Editorial: Plenty of room to compromise on Maori seats

According to the Prime Minister, yesterday’s hikoi up Queen St was the wrong forum to push for Maori representation on the Auckland Council. To a degree, he may be right. The protest has made it more difficult for the Government to accommodate the marchers’ concerns without appearing to have backed down. But from other angles, John Key has missed the point. The hikoi demonstrated, as probably no other means would have, the depth of feeling in Auckland’s Maori community and the extent of the Government’s misjudgment when it abruptly rejected a royal commission recommendation for three Maori seats – two elected and one appointed by local iwi – on the Super City council.

Nothing about the hikoi suggested the Government was on the wrong track with its Super City proposal, or that it should not hold the line on the vast majority of its proposals. The protesters’ ambitions were narrowly focused on the Maori seats. This, however, is an issue on which the Government has boxed itself into a corner for no good reason. Its stand has cast a shadow over its relations with the Maori Party, and the significance of Mr Key’s gesture in inviting that party to be part of his Government. It also put the Government at odds with a thoroughly researched and significant aspect of the report of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, which had given Maori every expectation that their wish for representation would be acknowledged.


Appointed councillors – Maori or otherwise – are not the answer. But there is plenty of room for a compromise that, most logically, would leave Maori with two seats on the council. Those councillors should be elected by Auckland residents on the rolls of the Maori parliamentary electorates that cover the Super City. This would eliminate the need to open up the issue of which iwi might have favoured status. It would also sit logically with an overall system of council ward boundaries based on parliamentary electorates.

The Government’s problem, following its thumbs-down for the seats, is how to orchestrate this sort of arrangement without appearing to capitulate. It is evident that wheels have begun to turn. Iwi have put a proposal to the Cabinet for Maori representation that they say sidesteps Mr Key’s aversions. The Maori Affairs Minister, while declining to go into details, says it is “a means by which mana whenua can select in a democratic fashion their representatives”.

Predictably enough, Pita Sharples takes a different view of the hikoi than the Prime Minister. It has, he suggests, promoted “the whole urgency” of the representation issue. That is a reasonable conclusion. Well-attended and peaceful marches such as this make a point more effectively than any number of petitions or submissions to a parliamentary select committee. This one has focused attention on a part of the Super City process that was certainly handled in a rushed and rudimentary manner.

The Government’s rush of blood ran contrary to the inclusive urge that has underpinned its approach to Maori issues. After due consideration, it must surely find a way to include Maori representation on the Auckland Council.


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