Ma¯ ori wards

Manawatu Guardian - - NEWS -

Late last year, five city coun­cils in New Zealand voted uni­lat­er­ally to es­tab­lish Ma¯ori wards, seek­ing to give Ma¯ori au­to­matic seats on coun­cil. In ev­ery case, lo­cal res­i­dents have col­lected suf­fi­cient sig­na­tures to force ref­er­enda aim­ing to over­turn the coun­cil decisions.

The de­bate has be­come in­tense; this for many is a ma­jor con­sti­tu­tional is­sue. But what are we ar­gu­ing about? Is it about racism, the role and au­thor­ity of lo­cal coun­cils, democ­racy, Ma¯ori af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, cur­ing Ma¯ori so­cial prob­lems, or what? Ev­ery­one in the ar­gu­ment prob­a­bly has their own dif­fer­ent ideas.

Bi­cul­tur­al­ism has been in­tro­duced by small steps over the years. This is the first time most cit­i­zens have ever been asked to vote on the is­sue. We might get a shock when we find out what New Zealan­ders ac­tu­ally think when they can ex­press them­selves with­out fear of at­tack.

One thing is cer­tain, we have been plunged into a highly po­larised de­bate. Many cit­i­zens be­lieve it is the role of their lo­cal coun­cils to pro­vide wa­ter and sew­er­age ser­vices and make sure the lawns are mowed in our pub­lic parks. They do not be­lieve it is the role of coun­cils to get in­volved in com­pli­cated so­cial is­sues and then send ratepay­ers the bill.

The abil­ity for cit­i­zens to chal­lenge the de­ci­sion to cre­ate Ma¯ori wards by way of a ref­er­en­dum is cur­rently at risk, with sev­eral re­cent un­demo­cratic moves ini­ti­ated in Par­lia­ment and by lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to re­move the abil­ity of cit­i­zens to even seek a ref­er­en­dum that can chal­lenge a coun­cil’s de­ci­sion on Ma¯ori wards.

The most re­cent at­tempt to abol­ish ref­er­enda on Ma¯ori wards was last year, by way of a par­lia­men­tary pri­vate mem­ber’s bill by Green MP Marama Davidson. The Greens and Labour back Davidson’s bill.

Un­der­stand­ably many cit­i­zens are now sim­mer­ing-mad over what they see is as a sly at­tack on their con­sti­tu­tional and demo­cratic rights.

Other peo­ple see this as an is­sue of much needed af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion to help Ma¯ ori, while oth­ers see it as too much af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion. Af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion means pro­vid­ing spe­cial priv­i­leges and fi­nan­cial sup­port to Ma¯ori to com­pen­sate them for be­ing dis­ad­van­taged.

Most New Zealan­ders agree that Ma¯ori were hard-done-by when Euro­peans ar­rived and colonised this coun­try on their terms. Most agree that some recog­ni­tion should be given to Ma¯ ori, and some com­pen­sa­tion made.

Does the ad­di­tion of au­to­matic Ma¯ori seats in lo­cal gov­ern­ment, com­bined with all the other Treaty of Wai­tangi ben­e­fits, cross a line that some cit­i­zens start to feel un­com­fort­able with? When does all the elec­toral in­trigue try­ing to sti­fle the right to a pub­lic ref­er­en­dum be­gin to make peo­ple think their demo­cratic rights are be­ing un­der­mined?

Few politi­cians are pre­pared to say where the line on Ma¯ ori af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion is; how much is too much and how much is not enough.

Yet it is claimed Ma¯ori re­main so­cially dis­ad­van­taged in terms of mea­sures like in­come, wel­fare up­take, health and prison pop­u­la­tion, de­spite in­ten­sive af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion over the past 50 years, with Ma¯ori re­ceiv­ing bil­lions in Treaty set­tle­ments, their own schools, their own tele­vi­sion and ra­dio sta­tions, Wha¯nau Ora, to name a few. Claims are made Ma¯ori are the vic­tims of colo­nial­ism and sup­pres­sion of their cul­ture. So it is claimed that tip­ping the demo­cratic process in favour of Ma¯ori by giv­ing them su­per­nor­mal po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion is re­quired, such as ded­i­cated seats on lo­cal coun­cils.

The po­lit­i­cal game of garnering as much as one can from af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion calls on the re­cip­i­ents to play the vic­tim. Does such vic­tim­hood sit well with Ma¯ori, has it done enough for them over the past half cen­tury? Will it help them much over the next cen­tury? Does vic­tim­hood sit well with a peo­ple who have a strong sense of ‘mana’?

With­out proper lead­er­ship from the politi­cians and open fact based de­bate, the peo­ple will have to fight Ma¯ori wards out amongst them­selves. Cit­i­zens who are to vote on this mat­ter should con­sider their po­si­tion care­fully. If cer­tain politi­cians have their way it may be the last time we get to vote like this. SEL­WYN BROWN Palmer­ston North

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