Nelson Matters - Maori Ward Law Change

Labour began the year last week rushing a law change through Parliament under urgency that removes communities having a vote on whether their council has separate Maori seats. The NZ Herald described it as law making at its worst and reeking of arrogance.

I want our councils to be representative and diverse, but I do not support separate Maori seats. I welcome that more Maori, woman and young people are being elected to councils. Maori now make up 14% of Councillors nationwide, in line with their 14% of population.

Exclusive seats for Maori or anyone else is inconsistent with the basic democratic principle of all voters being treated equally. All Councillors should serve all in their community. Separate seats encourages division. The Treaty of Waitangi does not require separate seats. Article 3 specifies that Maori have the full rights of British subjects, not additional rights.

The electoral system belongs to electors, not the elected. That is why referendums decide whether Parliament is elected by FPP or MMP. A referendum is provided for if Councils want to change to STV. The Clark Labour Government wrote the law providing for referendum on separate Maori seats in 2002 but Labour now says its “racist”. The truth is that Labour does not like voters decisions. 21 communities have voted against separate Maori seats including Nelson in 2012, when we voted 12,387 against, to 3,192 for.

Government officials have criticized the process saying electoral changes require thorough public consultation. Submissions opened last Wednesday but closed the next day. Usually it is 20 days. Select committees normally get six months to consider a bill whereas Labour reduced it to six days. Committee members like me cannot read the 12,500 submissions (78% were against) in this time. It is disappointing that Nelson’s Mayor and MP have endorsed the Bill and process. Nelson deserves better on decisions about how we are governed.