Mar 17, 2011

The case for Maori representation in local government

The Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says all local governments need dedicated Maori seats.

That's one of the main recommendations in the commissioner's annual report to parliament on the state of race relations.

He says the seats are needed to tackle the institutional discrimination against Maori that is still rife throughout the country.
“I'm not that confident many of them will because they will either use that stuff, as they have before, about ‘no privilege’, but actually the Maori seats are provided for in legislation, they work really well in the Bay of Plenty Regional Council,” Mr de Bres says.

The creation of Maori seats would also help address the concerns of the United Nations which wants the government to include Maori more in decision-making at all levels.

I couldn’t agree more. I have blogged previously on the issue of Maori in local government. Rather than paraphrase what I have already written I will reproduce the relevant parts here:

Politics in LG differs significantly from the style of politics practised on the national stage. LG is characterised by political consensus as opposed to political conflict. This is primarily due the absence of party politics which is often viewed as unnecessarily divisive. Essentially the political independence of representatives in LG allows for a non-partisan approach to issues facing the community. This gives rise to a predisposition for pragmatism in preference to ideology. So far so good, right?

The make up of LG should be a concern for Maori and proponents of diversity. The make up of LG largely determines whose interests will be served. Currently, LG is dominated by land owners and business owners who are overwhelmingly white, middle class and male; arguably as ratepayers they could be seen as having the most tangible interest in LG, however more often than not their interests dominate council priorities at the expense of the rest of the community. With this sort of makeup in LG there is a greater focus on material projects such as sewerage systems and roads whilst a reduced focus on the provision of amenities such as parks and pensioner housing. For example, consensus is more likely to come about on issues such as rates rebates for business owners whereas consensus on issues such as pensioner housing will be a lot harder to reach given the makeup and interests of council. This is where consensus politics fails in my opinion. Without diversity of opinion and perspective, a one eyed approach if you will, consensus will only be reached on issues that are within the understanding and interests of the decision makers. Consensus politics also makes it hard to identify who is responsible for certain policies. Therefore, voters find it difficult to punish or reward candidates. This translates to poor electoral accountability in my opinion.

So how does consensus politics affect Maori? Often LG fails to adequately address Maori issues and take into account Maori views. This failure is often masked by consensus politics and the lack of large scale controversies that would follow such behaviour if it occurred on the national stage. Councillors can easily dismiss Maori issues and views on the basis that a consensus has been reached and no controversy will ensure because, usually, the only media taking note is the local newspaper.

Often the views of LG are informed through the prevailing beliefs of the community. Perhaps this is largely good for the community but I do not think it is good for Maori. Many communities are rather unsympathetic towards Maori concerns and views. Their understanding of Maori issues is largely informed by their, and I do not mean this harshly, narrow worldview. Sadly, Maori issues are not approached with any great insight or perception and councillors usually reflect this superficial understanding. Furthermore, unlike an electorate M.P, LG politicians usually only interact, in a political capacity, with like minded people, for example their church group. Therefore, their political judgements are informed by people with similar beliefs and backgrounds. This is not conducive to representative government.

Maori are continually excluded from local government and this exclusion is the chief cause of voter apathy. The representation of only a certain section of the community is undesirable. This problem could be addressed through the creation of Maori seats in LG. Maori seats give effect to the Crowns treaty obligation to act in partnership with tangata whenua and acknowledges their special status and role as kaitiaki. Maori seats also ensure diversity of viewpoints in LG. However, I am not in favour of Maori seats on all Councils – I favour having Maori seats only on regional councils and the Auckland supercity. The model pioneered by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council has been a success and should be emulated.

I should probably add that I now believe that Maori seats should be included on all councils – not just the Auckland Council and regional councils.   


  1. What would the think if there were Maori seats on all Territorial Authorities, the MMP threshold was lowered to 3% (as in Royal Commission recommendation) and the parlimentary Maori seats were abolished?

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  3. Hey can please get your name and permission? I would like to use some of your blog in my upcoming assigment about Maori representation in the new Supercity. I'm georgia, a 3rd year town planning student at the university of AKL.

    Also have a blog, it's part of an assignment though...



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