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Richard Prebble: Labour’s new kind of democracy

The Maori Affairs Select Committee is hearing evidence on why my vote in this year’s local election should be worth less than a vote in a Maori ward.


The Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangement) Bill proposes, among other things, to create a Maori ward and a general ward both electing three councilors. There are 21,700 voters on the Maori roll and 55,600 voters on the general roll. My vote will be worth 39% of a vote in the Maori ward.


There are six provisions in our law that are so important for democracy that they can only be changed by the vote of 75 percent in parliament or by a majority in a referendum. One is clause 36 of the Electoral Act that guarantees everyone regardless of race has an equal vote.


The Attorney-General, Hon David Parker, has advised parliament that “the Bill appears to limit the right to be free from discrimination affirmed in s 19 of the Bill of Rights Act and cannot be justified under s 5 of that Act.”


The principle of all votes having equal value is in the Local Government Act. The Local Government Commission advised the council how to set up wards that are proportional.

The Mayor, Steve Chadwick, on whose casting vote this local bill was proposed, has given three reasons for unequal voting.


First, “The Community wants it”. There has been no referendum or poll to suggest the voters of Rotorua want unequal votes.


Second, “Te Tiriti o Waitangi’. If parliament accepting the treaty requires unequal voting in Rotorua then it follows that Maori everywhere, in every election, should get a vote worth 61% more.


Third, “the spirit and intent of the Rotorua Township (Fenton) Agreement”. Te Arawa made generous land donations in order to establish the town. The settlement does not justify these proposed unequal voting rights. Rotorua receives massive assistance from the taxpayer starting with the rebuilding of the town after the Tarawera eruption. There is a reason why the park in the city is called the government gardens.


Then there is “no taxation without representation”. The general roll voters provide most of the Council’s rates.


Labour, Green and Maori Party MPs voted for this bill. The Minister of Māori Development Willie Jackson says democracy in 2022 is “broader and more expansive than just one person, one vote”. He says Labour’s agenda is to expand co-governance.


Willie says we “have nothing to fear." We need to be very afraid. There is a name for giving different voting power on the basis of race. It is call apartheid.


To avoid local bills being party politics the convention is the MP representing the headquarters of a local body is always in charge of a local bill. As MP for Auckland Central I have introduced more local bills than any MP currently in parliament.


If I had been asked to present this bill I would have advised it is an abuse of parliament’s procedure to seek to change our constitution by way of a local bill. If the council insisted, I would have presented the bill, set out the council’s case and then recommended parliament reject the bill.


At the urging of the Mayor, Steve Chadwick, a former Labour MP, the Council bypassed the local MP Hon Todd McClay and asked Tamati Coffey, a Labour list MP to be in charge of the bill. Mr Coffey was defeated by the locals. He represents the Labour party in parliament and not Rotorua.


Local Bills are usually referred to the Local Bills Committee. Mr. Coffey is abusing his power as the member in charge to nominate the Maori Affairs Committee which he chairs. He has tried to race it through. It is reported the chair is cutting off witnesses who say the bill is racist.


A proper examination of the bill will reveal anomalies. I have neighbours on the Maori roll who are not from Rotorua. Many local Maori are on the general roll. Some Maori will get a more valuable vote than other Maori.


Today in Rotorua there are many Maori councilors. The council rushed to introduce Maori wards before doing their math. Now they realise Maori wards may reduce Maori representation. The council will not repeal their decision to introduce Maori wards because the agenda was always co-governance.


Having unequal voting will not solve Rotorua’s real issues. Here is one. The Labour government has filled our motels with the homeless from all over the Central North Island. There are enough children in our motels to fill a primary school. Borders are reopening. Where are Rotorua’s tourists to stay?


Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.


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