There’s more news out of the north, but it has nothing to do with Winston’s win in the Northland by-election. It’s that voters up north have rejected the proposal that there should be Māori seats on the Far North District Council.

That issue was put to a poll and 9315 Northlanders voted against Māori seats and less than half that number voted in favour. You get the impression that most of the locals weren’t all that concerned about either option. The turnout was only 35 percent.

It’s the latest defeat, though, in a string of losses. In 2012 the voters of both Nelson and Wairoa rejected Māori seats on their councils, while the Rotorua District Council rejected dedicated Maori representation last year.

At the same time, Andrew Judd, the mayor of New Plymouth, managed to win approval for a Māori seat on the New Plymouth District Council, but it looks as though the voters will force a referendum, turn back the clock, and block the seat.

That leads to an obvious question. Why can’t we win? The Māori seats in Parliament – seven of them these days – date back to 1867 so you’d think that transplanting that tradition and structure to local government would, after all this time, be easy.

Apparently not. Even when the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance recommended three Māori seats for the new council, Rodney Hide (ACT) and the National government refused to follow through on the recommendation.

Of course, there’s an element of racism in all this. Any measure which might lead to equality for Māori is framed as Māori privilege. That’s the song that Don Brash sang at Orewa in 2004 and immediately soared in the polls. So it has a history as a vote-winner.

Then there’s also an element of misunderstanding. A good number of Pākehā seem to think that if “we” – as in non-Māori – don’t enjoy dedicated representation then why should they? They being Māori.

It’s a shallow thought which ignores the fact that council seats or wards already reflect Pākehā models of representation. They are built by and for Pākehā.

And, as a result, Māori have been and are excluded. But why have our efforts to achieve political equality at local government been such a spectacular failure?

The answer, I think, is that no one has truly campaigned on the issue. Our efforts have been, and still are, ad hoc. There has been no formal or informal relationship between campaigners in, say, New Plymouth and the far north.

A political scientist by the name of Elmer Schattschneider has an explanation for that sort of failure. He said “the organised people, no matter how few, usually beat the unorganised people, no matter how many”.

It’s really that simple. The case for Māori seats really hasn’t been put to New Zealanders. And it certainly hasn’t been argued in any systematic way. Even though equal representation is our democratic right, our Treaty right, and our rangatiratanga right, we still need a smart and coordinated campaign to explain to many Pākehā the unfairness of the present system.

Those rights mean nothing unless we can implement them. And to do that we need to organise – together. Who’s going to set that process in motion?


© e-tangata, 2015

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