NZ Parliament: Abolish the Pakeha Seats

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E hoa ma, I meant abolish the General seats but the sub-editor thought he’d grab your attention by calling them Pakeha seats. But you know what we mean don’t you. You know, maybe they should be called Pakeha seats. We have Maori people in the Maori electorates but very few Generals in the general electorates.

You may think this piece of light-hearted prophesy a bit far fetched; porangi even. Perhaps it is. But I have found that most people imagine a future pretty much like the present. Most people including politicians and policymakers seem blind to the influence of demography; population statistics and projections, and how demography will have a huge influence on the future.

I wrote about demography a few years ago here.

Four Maori seats were established by the Maori Representation Act of 1867 to “provide better protection for the native race”. They were made permanent in 1876. The Electoral Act 1993 brought in a new system to expand the Maori seats depending on numbers enrolled as Maori.

In 1867 there were probably less than 250,000 Pakeha people in Aotearoa New Zealand (115,462 at the 1858 census, and 344.984 at the 1874 census). There is still much conjecture about the size of the Maori population at that time but it was probably much less than 50% of the total population. Whatever it was there were probably enough Maori to significantly influence elections if they were to vote in general electorates. It probably suited Pakeha at that time to marginalize the Maori vote into just four electorates.

The Maori vote remained marginalized in those four seats until 1993, and at the moment in seven seats.

The constitutional advisory panel is considering among other matters the place of the Maori seats in the constitution of New Zealand. The questions that have arisen so far include:

  • Whether to retain or abolish the Māori seats.
  • Whether to entrench the Māori seats, making them more difficult to change in the future.
  • Whether there are ways of ensuring Māori views are represented in the business of Parliament, to replace or to complement Māori seats.

As usual I think we’re asking the wrong questions.

As long as I can remember we’ve had calls for the Maori seats to be abolished. The most strident in recent times was in 2004 when Don Brash promised that a National government would remove the Maori seats. However the two majority parties usually respond that the seats will remain until Maori people no longer want them.

I reckon that Labour and National have always been quite happy to retain them for different reasons. Until recent decades Labour had a guaranteed four seats in Parliament, expanding gradually to seven seats. National on the other hand would have been quite happy for mainly Labour voting Maori to be marginalized into a few seats rather than let loose into the general seats. At the moment of course National is the main beneficiary of the Maori seats and is not inclined to upset the status quo.

But like Don Brash I think its time to abolish some seats. I think it’s time to abolish the general seats. Here’s how we do it.

Step 1

Declare all Pacific Islanders to be Maori and urge them to join the Maori roll.  We should have done that decades ago when our Pasifika cousins started migrating to Aotearoa in numbers. That is our tikanga (ki te manaaki, ki te awhi) but we let other considerations guide our response. We ought to have absorbed them instead of pushing them away to eventually form their own numerous hapu in the cities and to establish their own separate presence in all manner of cultural, social, economic and political affairs. But it’s not too late to put things right.

According to Statistics NZ the nation’s population is expected to reach 5,55 million by 2026. Within that are the following ethnic projections:

  • Maori:       810,000;
  • Pasifika:  480,000; and
  • Asia:        790,000
  • Maori + Pasifika:                1.29 million or 23.3%
  • Maori + Pasifika + Asia:     2.08 million or 37.5%

What is obvious from the statistics but not obvious in public discourse is that people of Asia-Pacific origin are rapidly increasing as a percentage of the total population. Those are just 12 year projections. In a further 25 years, by 2050, I imagine the ethnic and cultural composition might be very scary for some people. Maori+Pasifika will most likely be 50% or over. The scary thing for some is that Maori+Pasifika+Asia will definitely be over 50%, probably well over.

So, if we join with our Pasifika cousins now, and get everyone onto the Maori roll, we could by about 2026 have up to 16 Maori seats out of the 70 electorate seats in the parliament. That will grow over time and might be over 35 seats by 2050, or getting close to it

Step 2

Then around 2050, or whenever it is that Maori+Pasifika+Asia becomes the absolute majority, we generously invite all of our Pakeha countrymen to enrol as Maori so then we have a Maori+Pasifika+Pakeha majority.

Those numbers might translate into something like 63 Maori electorate and 7 general electorates. Now there might be quite a few who wouldn’t enrol as Maori but perhaps the thought of being part of the minority might panic them to choose to join Maori and Pasifika rather than being dominated by a Maori+Pasifika+Asia majority.

This could ungenerously be called the Brash Memorial Strategy.

Step 3

Then we would abolish the General seats and keep just 70 Maori seats. Now I know that some of you might say we should keep the Asians marginalized in the General Seats but that’s not fair.

With 70 Maori seats Governor Hobson’s premature declaration, “He iwi tahi tatau” (we are all one people) would finally come to pass.

Fiendish isn’t it. And if you think I’m porangi take another look at the population projections. That’s the main point of this story.


PS – I don’t believe that Hobson actually said that, “We are all one people”. I reckon he said, “Te Kiwi kotahi ahau – I’m the Number 1 Kiwi”. And that began New Zealanders’ strange habit of calling themselves “Kiwis” – kiwi birds instead of tangata persons. Silly aren’t they – those “Kiwis”.

Previous essays on the NZ Constitutional Conversation:
Does a constitution protect and promote democracy.
Let’s talk Democracy


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