The Māori seats are one step closer to entrenchment after New Zealand First backed Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene’s Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill. Was anyone expecting that? This week’s analysis edition offers some preliminary thoughts.
Journalists were quick to write off the Bill, but Tirikatene proved a better negotiator and salesperson than some journalists were giving him credit for. Framing the Bill as a “constitutional” one helped avoid any inflammatory “race” rhetoric. It also helped ensure the argument focused on entrenchment and unentrenchment rather than whether the Māori seats should even exist in the first place.
This debate matters. As Tirikatene put it, there’s no good reason for having one standard in the Electoral Act for the general seats – entrenchment – and a lower standard for the Māori seats. Both sets of Parliamentary seats (or rather, electorates) should enjoy the same protections. The principle is a simple one, and one the National Party should get behind it.
And this is going to be crucial. Even if New Zealand First support the Bill all the way – unlikely – for entrenchment to occur the Bill must pass by the very majority that could repeal it. In short, a 75 percent majority. That means the Bill needs National’s support too. They’re withholding that support. Why give the Coalition a win, is the thinking. If the Bill had been pulled from the ballot last term, though, it would’ve been all on (conceivably the Māori Party may have been able to convince their supply and confidence partner to support it).
Depending on how Select Committee falls, the Bill could pass second reading and proceed to the committee of the whole house stage. This is where Winston Peters will put up a Supplementary Order Paper inserting a provision for a two-part referendum in the Bill. Labour will oppose this meaning the Bill will not proceed. That said, there may be a compromise position available, like a provision for a two-part referendum but requiring special legislation to actually trigger it (meaning Winston would get his referendum provision, but in reality it won’t be triggered under this government).
Rino Tirikatene is a well-respected Māori Affairs Select Committee chair – National were unusually fulsome in their praise for him – and he almost certainly distinguishes himself as someone in the running for a promotion in the upcoming reshuffle. This was a delicate Bill, and people rated its chances of success at first reading as zero, and yet here we are. The Bill proceeds to the Māori Affairs Select Committee and for the first time in three decades Māori will have their chance to advocate for (or even against) the seats. Not since the Royal Commission on the Electoral System in 1986 have Māori had that chance. For that reason alone this Bill is huge.