Summary: Debate in New
Zealand over whether to abolish the seats in Parliament reserved for
Maori members. Some have suggested that New Zealand’Äôs Mixed Member
Proportional system of full representation should be able to provide
fair representation for the Maori people in itself.
Australian Broadcasting Company
New Zealand debates whether to scrap exclusive Maori
Reporter: Gillian Bradford
May 25, 2003
(This is a transcript from
Correspondents Report. The program is broadcast around Australia on
Sundays at 08:00 on ABC Radio National.)
HAMISH ROBERTSON: Well,
political freedom may have been a long time coming in South Africa,
but in New Zealand it's been taken for granted for years.
there's been a heated debate there in the past few weeks over
whether to scrap the 18 Parliamentary seats exclusively reserved for
representatives of the country's Maori population.
Conservative National Party Opposition believes that these seats
have outlived their usefulness, given that Maori now enjoy exactly
the same rights as other New Zealanders, and there was no longer the
need for special rights for one race.
This is something of an about
turn for the Nationals, who until now had supported retaining the
seats until Maori themselves no longer wanted them. But National
Party Leader, Bill English, says the time has come to abolish the
seats, which were first enshrined in New Zealand law back in the
When he announced his Party's new position on the issue,
there was a chorus of protests from academics, community leaders and
politicians, with Prime Minister, Helen Clark, accusing Mr English
of playing "desperate politics", others simply denounced him as
Well, here with the background to the story is our New
Zealand Correspondent, Gillian Bradford.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: It may
seem European New Zealanders were being particularly forward
thinking when they introduced special seats for Maori back in 1867.
But while history shows Maori were getting a better deal than many
other indigenous people, they were still being sold well short when
it came to equal representation in Parliament.
Lecturer, Dr Danny Keenan says Maori would have been given 20 seats,
not four, if the Government had intended to give them equal
DANNY KEENAN: They were granted simply because pressure
from London had become too intense, and I think the New Zealand
Government was finding it too difficult to explain to the British
Government why Maori were not voting.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: So the
history of the seats isn't really that flattering. I mean, the
reasons why they were set up weren't romantic at all, and yet today
Maori want to keep them. Why is that?
DANNY KEENAN: The truth is
Maori people are possibly divided on the issue, but the overwhelming
Maori view is that they should be retained because what we see in
our history I think is the Crown continuing to change legislation at
will to suit its own purposes.
There is not guarantee, even under
the current MMP system that Maori people will get to Parliament.
For example, the National Party has only one, it has one Maori MP.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: The four seats granted to Maori in the 1860s have
only recently increased to seven. In 1996, New Zealand switched to a
mixed member proportional voting system, but has shifted votes from
the major two parties to a number of smaller parties, and it's that
change that has convinced Opposition Leader, Bill English, that
Maori no longer need special seats.
BILL ENGLISH: We say that it's
now time to show some faith in New Zealand and its institutions, you
know. We have a democracy that I believe is capable of allowing
everyone representation of their interests, and therefore the Maori
seats simply aren't needed in the way that they were in the past.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: But author and renowned Maori historian, Michael
King, believes it must be Maori, and not politicians, who decide if
and when the seats should go.
MICHAEL KING: Some Maoris see it as
being a bit rich that Bill English is calling for the abolishment of
seats and saying they're no longer available, when National has only
one Maorist MP, and I would have think he'd be in a much stronger
position to make that suggestion when he's got about half a dozen.
So the way I interpret it is, Bill English is not saying what he's
saying because he's trying to abolish the Maori seats, he's saying
what he's saying because he's trying to claw back the National Party
core support that he lost in the last election.
But you do see ahead, whether it be 10, 20 years, you do see a point
where in fact Maori will accept that there is no particular need for
MICHAEL KING: No, I don't actually. I think
commentators might, and no Maori politicians might, but there are
very few people who will actually give away an element of political
power or authority that they have.
I think the way Maori would look
at it in 10 years time, even when the case is stronger propolition
[phonetic], is that okay, we've now got say 18 Maori in there under
the MMP system, but we've also got those four Maori under the Maori
seats, and why should we give up four Maori seats in the potential
additional influence of four members of Maori Parliament.
it's always going to be very difficult to persuade Maori en masse
that they don't need those seats.
HAMISH ROBERTSON: Historian,
Michael King ending that report from Gillian Bradford