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Referendum will come, should be decision for Maori

Opinion Piece

The demise of the Maori Party at the 2017 election seems to have removed a game-breaker in the coalition negotiations now finally under way, but the future of the seven Maori electorate seats remains a subject of controversy.

New Zealand First campaigned on a promise to hold a referendum on whether the Maori seats should be abolished, as well as one on reducing the number of MPs across the board.

After the election, however, Peters indicated he has moved back from that in an interview he gave to Australia’s Sky News. His reasoning was that the Maori Party, which he described as a “race-based, origin of race” party, had been smashed.

A referendum on the Maori seats would not be a deal-breaker in talks with National, although the party survived in government for its first two terms thanks to the support of the Maori Party. National used to have a policy itself of a referendum on the Maori seats.

It would be a game-breaker with Labour, however. Jacinda Ardern pledged her party would not agree to one, and in so doing appears to have won the first negotiating round, with Peters seemingly removing it from his wishlist . . . ?better to have the two main parties at the table, to extract maximum policy gains elsewhere.

The political posturing and outright horse trading will end, hopefully in days not weeks, and there are some who would like to see a reasoned and serious debate on the future of the seats in the next three years.

The original reasons that four Maori seats were established in 1853, when only 100 Maori were entitled to vote, have faded into the mists of history.

Maori are represented in the present Parliament at a level that reflects their actual population percentage and many will argue the system is working for them.

Opponents, however, say that while Maori remain so firmly at the bottom of so many social indicators, there is a need for more Maori in Parliament who will advocate strongly on their behalf.

At some stage the separate seats will no longer be relevant, though. When a referendum is held, it should be for Maori to decide — not the Pakeha majority.