Turia: The Importance of the Maori Seats

Published: Wed 20 Sep 2006 02:28 PM
'The Importance of the Maori Seats to Maori and the wider community';
an address to Journalism Studies; Western Institute of Technology; New Plymouth
Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party
Wednesday 20 September 2006
As I come to you today, my colleagues are in Wellington celebrating their first year in Parliament; the growth of the Maori Party in the political landscape of Aotearoa.
While I would have loved to have been there with them, it also makes complete sense to be here in Taranaki. Because it was in Taranaki, that I completed the final hui on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill.
We had embarked on a whirlwind round of hui in Tokoroa, Mangakino, Whanganui, Foxton, Levin, Otaki, New Plymouth and Palmerston North; discussing the Foreshore and Seabed Bill.
Less than a month after it landed in the House, New Zealand witnessed the unprecedented hikoi to Parliament on 5 May 2004; and then a day later, the first reading of the Foreshore and Seabed Act, was signed.
So as I was travelling here today, I thought back to the day I stood on the banks of the Waitara River, and spoke of the need for leadership to be shown, for the generations to come. And I remember questions people asked of me over that tumultuous period of our history:
* How can we be tangata whenua when the last piece of customary land that we have left is being removed? * What hope is there for tangata whenua when only a small number of Maori MPs uphold tikanga? * What does this Bill mean for our ongoing relationship with the Crown? * Am I prepared to make a mark in the sand, to be on the public record? I am here today, proud to assert that the Maori Party has indeed stood up to be counted, and just two years after our party was launched on 10 July 2004, our mark in the sand will be seen through our Private Members Bill, the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Bill which we will soon be submitting for the next ballot.
I am thus delighted to come here today, to the Western Institute of Technology Journalism Course, and to speak to your topic, 'the importance of the Maori seats'.
For the importance of the Maori seats is something that we live, day in and day out, in our commitment to defend Maori rights, and advance Maori interests, for the benefit of all who live in Aotearoa.
The Foreshore and Seabed Legislation was a defining moment for us as we saw it as a 21st century confiscation and a denial of access to Justice. If there was ever an issue that Maori Electorate MPs should have stood up their constituency, this was it.
The election of four Maori Party members to the Maori electoral seats, stands as an ongoing statement of a commitment to Maori rights, a belief in the power of the independent Maori voice.
And in saying this, I recall the words of Chief Judge Durie, in his paper given at a Conference on 'The Position of Indigenous People in National Constitutions'. Judge Durie said:
'Like the Treaty of Waitangi, the Maori Parliamentary seats stand as an enduring symbol of their constitutional status - and historic statements of principle, like symbols, are essential tools in re-building our national identity'.
Since that day by the Waitara river, a lot of water has gone under the bridge, so to speak. And in doing so, the pathway forward towards rebuilding our national identity is as critical today as it has ever been.
The visit in November last year of the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, to look at the nature and extent of our indigenous human rights issues in New Zealand was a particular marker, in our pathway forward.
The Rapporteur concluded that Governments cannot unilaterally extinguish indigenous rights through any means without the free, prior and informed consent of the concerned indigenous peoples.
His report reinforced that Maori did not give any type of consent to the Government to the confiscation of the Foreshore and Seabed.
And he went further to recommend that the MMP electoral system should be constitutionally entrenched to guarantee adequate representation of Maori in the legislature and at the regional and local governance levels.
The UN Special Rapporteur ended his report, recommending that:
"These wider constitutional and societal issues need to be debated responsibly and democratically by all social and political actors concerned because their solution will determine the kind of society New Zealand will be in the future".
It will be to the lasting shame of this nation, that this recommendation, like the report itself, has been ignored by the Labour Government.
And indeed it will be part of the ongoing pride of Taranaki, that it is the Western Institute of Technology that is picking us this challenge, to debate issues 'responsibly and democratically' in order to help shape our future.
I want to borrow a line from Kelly Loney, who graduated with the WITT National Diploma in Journalism five years ago. Kelly stated:
"Journalism provides a purpose to meet people and a licence to be nosey. There's a strong sense of value and something deeply satisfying as a news reporter, being able to inform and educate readers and give people a voice for their causes".
What you are doing here, this week, is taking advantage of the licence to be nosy, in using your skills to find out about key issues in our journey towards nationhood.
