Club Politique by Che Tibby

Māori Seats Not Bad

It’s not often you’ll get to see a spat between PA bloggers. So keep waiting. I’d merely like to provide a few clarifications for Keith about the Māori seats, and how they are not fundamentally anti-democratic.

How our system works is pretty complicated, and it’s taken me a big chunk of lunch and afterwork time, and the website, to get the details straight, but basically it goes like this.

The biggest gerrymander in our system is the guarantee that the South Island automatically receives 16 electorate seats in the House of Representatives, 15 general and 1 Māori. To work out how many seats the North Island gets, including any specifically Māori seats, the South Island electoral population is divided by 16, and a number arrived at. The electoral population is the total number of people registered on the General roll.

[thanks to Brent up at the Salient office at Salient Design for pointing out the above mistake. also, as the population of the North Island grows, the number of Electorate seats, both Māori and General, increases, with a corresponding decline in List seats]

That number, currently approximately 54,000, is used to measure how many seats the North Island gets. This means that the electoral populations of the both the Māori and General rolls are divided to make sure that approximately 54,000 people are in each electorate. For a reason I couldn’t work out, Māori seats currently only have 53,000 people each though. Still, no big.

What this means is that every electorate in the country, including the Māori electorates have essentially the same number of voters each. But, and there’s always a but, for reasons unknown, Māori do not turn out to vote in large numbers despite enrolling. Consequently, MPs from Māori electorates often get into the House on fewer numbers. This can’t be blamed on electoral boundaries though, it’s purely a product of low turn-out. And that can happen in any electorate in the country.

And, it doesn’t effect the Party vote, because votes in Māori electorates carry exactly the same weight as votes in General electorates when determining the proportion of List MPs. Less turn out just means less party votes in those electorates.

So to turn to Keith’s blog. The tactical splitting of votes between local candidates and non-local Parties isn’t a product of the Māori electorates. Conceivably, any electorate can deliver exactly the same result. If four seats, any four seats, returned a Green MP for example, but the persons returning that MP tactically voted for Labour, then we would also get an overhang.

If anything, because of the low turn out in the Māori electorates, there are possibly fewer MPs than there could have been in the overhang.

The next point is that the Māori electorates do not represent a racial gerrymander. Although the requirement for enrolment is that a person claim at least some Māori ancestry, it isn’t policed. If Keith wanted to enrol as a Māori, he could.

Also, ‘Māori electorate’ doesn’t equate to ‘ethnically Māori candidate’. The convention is that they do, but this is no-where written in stone. Māori of a number of different political persuasions stand in the Māori seats, but it wouldn’t stop me from doing so, big cracker that I am.

I think I know what’s really getting Keith’s goat. The fundamental assertion I disagree with is that New Zealand is a unitary political community. Māori have acted as a distinct political community, a subaltern counterpublic as Nancy Fraser would term it, for generations. Michael King, James Belich, Kayleen Hazlehurst, David Pearson and others have argued that, and the Māori seats partially reflect it.

But, paradoxically, Māori are also an integral part of the majority political community!

It’s a very tricky one.

The mistake he’s made is to assume that a separate Māori political community, one that’s been around since pre-1840, doesn’t also engage with broader New Zealand society. Which it does. Furthermore, although the Māori seats preference the election of Māori, these persons then head to Wellington, and conduct business with all the other MPs, from both Electorates and List.

In other words, there is no separatism. The Māori Party MPs have absolutely no option but to engage and transact with the remainder of New Zealand. And that process in itself means that Māori electorate MPs, who have been Labour, NZ First and Māori Party, then interact with like-minded MPs in our MMP environment.

Having said that though, the Māori electorates are traditionally left-leaning. But that hasn’t Māori seats returning non-Labour candidates under MMP. What this in itself indicates is that the Māori seats do not represent a voting bloc, but instead concentrate Māori voters somewhere of their own choosing (again, enrolment is voluntary, if a person wants be on the General roll, they can be), and which you have to assume are more likely to return someone who shares their values.

It was good to see him getting fired up about something though. He’s normally so damned calm and collected...