One Māori seat could go, new figures show

Seven seats could become six as enrolments fall

in the news

One Māori seat could go, new figures show

Estimates from Statistics New Zealand reveal that the number of Māori seats in Parliament could fall from seven to six.

In the first month of the Māori Electoral Option, the five-month window where Māori voters can switch from the Māori roll to the general roll, 7093 made the switch to the general roll while only 4610 switched from the general roll to the Māori roll.

This means the Māori roll lost 2052 voters to the general roll.

In the second and third month the losses continued with almost 10,000 voters switching from the Māori roll to the general roll as of July 2 (and fewer than 7000 going the other way).     

Statistics New Zealand estimates that if 10,800 Māori voters move from the Māori roll to the general roll the number of Māori seats will drop from seven to six.  

But internal Labour Party estimates are even more alarming with the party’s analysts estimating that the Māori roll must gain approximately 4000 new voters if the number of seats is to remain at seven.

On this estimate the number of seats will fall from seven to six, if not further.

“We either use our right to separate representation or we lose it, and to use it we must get enroled,” said Māori Council chairperson and former High Court judge Taihākurei Durie.

“The Māori seats in Parliament represent our Māori Mana Motuhake. They are the voices of our tūpuna and their claim that we should be separately recognised and represented on account of our indigeneity. You won’t see that in the media roll out from the Electoral Commission,” said Durie.

However, new enrolments could prevent the seven seats becoming six. In the three months to July 2114 new voters enrolled on the Māori roll while only 1402 enrolled on the general roll, meaning the losses among established voters were partly offset.  

The 2017 Māori Electoral Option is the first in the MMP era where the Māori roll is losing voters to the general roll. In 2001 the Māori roll gained more than 24,000 new voters taking the seats from six to seven.

The Option closes on 3 August.

NZF could support entrenching the Māori seats - insider

Labour MP Rino Tirikatene’s Bill to entrench the Māori seats could go to select committee as New Zealand First insiders indicate the party could offer its support at first reading.

Tirikatene met with New Zealand First leader and acting Prime Minister Winston Peters in June. Peters confirmed his caucus is yet to make a call, but a New Zealand First insider indicated caucus could lend its support at first reading as the Bill brings the party one step closer to fulfilling one of its campaign promises: a referendum on the Māori seats.

Under the Bill the sections of the Electoral Act regulating the Māori seats are added to section 268, the entrenched provisions section. This protects the seats against a simple majority in Parliament (only a 75 percent majority can abolish an entrenched provision), but it also inadvertently exposes the seats to a binding referendum.

Under section 268 a simple majority in a referendum can abolish the seats. The New Zealand First insider indicated this could convince some members of caucus to support the Bill to first reading.

Under the status quo opponents of the seats can trigger a citizens’ initiated referendum but the results are only indicative (as opposed to binding). Section 268 changes that.

However, Labour insiders argue the party would push in select committee - almost certain to be the Māori Affairs Select Committee rather than the Justice Committee (which traditionally considers electoral matters) - to exempt the Māori seats from a binding referendum.

If New Zealand First supports the Bill to the select committee stage and the exemption is made it’s unlikely the Bill would pass second reading.

But Tirikatene remains optimistic. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern personally supports the Bill, advocating for entrenchment during the election campaign. Former Labour MPs Mita Ririnui and the late Parekura Horomia also submitted entrenchment bills in the past. Former Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell had a similar bill in the ballot until 2008.

in the house

The Māori Affairs Select Committee is sitting this week in Room 6 (in the Parliament Building).

The Committee is holding estimates hearings for Vote Māori Development and Vote Treaty Negotiations. Following the Budget in May select committees examine the “Estimates of Appropriations,” a process that often involves hearing evidence from and questioning Ministers and government officials.

Crown/Māori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis and Te Puni Kōkiri CEO Michelle Hippolite have already appeared before the Committee with Davis forced to defend the modest funding allocation for his portfolio.

The Committee is also hearing submissions on the Ngā Rohe Moana o Ngā Hapū o Ngāti Porou Bill (No 2). The Bill recognises the customary interests – as well as customary marine title – of ngā hapū o Ngāti Porou. Negotiations for this recognition were opened under the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 and concluded under the Marine and Coastal Areas Act 2014. The Bill recognises some pre-existing rights and interests, but only those capable of recognition under statutory and common law.

The Bill will proceed to second reading with unanimous support from the Committee.

Tomorrow: keep an eye out for the first ‘analysis’ edition!