Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Maori Seats on Council

Have the government made the right decision concerning Maori seats on the new Auckland Super-council? On the one hand, I agree with Rodney Hide, Leighton Smith on Newstalk ZB and national who have ruled them out. Their logic is sound. There should be no ethnic or other group that gets favoured treatment. This is sound democratic logic. In this way of thinking, there should be no favoured groups. Let the people decide. This is similiar to right wing capitalistic free market views, let the market dictate. So, at one level, they are correct. There should not be seats for Maori, PI, Asian, European, Christian, Muslim; or any other group.

But is it as simple as this? While the Treaty of Waitangi is a minefield and difficult to interpret, what I think we can say with confidence, is that it means that Pakeha NZers (the State + other immigrants) have a responsibility under the Treaty to ensure that Maori are given some degree of priority and a say within NZ. This means I suppose, that while Maori are in the minority, and they are unable through the democratic process to get representation, that the government has a responsibility to ensure that they do. In this case, it would seem that a good argument can be mounted to say that the government should ensure that they Maori are represented. Auckland is a big city and it is important that Maori are represented.

On the other hand again though, this could in fact have the reverse effect. It could stop Maori working hard as all the rest of NZ must do, to win seats through the democratic process. It could stop Maori working to develop the skills and doing the hard yards everyone else has to do. It could in fact limit the number of seats they get as they will get two, and Maori will not work harder to win more. It could reinforce the problem of dependency.

I can see real value in ensuring the Maori voice is heard. Such a voice could be a handbrake to rampant land developers who see Auckland purely as an economic product and will sell it off, develop it, in ways that do not protect the land. They could be a hindrance say to those who want to develop a park into an industrial site, or do something dumb to the sea shore. Can the remainder of Aucklanders be trusted with Auckland's assets?

To me, the time must come when 'affirmative action' will end and Maori, like all NZers will have to take their part in the processess. I hope we mature to the point where we can move ahead as one people with all people on the same level. The question for me is, are we there yet?

So have National got it right? I do not think they have. I think they have unnecessarily alienated Maori and the left. Some will now drift back to Labour/Green/Maori party allegiences.

I think they should have gone in one of two ways; both with a review period? First, they decide not to have Maori seats (as has been done) but set into the process a review of this decision after 3 terms. If there are sufficient Maori able to be elected through the 'natural' political processes, they leave it as it is? If they find they are not, they bring back the Maori seats to ensure representation. Second, which is not ruled out, that Maori seats are included in the process, but Maori are encouraged to stand in other seats as well. If after 3 terms it is clear that Maori can gain places on the council aside from the Maori process, then they are removed.

Either way, Maori should take up the challenge of getting elected.

What National have done is perhaps opened up a hornet's nest with an absolute decision. Personally, I would prefer the first option above. So, behind closed doors I would have hammered that out with Maori the idea that initially there will be no Maori sets and Maori are challenged to seek election through the democratic process. However, if this is unsuccessful, for whatever reason, I would promise a review ensuring that Maori are represented into the future if this does not work.

I have to say though that if Maori had determined to dig their heels in, as I suspect they would have, I may have gone for the other option, even if I lost Rodney in the meantime. I suspect the latter would have been the outcome because while I want us to be at that point where no ethnic group, Maori or otherwise, gets special treatment, I simply don't think we are there yet. We may be a generation away from this. Whatever else, I believe we want Maori represented in such groups.

I get the feeling that National are moving into troubled times. They have alienated many NZers on the smacking issue. They have upset Maori. They have upset the many socially liberal culturally sensitive NZers. They have to realise, that if NZ First had got a few more votes, the left would have won the last election. I sense they are struggling. I am doubting Key's ability to hold it all together. He is making mistakes. I thought he might be a 4 term man; I think he may be a 1 or 2 term man at best now.

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