Updated: Jan 17, 2021
The article below appeared in the Taranaki Daily News, January 13, 2021
Last week, your correspondent Dan Lander argued that those campaigning against the creation of one or more Maori wards in New Plymouth were “anti-Maori”.
He particularly singled out the Hobson’s Pledge Trust for attack, claiming that the organisation is “fundamentally against and actively works to thwart Maori representation in local government”. He noted that we had financed the printing of the anti-Maori ward petition in the North Taranaki Midweek paper.
Yes, we certainly did finance the petition promoting the need for a referendum of ratepayers before anything as radical as race-based wards is adopted, and we make no apology for that. But we are in no way opposed to Maori representation in local government. What we do oppose is local councils foisting race-based wards on their cities and districts without the agreement of their ratepayers.
What we know is that almost wherever ratepayers are asked for their opinion on race-based wards, they give a very strong thumbs down (the only exception being Wairoa District Council).
What we know is that the number of Maori New Zealanders elected to local government has been steadily rising over the years, from 4.3% in 2004 to 10.1% in 2016, without the crutch of racially-based wards.
What we know is that in Parliament the number of Maori MPs considerably exceeds the proportion of Maori New Zealanders in the total population, with roughly a quarter of all MPs being Maori. The number of Maori MPs would fully reflect the share of Maori in the general population even without the long-outdated Maori electorates.
This time last year, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the National Party, the Leader and Deputy Leader of New Zealand First, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, the Co-Leader of the Green Party, and the Leader of the ACT Party were all Maori, and only one of those was dependent on a Maori electorate to be in Parliament.
What that shows is not only that Maori New Zealanders are absolutely capable of winning election without the crutch of racially-based electorates, but also that Maori New Zealanders are no more homogeneous in their political views than other New Zealanders. Some Maori New Zealanders have radical views; some Maori New Zealanders have more conservative views. In that, they are no different from all other New Zealanders, whether of European, Asian or Pacific Island ancestry.
Local government is primarily about issues like local roads, libraries, water supply, drainage and similar matters: it is entirely unclear why there would be a distinctive “Maori view” on any of those issues.
Mr Lander stated that the Treaty of Waitangi somehow mandated, or at least implied the need for, separate Maori wards. But that is self-evident nonsense. The Treaty was not in any meaningful sense a constitution. It simply involved Maori chiefs ceding sovereignty to the Crown; being guaranteed in turn the ownership of their property; with the additional benefit that all Maori would have “the rights and privileges of British citizens”.
We are on a very dangerous path if we are attributing a separate constitutional status to those who chance to have a Maori ancestor – today, with ancestors of other ethnicities too of course. That path would take us to a very dark place.