Thursday, 6 March 2008

Hone Harawira tries to dictate Maori Party stance

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira has appeared on 3 News tonight, insisting his party won't be going near the National Party in any post-election deals if it sticks to its long-term position of abolishing the Maori electorate seats.

It's unclear whether his comments were sanctioned by Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia or Pita Sharples, or by the party's board including president Whatarangi Winiata. Harawira (like his Mom) is known to be much further to the "left" than his parliamentary colleagues.

LFRF understands that some in the Maori Party are personally open to the idea of getting rid of the race-based seats, however they also do accept that the idea would probably not be palettable to many of their supporters at this stage.

The issue of Maori-only seats in the New Zealand parliament has been a contentious one since the country voted to move to the proportional MMP electoral system.

In the mid-80s, the Royal Commission on the Electoral System concluded that Maori would achieve better political representation through a proportional party-list system. The commission recommended that if MMP was adopted in New Zealand, the Maori seats should be abolished.

Maori parliamentary seats were created back in 1867 when many Maori were still based in rural areas, and the seats had tribal boundaries.

Former Labour MP Dr Michael Bassett wrote a good column on the arguments for and against Maori seats back in 2003.

He noted that "today, with 86% of Maori living away from their iwi bases, electorates with tribal boundaries and distant history are hard to defend. Moreover, racially-based voting has a whiff about it."

Bassett correctly points out that separate representation isn't necessary for Maori representation, especially under MMP. All the mainstream political parties feature people who identify as Maori on their party lists. At the 2005 election, a total of 21 Maori MPs were elected... 17.3% of Parliament (while making up 14.7% of the population).

(Indeed, the parliamentary quota of "Maori lesbian trade unionists" jumped significantly this week, with the swearing in of Labour MP Louisa Wall, who replaces Anne Hartley, one of the many Labour Party MPs doing a quick runner before the election).

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