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Balancing scales tilted for so long


Our columnist today starts out with the apparent premise that the “scales” of local politics are equal for Maori and Pakeha; they are not.

Maori are only now getting a fair hearing and traction with Gisborne District Council on issues that are important to them, and have yet to achieve representation anything like in line with their share of population. The “tilt” of introducing Maori wards is aimed at balancing the scales; at working towards equality in decision-making and ensuring good collaboration with Maori; at encouraging more engagement with local politics, and a better turnout by Maori at elections.

Our columnist focuses on a risk that it will be harder for a Maori candidate to get elected in a general ward. It shouldn't be; as he rightly also says, voters are good at assessing the quality of candidates — and for most voters, race is not a factor. If Josh Wharehinga, say, were to stand in a general city ward at the next election he would prove our columnist's “cheerful prediction” wrong at the outset.

Of course a candidate for council and the mayoralty can choose to stand in a Maori ward, although it could be a good political tactic to opt for a general ward to show confidence they have the broad appeal required to also win the mayoralty. The flipside of this “broad appeal” issue is another reason for Maori wards — council candidates who champion Maori political rights can find it hard to get elected in majority Pakeha electorates. Fortunately that is not such a big hurdle in our bicultural community.

The wedge between people on the basis of race that our columnist claims will be a consequence of Maori wards is unfortunately already here, and not only apparent but exacerbated by the strident opposition some express to this unanimous decision of our elected representatives.

The unanimity of that decision, overwhelming support for it from tangata whenua submitters and the goodwill of our community at large allows your editor to cheerfully predict that if this does end up going to a referendum, Maori wards will be supported by the majority — and that this and the positive outcomes of it for local politics will be factors in reducing a sad wedge that bedevils our community.

Are positive outcomes certain? Almost, however there will be many factors at play. Remember, it is in effect a pilot in that the decision applies to the next two elections only; also, our rural councillors agreed that the pros outweighed a small risk to the rural ward structure.

See also today's column

  1. Craig Bauld says:

    And if you are correct that Gisborne will vote for Maori wards, then what is your problem? I don’t have a problem. I believe in democracy and when I lose I accept it with good grace. Will you do the same? Because it doesn’t sound like it. Actually you sound rather like Trump.

    Footnote from Ed: Hi Craig, I was responding to the problems you seem to have and pointing out issues with your thought processes – like the fact Josh would hose in as a general city ward candidate in 2022, if he chose to, and prove much of your argument wrong.
    My focus is on reducing the sad wedge in our community that you somehow think Maori wards will make worse.
    This key issue of improving race relations in te Tairawhiti, and the potential Maori wards have to help in that and deliver better democracy for all in our community, is also where I disagree most strongly with what you’re arguing for.
    I’m happy to debate these issues.
    It’s pretty silly you passing on the opportunity to continue the discussion here, and instead trying to get a rise out of me by saying I sound like Trump.
    Nga mihi

    1. Aimee says:

      Craig, we shouldn’t need to vote. That’s the point. As Treaty partners Maori wards should exist. It’s a treaty obligation! End of. You and your Hobson’s Pledge mates are going to cost us $65,000 unnecessarily. Who’s calling who Trump? The air must be quite thin up there on your high horse.

      1. Gordon Webb says:

        Aimee – please tell us what part of the Treaty or the partnership apparently created by the Courts says there should be Maori wards?

        1. Toni says:

          Hi Gordon, to answer your question, Maori political representation is the most significant manifestation of the Treaty in modern-day New Zealand. It relies on representative democracy to access influence over the exercise of parliamentary sovereignty. As New Zealanders with such a sore past, we should be proud that Maori, our indigenous people, have been able to convert a pragmatic initiative, the Maori seats, into a symbolic representation of our own identity and political relationship with the state.

    2. Maree Conaglen says:

      Craig calls this “democracy” when he knows full well that this racist law (where Māori wards can be petitioned to be removed) is about to be gotten rid of in Parliament by the Labour Government. If it gets 5 percent this petition will waste $65,000 of ratepayers’ money in this town for a referendum that is NOT NEEDED.
      His conservative, arrogant and racist thinking is what is Trumpian.

