13 Mar 2019

Entrenching Māori seats in parliament 'a question of equality'

7:19 pm on 13 March 2019

Supporters of a bill that would give Māori seats the same protection as general seats in Parliament presented passionate oral submissions to the Māori Affairs Select Committee today.

Seats in the empty debating chamber at Parliament

The Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill would would entrench Māori seats in parliament. Photo: RNZ

The Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill, in the name of Labour's Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene, would entrench Māori seats, requiring a 75 percent majority of Parliament to abolish them.

Currently, Māori seats can be abolished by a simple majority.

Mr Tirikatene said the bill was about correcting a constitutional imbalance of the treatment of Māori seats.

"It is the fact that there is a greater level of parliamentary protection given to general seats over the Māori electorate seats, which I seek to correct in this bill.

"The Māori seats in parliament have a long and colourful history, they have been part of our constitutional landscape for over a hundred and fifty years... this bill just corrects the one last double-standard that there is."

Labour MP Rino Tirikatene is char of the Maori Affairs Select Committee

Rino Tirikatene said the bill was about correcting a constitutional imbalance of the treatment of Māori seats. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The bill was backed by Labour and the Greens in September last year when it had its first reading in parliament. It even got the support of New Zealand First, who have been long-time opponents of Māori seats.

New Zealand First MP Darroch Ball said at the time the bill was an opportunity to put the Māori seats to a binding public referendum.

Former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd gave MPs his oral submission today, supporting the bill.

"I find it amazing and so sad that in 2019 we are having to go through this process to actually talk about equality.

"Because this is a question of equality and fairness, human rights and political rights."

He said the seven existing Māori seats were vital in representing the views of Māori.

"Just because you are Māori in a party, that is not the same as representing Māori.

"It makes human sense that Māori need to have their own voice as a treaty partner in parliament. I'm an anglican, but I don't speak for the Anglican Church.

"Māori need to know that they have people speaking for their issues, their place in space, their taonga, and that they are actually represented in a seat."

New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd.

The former mayor of New Plymouth Andrew Judd supported the bill. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The National Party have rejected the bill.

List MP Nuk Korako said entrenching Māori seats wouldn't actually make it any more difficult to abolish them, because the legislation that entrenches them could be repealed at any time by a simple majority.

However PSA representative Daniel Haines told MPs today that was a tiresome argument.

"Yes, you can un-do it with a simple majority and it can technically be overturned. But I think the argument comes from a place of saying, well if the mechanism doesn't work properly then why should we do it? I would say, then why did we do it for everything else except for this?

"The Māori seats allow our Māori MPs to be more bolshy and plucky with their Pākehā colleagues in promoting kaupapa Māori."

Recommendations made by te Māori Affairs Select committee will be taken to the bill's second reading.