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Sharples: Reduction in Numbers of MPs Bill

Electoral Reduction in Numbers of Members of Parliament Amendment Bill

Second reading; Wednesday 8 November 2006

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

The electoral system of representation in Aotearoa, has, since 1867, been founded on a notion of dual constituencies.

The nation is divided into 62 general electorates and seven Maori electorates; enabling representation of both the general population and tangata whenua, in a mechanism which should work together to create a cherished national identity.

With MMP, the dual system is elaborated further with the potential for distinctive representation from the diverse populations of Aotearoa.

The possibility of proportionality has been enhanced through the event of the 52 list seats.

This system, is a system that back in 1993, Maori voted for by a much higher margin than others.

For what Maori understood was that authentic Maori representation could be achieved through the independent Maori voice of the Maori electorates; as well as ensuring wider Maori democratic participation across the Parliament.

And indeed, the diverse Maori worldviews that emerge alongside the Maori Party from list members in National, Labour, New Zealand First and Greens are a sign of the influence of Maori in the MMP environment.

With this Bill, that strength will be reduced, as all four of those parties mentioned, would be forced to scrutinize their list, and make the call as to whether it will be their Maori MPs that are retained. History would tell us otherwise.

Electoral reform held the great promise of increased Maori representation through the guaranteed representation of the Maori seats, alongside, the expectation of better representation on the list.

The association of MMP with stronger representation for Maori was encouraged by the iwi stations in 1993, who influenced listeners that MMP stood for More Maori in Parliament.

And they were right, the ratio of Maori MPs rose dramatically from 7.1% in 1993, to 17.3% now.

So in the interests of whanaungatanga, of manaakitanga, there is no way that the Maori Party can support a move to reduce this level of representation.

The question of proportionality is, however, relevant.

The Maori Party takes great pride in the fact that as at the end of the last session, we had delivered 183 speeches in this House, across every political topic. Our contribution is always informed by kaupapa and tikanga Maori; by our histories, our traditions, our world views.

But we know that the ability to present a distinctive Maori world view is not so easy when one is constrained by the apron-strings of a mainstream party.

As an example, it has been a matter of some disappointment to us that the Government Maori members have been forced to lead a campaign of mis-information about our Bill to Repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act; a bill which serves to repeal the Act which Maori through-out this land remain universally opposed to.

And this is where the importance of a strong mixed member proportional system is most profound. Because we know that although the Foreshore and Seabed Bill was an act of confiscation which had, and still has, devastating impacts on the wellbeing of Maori; what it showed Maori was that they can not afford to put their trust in individual politicians, Maori or otherwise.

The trust and confidence of our people will be respected by the philosophical positions, the values, that come from the diverse political parties represented in this parliament. Philosophies which may see value in tikanga and kaupapa Maori; which value human rights; which respect due access to justice. One law for all.

Our MMP system has inspired considerable interest from many international commentators. Thérése Arseneau, Professor in Political Science in Halifax, has some interesting comments for the House, about how we evaluate the question of numbers of MPs against the outcomes of representation. She said:

“The New Zealand experience suggests caution. Effective representation is not just about number of women and Maori MPs.

Also important is an examination of how these representatives fulfill their role, to link representation to actions. While sheer numbers remain important, perhaps more important is the question of where the women and Aboriginal MPs are found….and are they allowed to represent the diverse interests? In New Zealand, party discipline may preclude such representation.

And indeed, the Canadian professor may have hit the nub of the problem. As tangata whenua found out in the Foreshore and Seabed debacle, there were some Maori MPs, worse yet, some who were in Maori electorate seats, who had to overlook the anguish of their constituency, and vote along party lines.

Representation; proportionality, will not be found in a choice of two, for essentially, party lines will always prevail.

The last thing that this nation needs is a return to the bipartisan politics of First Past the Post where you were either red or blue and nothing in between.

MMP embraces the browns, the blacks, the greens, the golds, as part of the rich fabric of nationhood.

Demographically, Aotearoa is becoming more colourful – more Pacific, more Maori, more Asian. Our Parliament must enable their voices to be heard, through greater representation of parties which honour diversity.

Perhaps where this is most evident is in the participation in select committee. Although Labour maintains the controlling role as Chair of 11 of the 18 committees (National chairing five; and New Zealand First and Greens one each); the requirement to reflect overall proportionality means that chairpersons can no longer exercise a casting vote.

While in the past it was taken for granted that the committee system could be controlled by the Government, in more recent times, there is more opportunity for a divided committee outcome to reflect proportionality.

Smaller parties, such as our own, may participate in an item of business as a non-voting member, thereby creating more likelihood for an environment of contestable and diverse advice.

These were issues that the submissions to the select committee canvassed, and which influenced the decision to recommend that the Bill not be passed. Submitters emphasized the importance of the select committee process in providing a check on the power of the executive.

Mr Speaker, the challenge before this Parliament, is how best to achieve a representative and legitimate legislature which will truly reflect Aotearoa.

The history of the Parliament demonstrates that over the century various attempts at achieving an MMP dream have been enacted. We celebrate the Young Maori Party; the independent Ratana MPs; Mana Motuhake and Mauri Pacific as part of that journey.

There have been other movements outside which have also exerted influence.

In the last years of the nineteenth century, and the first years of the twentieth, Papawai marae, near Greytown, became the focus of Kotahitanga, the Maori Parliament movement. There has been Mana Maori; Tawharau; the Kauhanganui; Ko Huiarau. They have all served to remind the Parliament of the strength of support for expressing an independent Maori voice.

Ten years ago, the Royal Commission on the Electoral System articulated that dream of MMP for Maori.

Its report stated a vision that the rights of Maori would be preserved and defended in the Maori seats; while the list may motivate parties to become more focused on minority issues; to elevate the positions of Maori candidates on the list, and to actively recruit more Maori candidates in an effort to win more votes.

Ten years on, we see the momentum of Maori political representation is absolutely thriving in this Parliament. I leave the last word, to political analyst, Colin James in his article, Can the Maori Party succeed?

“Set this challenge in the context of this society’s changing culture and colour: there are many more Maori and Pacific people; and proportionately more of the Maori feel and act Maori. Maori culture is starting genuinely to influence “mainstream” culture. A generation from now we will be much more of the Pacific, not just in it”.

Mr Speaker, the diversity which is a cornerstone of the MMP system, is also the diversity of the emerging Aotearoa. Proportionality and representation is too important to be compromised. The Maori Party will not support this Bill.


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