15 Nov 2022

Electoral review does not go far enough to address inequities, Māori advocates say

10:46 am on 15 November 2022

By Pokere Paewai

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It is the largest review of the electoral system since MMP was introduced but it does not include broader constitutional issues. Photo: 123RF

Māori advocates say a review of the electoral system does not go far enough to address inequities.

An Independent Electoral Review is trying to work out how elections can be fairer and how the system upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The review was commissioned by the government in May, and has spent the past month in its first phase of consultation.

The panel has been meeting with Māori and iwi, advocacy groups and political parties, as well as holding public meetings and taking online submissions.

Its chair Deborah Hart said it was a massive opportunity for change.

"It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to have a look at the whole of our electoral system," Hart said.

"To weigh up what's working well, what's not working so well and what we could do better."

Te Tiriti guarantees Māori the right to political representation. But fundamental to the review is how that is upheld, and if tangata whenua are disenfranchised.

Victoria University associate professor Maria Bargh, who is the review's co-chair, said the Treaty was key.

"The Crown has those Treaty obligations and that's to ensure equal rights, amongst other things, between Māori and non-Māori.

"And those are rights to both participate in elections and to be represented in Parliament. So those are key areas of this framework."

The review has identified several areas where Māori are disenfranchised. They include a lack of understanding about the Māori roll and how it works, restrictions on prisoner voting, and high disengagement.

Hart said there was precedent for how a one-size-fits-all approach could be disenfranchising.

"When we tried the vaccine rollout and we tried to do it for everyone it had some perverse effects, it just didn't work for everyone.

"And when we decided to do things a bit differently for some groups of people, notably Māori, it worked really really well."

But while this is the largest review of the electoral system since MMP was introduced 30 years ago, its scope only goes so far.

It does not include broader constitutional issues, such as the make-up of Parliament or the role of Te Tiriti in the country's democracy.

Advocate and political commentator Te Matahiapo Safari Hynes said what was needed was transformation, not tinkering.

"Incrementalism, it is that whole idea of trying to make the existing systems better for our people as much as we can, and there's nothing wrong with that, but we cannot forget that the bigger picture goes beyond just tinkering with the existing system."

Hynes doubted disenfranchisement could be fixed within the current structures.

Especially when it was those very structures that were responsible for many of the issues, he said.

"There's only a certain level that we can exist as Māori within this system that's currently here in terms of central and local government. There's only a certain amount of things that we can achieve," Hynes said.

"We cannot achieve our full potential as a self-determining people within this political system. However this is what we have and we have to be a part of it."

The review needed to consider what role Māori institutions had, and how whānau could participate in those, Hynes said.

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