I see from your programme that you have looked at the issues of accuracy, balance and fairness in news reporting; that you are examining the importance of agencies such as Te Puni Kokiri and the New Plymouth District Council; and that the week also looks at some of the key indicators of health and well-being - including the all important resolution of our treaty claims.
I am pleased that your course includes the opportunity to also debate, democratically and responsibly, the issues of Maori political representation through the means of the electoral seats.
In spite of their inauspicious and indeed undemocratic beginnings, tangata whenua regard the seats as the only guarantee of at least a minimal degree of representation. It has always been the hope of our people that those who fill the seats would be dedicated advocates in Parliament for Maori - not for Labour; not for New Zealand First - but for Maori.
Through the 1850s and 1860s Maori pressed for political representation as a right of British subjects. Some politicians supported general Maori representation, but in the end Parliament decided to have separate Maori seats in which only Maori could vote. It was thought at that time that the greater number of Maori in some areas would swamp the Pakeha vote.
Four Maori seats were established, three in the North Island and one in the South, in time for the first elections for Maori members in 1868. The Maori seats were only meant to be on trial for five years, but in 1876 they became permanent. There were still only four seats a century later, and it was not until MMP that there were more : five in 1996, and then seven in 2002. And who knows in 2007?
It makes for fairly sobering reading of the history of our nation to remember that from 1896 up until 1967 Maori were forbidden from being able to stand in what was called 'European' seats. Indeed it wasn't until 1975 with National's Ben Couch (Wairarapa) and Rex Austin (Awarua) that Maori were successful in being elected in general seats. The Federation of Maori Authorities, FOMA, has described the election of Members to Parliament up until 1975 as essentially a race based privilege benefitting the settler class.
In 1975 also, Labour introduced a Maori electoral option to held alongside each census, as we have experienced this year.
Having the licence to be nosy, may well push some of you to ask questions about which it is that Maori can only change to go on the Maori roll every five years, when in fact our election cycle is three. Is this another example of state control, of paternalistic policy-making to contain the Maori vote?
You may wonder, as do I, why can't Maori be automatically enrolled on the Maori roll, with the option to choose to go on the general roll?
I am excited by your enthusiasm for considering Maori political representation, to know that we can be our own solution.
We will all remember National's 2005 Treaty Policy which announced that National would abolish Parliament's Maori Seats.
And we also remember that during the election campaign, Labour stated they did not have a position on the entrenchment of Maori seats. This is in stark contrast to their position when the entrenchment issue came before a parliamentary select committee in 2001, and Labour came out in support of the plan, on the basis that the seats should have the same level of protection as others.
Obviously that was before the days of the Maori Party, of the Orewa factor; of Trevor Mallard's race-based review; of Labour support to delete Treaty principles from legislation; of Steve Maharey's action to remove the Treaty from the school curriculum.
So it is very clear that the jury is out now on whether either National or Labour would support the entrenchment of the Maori seats.
The key issue around the Maori seats is the desire for effective Maori political representation. The exclusion of the system of Mäori representation from the entrenched provisions of the 1956 Electoral Act, is described by Professor Ranginui Walker as
"perhaps the most discriminatory measure of all in the application of the law to Mäori representation."
To sum up, the current situation reveals a major disparity between the Mäori and general electoral systems. Basically, the provisions regulating the general electorate seats are entrenched in the 1993 Act, while those concerning Mäori representation are not.
What this means in practical effect is that all the sections containing provisions related to Maori representation can be repealed by a simple majority in the House (ie 51%); while for the general seats 75% is required.
The purpose of entrenching the Maori seats is therefore necessary to ensure the particular status of the Maori Parliamentary seats will be protected until such time as there is a broader and more meaningful process of constitutional change.
I started this speech with a reference to the UN Special Rapporteur, and his recommendation to entrench the MMP electoral system to guarantee adequate representation of Maori. It is therefore only fitting, to return to the United Nations, this time Article 19 of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states:
Indigenous Peoples have the right to participate fully, if they so choose, at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures..."
The UN Human Rights Council endorsed the declaration in June this year - well that is by all nations except Canada, Australia, United States, the Russian Federation - and us.
There has never been a more critical time to pull together all these issues - the Foreshore and Seabed confiscation; the deletion of Treaty principles; the lacklustre commitment to the Maori seats - and to ask searching questions about how Maori can fully participate 'at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies'.
We will be looking to the graduates of this class, to ask those questions, in giving people a voice, in representing the issues. I wish you great courage in doing so.
Helen Leahy

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