  2. Lloyd Gretton, Auckland says:

    No New Zealand towns existed in 1840 unless you count Korareka which just grew. It was the initiative and sweat of all the new towns’ inhabitants that built them. Now what belongs to them is being taken away from them by an ideology that, from a global perspective, doesn’t make any sense. I am sorry there are not more intelligent people to argue this point instead of falling into a racial trap. In the civilised world, this would be laughed out of existence. Imagine what Sir Humphrey Appleby would have said.

  3. G R Webb says:

    Since when was legislation governing local authority elections, and the ability to introduce Maori wards, designed as some sort of grievance settlement process or to reset the scales? Given that a candidate in a Maori ward does not have to be an elector in that ward suggests that the intent of the legislation was to encourage more Maoris to vote, not necessarily to have more Maoris at the decision making table. Low voter turnouts in the 2019 local council elections in Maori wards suggests that they are failing. That participation was to be encouraged on polling day is confirmed by the legislative requirement that all elected members, whether from General or Maori wards, represent the entire community. This is contrary to the suggestion from some proponents Maori wards that it is a move towards some sort of self government.

    1. Maree Conaglen says:

      Gordon please just stop. That’s enough of the “lawyersplaining.’ Like Bob has said, us Pākehā have to STOP telling Māori what’s good for them. We’ve been doing that for too long and it doesn’t work. What’s good for Pākehā has not been good for Māori (you of all people should know that). What’s good for Pākehā isn’t even good for ALL Pākeha….but we know it certainly is good for the 1%!
      Māori know what’s good for Māori, and we know for a fact, what’s good for Māori is good for everyone. Why is that? Because of these 3 things. Care for the planet…and we desperately need that NOW. Care for people, and this means EVERYONE having a fair share. And care for the future generations… because if we keep on going the way we are going things aren’t looking too good for not only the next generation, but for THIS generation.
      Do you really think more of the same is going to solve the real issues we face NOW? Let’s see the good in Māori having a greater say at the council table. There is nothing to fear and everything to gain.

  4. Bob Hughes says:

    In the early colonial era, Māori could not vote in elections unless they owned land as individuals. According to NZ History online, the thinking was Māori were not yet ‘civilised’ enough to exercise “such an important responsibility”.
    I can’t help wonder how many of the Hobson’s Pledge lot still think this way.
    Regarding today’s Treaty-based Local Government relationships:
    organized and concerted campaigns by anti-Māori and anti-diversity groups lead those without other information to question whether Māori representation is needed or if it is ‘democratic’. Such a negative and contested starting place for a discussion places academics and researchers who seek to explore deeper analyses of Tiriti-based local government relationships in either a defensive or difficult situation.
    I suggest a read of Maria Bargh’s article on Challenges on the path to Treaty-based Local Government relationships in Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, to gain more insight on this issue.

    1. Lloyd Gretton, Auckland says:

      Is this satire? In the nineteenth century, only property owners were allowed to vote – a practice that is still the normal situation for public companies, where only shareholders are allowed to vote. The first non-property holders in New Zealand permitted to vote in national elections were Maori men, in 1867. Local electors were originally ratepayers. Under socialist ideas, the local suffrage was extended to all adult residents. This is mischief making.

      1. Bob Hughes says:

        Not mischief making or satire Lloyd.
        Maori belonged to this land before colonization. The European settlers with their opposite concept of belonging, and by devious means, took most of the land for themselves and claimed ownership. Had the colonial view of ownership applied to the original inhabitants, all adult Maori – with a culture of no individual ownership, and instead sharing – would be land owners before it was taken. Therefore, all adult Maori men should have been entitled to vote under a fair law.

  5. Craig says:

    Yeah, cheap one the Trump bit, wife will kill me if she sees it. But I didn’t want to compare you to tech giants because you are unfailingly fair in your coverage.
    Okay, but I worry. You haven’t stood for election, I have. I like Josh and have supported him always. But there is a little bit of me that says “exclusive Maori wards, then the others must be exclusively Pakeha wards.” And if there is a little bit of me that says that, there’s a hell of a lot more of it out there. I no longer think Josh will hose in, if there are Maori wards. And I think you may have destroyed his chances of the Mayoralty.
    Of course, maybe you are smarter than I am.

    1. Peter Jones says:

      Josh has destroyed his own chances of standing for the mayoralty.
      Nobody else did it for him.

      1. Tony Lee says:

        Hi there Peter. Josh has made his position regarding Maori constituency clear without referencing mayoralty aspirations. I’m wondering if his commitment to community is greater than that to individualism. If so, it reinforces his stance as one that is driven by strong social values rather than the politics of self-interest – isn’t this to be commended?

