuku Morgan. His recent revelation that he is philosophically opposed to the seats belies belief and is, in my opinion, the height of hypocrisy.
This first shot over the bow has attracted a loyal following on news websites as a particular demographic cheers the mischief on. It clearly heralds a further series of attacks on a particular suite of policies that tend to favour disadvantaged Maori populations. They will attempt to convince the uneducated that most of these policies and programmes are racially biased to give Maori something that others do not receive.
In reality, the overwhelming majority of these policies are intended to benefit those that fit the same socio-economic demographic profile as many Maori families but they will fail to explain this in order to guarantee that people remain uninformed and tending towards racist attitudes. They will make sure that the impression is that Maori are the only beneficiaries of such policy.
There is also a number of policies and some legislation that is intended to recognise customary rights and iwi-based property rights. The alternative system for holding and managing Maori land has always required a parallel model of management and the entire thing was initially introduced to simply assuage settler hunger for land. It was unjust and racially-driven and modern remedies still reflect a hangover from those early settler government initiatives.
But of course neither Whyte nor Peters will make an effort to provide the context or show any empathy towards Maori who continue to suffer socially or have lost their asset base through deceit and greed. They have their own motivation.
The reality is that both Whyte and Peters are simply electioneering at the expense of Maori. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that they couldn't care less about the Maori seats but it is a proven platform for attention with strands inevitably leading to other platforms. If they do believe they are somehow advocates for Maori themselves by ensuring there is some form of equality surely they would seek to make amends for injustices that have been occurring for the past two centuries.
But no. They somehow distort their argument even further suggesting that the injustice that occurred was just another privilege that Maori enjoyed whilst others suffered. Such behaviour from intelligent men suggests that open, honest critical analysis is put to one side in favour of a need to deceive or deny the facts.
- The Press
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