Maori need to enrol on the Maori electoral roll


By Tariana Turia

E mihi kau ana ki a koutou katoa huri noa i te motu.

As we approach the start of the Māori Electoral Option in March, I take this opportunity to urge all Māori of voting age to get themselves on the Māori roll. Currently we have seven Māori seats based on the number of Māori on the Māori roll. But if every Māori over the age of 18 opted to enrol on the Māori electoral roll instead of the general roll – we could have as many as 13 or 14 seats in Parliament.

Imagine a Parliament with 13 Māori seats. Imagine the strength of the Māori voice. Regardless of which major political party is in power, they could not ignore the Māori voice. I believe our people have forgotten and even underestimated the potential power they have in the parliamentary system. The latest figures provided indicate that there are 234,470 Māori currently enrolled on the Māori roll (31 Dec 2012). But there is potentially around 170,000 or more Māori on the general roll who could transfer to the Māori roll, increasing the power of the Māori vote. More Māori electorates guarantees bargaining power - the power to negotiate with others. Collectively we can make a difference.

At the last electoral option in 2006, there was an increase of almost 10,000 new enrolments on the Māori electoral roll - 80 percent of all new Māori enrolments were on the Māori roll. While those figures are encouraging we cannot afford to be complacent because motivating our potential Maori voters to participate in the electoral system and to recognise the absolute importance of a Maori voice in Parliament has always been a challenge.

The voter turnout for tangata whenua in this country has always been low and the figures for those on the Maori roll who voted, have generally hovered around 50 - 60 percent. So we know that getting our people involved in the electoral system has always been a challenge.

We know that many Māori do not enrol or vote because they do not believe their voice will make a difference. Others who are unfamiliar with the electoral process are disengaged, and yet others are disinterested in politics. Many of those not participating in the political system represent our future – they are our young Māori voters. The Maori population is growing and is around 15% of the total New Zealand population. Our median age is 22 years.

Some may argue if there is a lack of interest in the Māori electoral option, it is time to do away with the Māori seats. The Maori Party disagrees. We believe that in terms of treaty partnership the seats should not only remain but should increase. The Māori seats stand as an enduring symbol of their constitutional status and as parties to the Treaty, the Māori seats guarantee representation.

For those resisting or refuting the rights of Māori as indigenous peoples to their own political representation - should take heed of the internationally recognised document ‘The Declaration of Indigenous Rights – which New Zealand signed up to in 2010. Article 18 of the Declaration declares indigenous peoples the right to participate fully if they choose - at all levels of decision making in matters which may affect their rights - through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures - as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.

Interesting enough, historically the Māori seats were introduced to limit Māori influence in Parliament - not to provide a Māori voice. Under the 1852 Constitution Act a person could stand for Parliament and vote only if they were adult, male and owned property. After the land wars and the setting up of the Native Land Court, land which had been under communal title was now under individual title. Settlers became alarmed that as a side effect of individualisation of titles, Māori with property qualification to vote could outnumber the settlers in certain electorates. So Māori seats were introduced. While the initial impetus behind the Māori seats were not geared to binding the political power of our people together, today, we can utilise our collective vote for the benefit of Māori.

Throughout the political history of this country, and despite the agreements made in the Treaty, the Māori voice has been too frequently marginalised from mainstream political debate. Without special attention, the impact of tikanga Māori will be reduced to a minor role in the ‘state of the nation’.

It is our absolute belief that the Māori seats are the principle means of ensuring the voice of tangata whenua as one of the signatories to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is represented. Coupled with the MMP system there is further opportunity for Māori representation right across the political spectrum.

We believe there to be widespread support amongst Māori for the retention of the Māori seats in parliament - a view endorsed by the Electoral Commission in “Māori Electoral Participation. A Report Produced for the Electoral Commission” (2007).

I urge all Māori of voting age - to get your name on the Māori roll ready for the 2014 elections. Our survival as a people depends on it.

Noho ora mai rā.

Tariana Turia is co-leader of the Maori Party

source: data archive