  6. K Thompson says:

    RE: Editorial, Gisborne Herald.16/01/21
    Jeremy, thank you for clarifying your position on the imposition of Maori wards, we now know where we all stand. But, have you or your followers considered the fact that the introduction of wards, (i.e. exclusive voting rights for one section of the community) was, for among other reasons, because “Maori are disengaged from local and national politics” and “politics has had a long history of not meeting their interests”. I put it to you that politics will not meet the interests of anyone that finds an excuse not to vote and ‘giving’ them representation they don’t earn is like allowing a lower pass mark in an exam (like that’s never happened). Will we soon just appoint Councillors to make up the numbers? I ponder on the possibility of a candidate from a ward getting fewer votes than an unsuccessful candidate in the general election. Could this happen and would that be fair? No, the answer is that if Maori want a greater voice on the council then they must get out and vote like the rest of the world. We must stop treating them like children or they will never grow to be self-reliant.

    1. Tony Lee says:

      Hey there K Thompson. I’ve just read an article that proposes a relationship between racism and narcissism is plausible. I’m uncertain of its scientific rigour but it does pose interesting questions and worthwhile ideas. In light of your comment above (particularly your last sentence) I’d think it may be of considerable interest to you.


    2. Aimee says:

      So what you’ve just said is that Maori have to ‘earn’ a place at the table? They don’t have to earn anything! They’re tangata whenua. Your comment stinks of white supremacy.

    3. Maree Conaglen says:

      As I’ve said before, Maori wards are like Māori seats in Parliament. Some Māori prefer to enrol on the Māori roll and some prefer to enrol on the general roll. That is the choice Māori have because our country has a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
      How would you like to be told that you can only vote on the Maori roll, and before you do vote, you need to ‘earn the right to do so’?
      You would be screaming loud and clear that it was an injustice and a breach of your human rights.
      How would you also like to be ignored and told that we are going to “stop treating you like a child” and that if you were to “grow to be self-reliant” you need to vote in a system not of your design?
      I don’t think YOU would like that one little bit. But that’s what you expect of Māori. You see, that’s why racism is not just about racist opinions, like the ones you espouse, but about systems that need to be transformed. Māori wards are the first step in that process.

    4. Kerry Haraki says:

      “We must stop treating them like children or they will never grow to be self-reliant”

      Maori lived and thrived here for centuries.
      Maori matauranga covered the gamut of astronomy, agriculture, medicine, history, philosophy, sustainable management of natural resources, decorative and visual arts, navigation, boat building, architecture and physical fitness.

      That indicates self-reliance to me.

      Came the colonisers: Maori fed settlers, had their own trading vessels plying between Australia and Aotearoa, grew vast acreages of new crops (wheat, potatoes), had their own flour mills.

      Colonisers got self-government: passed laws to stop Maori running businesses and facilitate alienation of the land to Pakeha.

      No economic base = no self-reliance.

      See where we’re going, K Thompson?

      It’s a form of gaslighting to blame the abused for something caused by the abuser.

      Every single tauiwi in this land has prospered from the basic fact of alienation of Maori land. The settler government stacked the deck so that Maori could not prosper; in fact, caused so much trauma by smashing up their culture and whole way of life, that the effects are still being played out today, in every sad statistic.

    5. Kerry Haraki says:

      K Thompson

      “Giving them representation they don’t earn…”!

      DON’T EARN?

      Well tote that barge and lift that bale!

      Maori are Treaty partners for goodness sake: the sake of all things legal and rightful and just!

    6. K Thompson says:

      The responses to my letter are typical of what we have seen over the last few weeks of discussion. None of them have provided any substantial or compelling support for Maori wards. Nor have any of you addressed the root cause of the problem – low Maori voter turnout. Instead you demand the token representation that will be granted whether they vote or not. This is not an ideal basis for any kind of unity or partnership, and surely that is what we should be striving for. So please, no more cheap Google searches or extracts from a dictionary, offer a solution.
      Finally, when you resort to attacking the messenger, not the idea, then you have lost the debate. To keep repeating “racist” every time you are challenged is puerile. This is not a Maori-bashing issue, it is a democracy issue – it just happens this time to involve Maori. What would you say if the same issue arose involving another ethnic group?