The Press

MPs draw line in the sand over Maori seats


ANALYSIS: Bottom lines are being dropped thick and fast around the country but there’s one in particular that’s got politician­s divided.

Winston Peters’ policy for a binding referendum on whether to keep the country’s seven Maori seats could cause all sorts of problems for other parties looking to do a coalition deal with the potential kingmaker after the September 23 election.

What’s NZ First proposing?

Despite the history of the party (don’t forget they won all the Maori seats in 1996, lost them in 1999 and then declared they would no longer stand in them in 2002) it wants a referendum that could see the seats abolished.

In his speech to party faithful on Sunday, Peters declared Maori didn’t need the Maori seats - ‘‘they don’t need any more tokenism’’.

He dismissed calls for a referendum tobe voted on only by those on the Maori roll. ‘‘What about the mass majority of Maori who are not on the Maori roll?

‘‘Those (on the general roll) should be entitled to vote on it as well and in that case so should everyone else, on the roll or not, it’s a constituti­onal issue,’’ he said.

Is the Maori Party wild?

Unsurprisi­ngly, the Maori Party, which holds one of the seven seats (co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell has Waiariki), doesn’t want them abolished and would like to see them entrenched in New Zealand.

It was Maori Party influence that saw the National Party drop its position to get rid of the seats when the two teamed up in government.

The party’s co-leader, Marama Fox, has attacked Peters for wanting to ‘‘put Maori back in a box’’.

‘‘It’s ridiculous to think that if we had a referendum in this country that Maori would be successful in retaining the seats.’’

She called out NZ First’s Maori MPs – Peters, Ron Mark and Pita Paraone – for leaving their values behind when they entered Parliament. ‘‘I just look at them and think what did you do when you walked into Parliament, leave your values under the carpet?’’

What about Labour?

As the party that holds six out of seven of them, leader Andrew Little said he totally ‘‘backs retaining’’ the Maori seats.

He pointed out that Peters had already come out with a number of bottom lines and they were something that will be addressed after the election.

‘‘I’m absolutely adamant the Maori seats are here to stay under a Labour-led government.’’

Is National weighing in?

National Party campaign manager Steven Joyce said following Peters’ announceme­nt on Sunday that the ‘‘time would come one day when everyone agrees they’re no longer needed’’. ‘‘But that day hasn’t happened yet.’’

On what that means for working with Peters post-election, Joyce said they’d wait until after the election given Peters had so many bottom lines now ‘‘he must have a dedicated person to keep track on them’’.

Has anyone else got a view?

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira is also against a referendum and would like to see the seats entrenched.

ACT doesn’t want the seats and leader David Seymour said if Parliament was ‘‘serious’’ about abolishing them, a referendum wouldn’t be needed.

United Future supports keeping the seats and the Greens say Maori should decide the future of the seats.

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