I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say [deep breath] that the Maori seats are distortionary FPP-hangovers that munt proportional representation and encourage a style of politics that is antithetical to the liberal foundations of our political system, and are, therefore, bad.
First, the distortion. Of the people who voted for the four successful Maori Party candidates, only half gave their party votes to the Maori Party - the rest voted Labour. This was enough to give Labour two extra seats, on top of the Maori Party's four. This meant that voters who had enough votes for four MPs ended up electing six.
My Electoral Abnormality Alarm is wailing.
This is not the same as the tactical voting in Epsom, because that involved bringing in real party votes that would otherwise have been disqualified. There really were enough people who gave their party votes to ACT to justify their two seats. (I have issues with tactical voting there, too, but that's for another rant...)
The question is, if the Maori seats didn't exist and those voters had to make a choice between Labour and the Maori Party, what would they have chosen? They might have returned to the tried and true of Labour. They might have given the Maori Party a real mandate by giving them a much larger portion of the party vote. But either way, it would have been a genuine reflection of the political sentiment of the voters.
This was doubly important, given the supposed civil war we were facing over Seabed and Foreshore. Did Maori voters really hate Labour for S&F? Did they vote for the Maori Party candidate only because they knew they could still give Labour their party vote? Or did they vote for Labour only because they knew it wasn't going to make a difference for the Maori Party?
In short, which way did they really want the country to head? We don't know, because the Maori seats encouraged distortionary tactical voting and discouraged people from using their votes to reflect how they want the country to be governed. Thus, bad.
The Maori electorates are not really electorates. Mahara Okeroa's Te Tai Tonga electorate spans the entire South Island, and includes Chatham Island and Stewart Island. The interests that these MPs represent are not geographical, but ethnic. They are list seats by another name, a kind of proto-proportional representation, in that it gave Maori minority representation in Parliament when a FPP system couldn't accommodate it. Now it has become an artificial proportional representation system enforced on an already proportional representational system.
Let's not forget - Maori is 15% of this country. 15% of voters in a proportional representation system is not something to be trifled with, as Brash found out. But the applicable question here, though, is why such a powerful voting bloc required protection as if they faced falling below 5%.
The answer is simple - they're not a voting bloc. There is no bloc of 15% Maori votes out there, waiting to be represented.
As Green MP Metiria Turei said in a Salient interview earlier this year, "the Maori community is not the Borg. We don't all think with the same mind. Some of us will be socially conservative, some of us will be very liberal." It's hardly a radical statement to make.
It belies the idea that Maori MPs [coughmaoripartycough] can speak for all Maori, which is uncontroversial enough, but the more interesting question is whether Maori really want to speak with one voice, to share a voice with other Maori, and the mirror opposite: that Maori do not wish to share in the Pakeha voice (i.e. Participate in the same way as the rest of the electorate).
There is, indisputably, diversity in political opinion within the Maori community. But there is also a Maori community and a sense of solidarity that comes from it. The difference between the two is that a political community implies accepting decisions made by others that you disagree with, having your voice subsumed by a greater collective. Why create an artificial polity beyond what you need to create a functioning country? Why subsume dissenting Maori voices in a separate Maori polity, when they could be much more forceful voices outside? And if the Maori seats are only for the non-dissenting voices, why not just have list seats?
The Maori seats go beyond providing an avenue for Maori political expression - and MMP already does that. The Maori seats promote the formation of a separate Maori political community, and at its very core, it makes an assumption that I find unacceptable: That Maori have more politically in common with other Maori than with any Pakeha. That a rich, conservative, provincial Maori man has more in common with a poor, anarchist, urban Maori woman than he has with a rich, conservative, provincial Pakaha man.
It assumes that, fundamentally, our political interests stem from race.
If race and culture are really at the forefront of concerns for Maori voters, then I have no issues with Maori choosing to exercise their political power to reflect that. But my beef is with our electoral system trying to artificially create a voting bloc (i.e. 'These 7 MPs represent Maori') when, if Maori really did want representation as Maori, they could get more than twice that number.
Proportional representation is a good idea. So let's just let it work.
[That's not to say that abolishing the Maori seats with Pakeha votes is a good idea, though. All I'm saying is that the Maori seats themselves are a bad idea...]