New Zealand is unique. It is the only country in the world which became a colony of another – not by conquest but by request of the inhabitants. Some wise chiefs saw that the introduction of muskets in 1805, unchecked, would lead to their obliteration because their custom (utu) required them to avenge every wrong done to their tribe (iwi) by another. So, in 1840, more than 500 chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi. This foundation document gave all the people of New Zealand equal rights as citizens under the sovereignty of the Queen. The melding of stone age wisdom and later “civilisation” was handled, for the most part, with mutual respect and dignity.
When the governor was replaced by an elected government, in conformance with British law, only property-owning males could vote. Maori had largely communal ownership so few could vote. The same was true of many of the settlers as most were simply servants and workers. However a wave of change was sweeping over Britain. Slavery had been abolished and the public were being given some voice in government. Fuelled by these British changes, four parliamentary seats were established exclusively for Maori in 1867. Strangely, and unfairly, the many landless settlers were not given representation.
The Maori seats were intended to last for only five years and in that time the law was changed to allow all males to vote. So the reasons for the Maori seats disappeared, but the seats did not. Instead more have been created so that there are now seven Maori seats. This has given Maori political power way beyond anything that could be achieved with financial donations. No amount of money to fund a political party in its electoral campaign can guarantee a single seat, but the Maori hierarchy can essentially dictate how those seats can be decided.
When the “First Past the Post” electoral system was replaced by the present “Mixed Member" system, the Commission of Inquiry which designed the latter proposed the abolition of the Maori seats, as MMP would allow minorities to obtain seats. But they were not abolished. Clearly neither of the major parties were prepared to risk losing the next election by taking that step.
Non-Maori cannot vote for the Maori seats but Maori can choose to go on the electoral roll for Maori seats and vote for them. They can also choose to be on the general roll and to vote for non-Maori seats. The Mongrel Mob have reportedly directed their members to go on the general roll and to vote in an electorate which is marginal for Labour. There is, of course, a requirement to have an address in that electorate but this is unlikely to be problem for Mongrel Mob members.
There are now 25 MPs who identify as Maori. So 18 have either been elected on the general roll or on a party list. The latter number, interestingly enough, is precisely the number required to represent the proportion of Maori in the population. Accordingly there is no justification for the Maori seats.
Many questionable ideas have resulted from the power of the block of Maori seats. Without that power would any sane politician believe that Queen Victoria went into partnership with 500 Maori chiefs on the other side of the world? Or that they would think that they were in partnership with one another?
To secure Maori votes, political parties have increasingly accepted claims that the problems disclosed by various statistics are the result of systemic bias against them and that the Treaty means different things from what it says.
My book, The Corruption of New Zealand, supports the well-reasoned view of the Auckland University professor of education, Elizabeth Rata, that the tribal vision is wrong and that the problems are a matter of class, not race. Thus, for example, the reason for 50% of the prison population being Maori is likely to be that 50% of the poor in New Zealand are Maori and the solution is to apply the explicit Treaty provision for all the people of New Zealand to be under the same laws. Changes for the benefit of all the poor are needed.
The Labour Government commissioned a report on the Maori vision for objectives in 2040. The report was kept secret until it was leaked. With great speed the Labour Government is now changing systems and laws in conformance with that vision. The Government has rejected the established system of “one law for all” to give overarching power to Maori through a tribal system with different laws for Maori. Jacinda Ardern as prime minister said only that there will be no separate Parliament. But the country is being separated on Tribal lines.
There is a pattern of events and vested interest moves that have corrupted our democracy and our history to promote a drift back to tribalism. The treaty was actually about the end of tribalism. It ended the warring of groups among the 500 iwi by unifying them and their constituents as equals with non-iwi under one rule. This is being turned on its head with a return to tribalism and a squeezing out of anyone not affiliated with one of the tribes.
If we do not rapidly undo much of what has been done, and is proposed, then our democracy will be crippled, or perish entirely, and our legal system will become largely impotent and inoperable. There is also a danger that we will develop racial intolerance at a level which we have never known.
As a nation we have been proud of laws which made no mention of ethnic divisions. But, suddenly, people of Maori descent are being given different legal rights from all other races.
Unless actions which have been taken, or are in progress, are reversed there is no point in worrying about ideas for reducing inequality and preserving our democracy. Instead we will have a tribally based legal system where power is held by unelected hereditary Maori leaders. A necessary first step to avert disaster is to abolish the Maori seats.
As founder of the Progeni software company, Perce Harpham, now 91, was a pioneer of the New Zealand computer industry. He is a former Green Party candidate. His book is available here.