New Zealanders are inherently egalitarian, it is part of who we are.
It is not surprising therefore, that we as a society believe in equality before the law.
We do not want local government or the country be divided by race.
As a result, whenever communities are asked to vote on the introduction of Maori seats on their local councils, they have rejected it, in many cases, overwhelmingly.
Under the Local Electoral Act 2001, if a Council decides to introduce Maori seats unilaterally, the decision can be challenged if 5% of the local electors support the call for a referendum.
The New Plymouth experience
That is what occurred in New Plymouth in 2015, when locals rejected the District Council’s Maori Ward proposal by 83%
In response, Mayor Andrew Judd called his constituents ‘racists’ and proposed a law change to stop anyone else from holding a similar referendum in the future.
With help from the Maori Party, he presented a petition (signed only by himself) to Parliament in May 2016 requesting that the House of Representatives “consider a law change to make the establishment of Maori wards on District Councils follow the same legal framework as establishing other wards on District Councils.”
Eroding voters’ rights
In effect, the petition, which is still in front of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee would abolish the right of electors to challenge the introduction of Maori seats.
Mr Judd, who clearly believes that when it comes to Maori representation, democracy has no place, says that his petition is just the start; he wants half of all local authority Council representatives to be Maori.
Following is a letter that I wrote to Prime Minister Bill English which appeared as a full- page advertisement in some Sunday newspapers on April 2, 2017:
Dear Prime Minister,
We respectfully ask you to govern for all New Zealanders – not just the Maori tribal elite – by stopping the ‘Resource Legislation Amendment Bill’ as currently drafted.
We are referring to the concessions you have given to the Maori Party to allow iwi chiefs to sit alongside elected Council members and officials and co-govern the private property of others. Various deals have been done but the most damaging are the sweeping new ‘Mana Whakahono a Rohe’ agreements that will permanently force Councils to kowtow to iwi and hapu.
New Powers to Maori
Your Environment Minister Nick Smith says that their new powers will include, “Plan-making, consenting, appointment of committees, monitoring and enforcement, bylaws, regulations and other Council statutory responsibilities.”
That also includes fresh water according to your Minister.
These agreements with Iwi Leaders were imposed on the country behind closed doors. The secret deals were shaped with no consultation, no publicity, no warning, and no published minutes or agendas. By giving iwi seats at the Council table, you will embed the Maori world view and spiritualism into the heart of local government.
This is not what most New Zealanders want.
What is most galling is that you have not even asked the community what it thinks about the Mana Whakahono a Rohe Agreements?
The reality is that there is no community demand for Iwi Leaders to co-govern local authorities, but once the agreements are in place they will be there forever – nothing can change or remove them unless iwi agree.
Councillors and the community will have no right to end them – even if 90% of voters decide they are not working. The fundamental protections of democracy and the rule of law will be forever lost.
Constitutional Lawyer Stephen Franks says, “The Bill entrenches permanent race privilege and corruption… The provisions are a major constitutional change. They subordinate powers entrusted to elected local governments, in deliberately obscure words, to racially inherited power, beyond the reach of electoral recall.”
Prime Minister, where is your mandate for these radical changes? You did not campaign on them at the last election. For major constitutional change, such as this, surely there should be a public referendum process. If you pass this Bill, you will be betraying the National Party founding principles and letting down those who voted for you in 2014.
We understand that these agreements were planned before you became Prime Minister.
We say that it is now time for you to step up and show that you intend to govern for all New Zealanders, not just the 1.3% that supported the Maori Party.
They are holding you to ransom because you want to keep power.
But in serving Iwi Leaders, you are paying for their demands with our rights, our properties, and, no doubt, our cost.
Please stop this Resource Legislation Amendment Bill now for the sake of all New Zealanders.
The above is the edited version of the views expressed by Dr Muriel Newman, Director of the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, in her web-based free weekly Newsletter, NZCPR Weekly. For full text, visit www.nzcpr.com