MUST READ: Working alongside Māori to IMPROVE OUR DEMOCRACY!

Big Norm should be the norm

Some people on the right have expressed serious concern about what they see as serious threats to our democracy from the government report He Puapua.

They have sometimes included worries about a serious backlash from Pākehā which will sink progressive politics. Potential for a backlash will always be there but that’s no reason to walk away from improving our democracy for Maori – and therefore for all of us. We have to fight and win that argument as it emerges.

Here in Christchurch the local “Star” giveaway newspaper has found a great deal of unease amongst mainly older, Pākehā male readers about the He Puapua report and other similar initiatives such as Māori wards on local councils, the proposed national Māori health agency and co-management proposals for water.

The paper printed a response from me to these concerns and here it is in essence.

The He Puapua report was commissioned by the government to see what policy changes would be needed to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People which was signed by John Key’s National government in 2010.

People are right to criticise the government for not releasing the report before now. They have had it for two years and we only know the content because someone leaked it to National Party leader Judith Collins and she has, quite rightly, passed it on to the media so all of us can read it.

However, instead of the report being a threat to democracy, the proposed changes would improve our democracy. We should all welcome this.

Firstly we have to accept Māori have always been seriously under-represented in decision making at national and local level.

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Our democracy developed from the first elections in 1853 when only landowners could vote. However, Māori landowners were excluded because they were much larger in number and would have easily outvoted Pākehā landowners. To prevent this Māori were excluded from voting on the grounds their land was communally owned rather than privately owned. It was a blatant gerrymander. It was racism at work.

Later in the late 1860s when pressure was building for everyone to have the vote the government decided to create four Māori seats in parliament, not to give better Māori representation but to keep Māori as a permanent minority who could never outvote Pākehā. When the seats were set up a Māori vote was worth about one quarter of a European vote and despite Māori complaints it took over 100 years before that number was increased. We’d all agree that wasn’t democracy. It was racism.

New Zealand has developed a much better democracy since then but Maori interests and Maori contributions have usually been overridden by the Pākehā majority. An 85% Pākehā vote can always overwhelm a 15% Māori vote.

This is sometimes called “dictatorship by the majority” because the minority can always be outvoted even on issues of how to provide services for Māori health and wellbeing for example.

This is one of the reasons the social statistics for Māori in housing, health, education, and employment are so bad. Our decision-making structures are not working.

In recent years we have begun moving towards some co-governorship arrangements such as in managing the Urewera National Park, the Whanganui river and some parts of the Department of Conservation estate along with initiatives such as Kura Kaupapa Māori schools, Kohanga Reo, Whanau Ora, papakainga housing etc.

These co-governorship arrangements of iwi alongside “tangata tiriti” (those of us whose ancestors came after the treaty was signed) has been successful. They won’t always go smoothly but with goodwill and respectful partnerships I think we are moving in the right direction.

These co-governance models improve our democracy – if they weakened it, I’d be the first to protest.

The proposal for Māori wards should be welcomed because it also improves our democracy. Rather than being left to chance, it ensures there will always be democratically elected Māori representatives in local decision-making.

I was pleased to read recently an opinion piece from Wellington Councillor Sean Rush who initially opposed a Māori ward on Wellington City Council but later was persuaded to change his mind by the strength of arguments in favour. He came to see our democracy as “a thin veneer hiding huge inequality, and is not working for chunks of our country. It is clearly not the “equality” envisaged by the chiefs and Hobson, on behalf of the Crown, at Waitangi”. He goes on to ask “Can we really say we are governing equally for all Wellingtonians, when one group is clearly so unequally represented in negative outcomes?”

He sums up his argument for a Māori ward like this:

“Some may see this support as a step towards supporting a separate state. It is not. Rather, specific Māori representation as we have agreed on council is an elegant, modern interpretation of kāwanatanga (governorship), which could be the circuit-breaker that brings unifying change for future generations”

I agree.

Councils are not being forced to have Māori wards but if a council establishes a Māori ward then it won’t be able to be overturned in a referendum. This puts it in the same category as other council decisions. Democracy is not undermined in any way because the councillors who make all council decisions still face elections as usual.

Last week a large group of people took to the streets in Fielding to oppose a council decision to delay discussion of a Māori ward for two years. A similar march took place in Napier. These people want guaranteed Māori representation in local government. Good on them. That’s democracy in action.

Health is an area crying out for a dedicated Māori health agency which would not own resources but could direct resources in the most efficient and effective way to address the needs of Māori in ways our health system doesn’t do at present. At the moment Māori take less from our health system than Pākehā simply because Māori die younger than the rest of us. We need to fix this and “by Māori for Māori” will be an important development to help put this right.

Similarly for co-governance models proposed for water management. Judith Collins claimed this meant Maori, who make up 15% of the population, would own 50% of the water infrastructure which has been paid for by ratepayers and taxpayers. This was an outrageous thing to say. It was untrue. It was scaremongering. Ngai Tahu representatives have called her out saying they have never wanted to own three waters (drinking water, wastewater, stormwater) infrastructure. Instead, Ngai Tahu representative Dr Te Maire Tau says they have been discussing a co-governance model with the government as a safeguard against any attempts by future governments to privatise water assets. (my emphasis) That’s good news to me.

Despite Labour’s failure to release the He Puapua report, it is wrong for National Party leader Judith Collins to whip up fears saying the government has a secret agenda for segregation or even apartheid as some people have described it. This is nasty, negative, dod-whistling politics.

He Puapua is not about apartheid or separatism. It’s about making our democracy work better for Māori and therefore better for the whole country.

The overall relationship between Māori and Pākehā has come a long way since I was growing up in Dunedin in the 1950s and 1960s and I’m delighted to see this important progress to improve our democracy is continuing.



  1. …’Ngai Tahu representative Dr Te Maire Tau says they have been discussing a co-governance model with the government as a safeguard against any attempts by future governments to privatise water assets’…

    Great stuff, – bring it on.

  2. Where does this put the Martin Luther King Jr quote “Judge a man not by the colour of his skin, but by the content of his character.”

    • Martin Luther King Jr didn’t create the civil rights movement. The movement created Martin Luther King. The movement contained people who was beaten and killed and voting rights rescinded. Infact Martin Luther didn’t stop with populist rhetoric, had he been able to he would have unified the classes and moved against corporations so he gad to be assainated. Watch >>>

  3. Thank you John for your article too many people dismiss the detrimental effects colonization can have on people cause unless you have truly walked in others shoes you do not know what it is like.

  4. An Interesting point @ Sam.
    It’s my view the ‘corporates’ own and control/operate our AO/NZ. There’s nothing new in that suspicion but what might be new is if it finally sinks in, in that they, in fact, do!?
    If, indeed, corporations do, in literal fact, run our country according to corporate charters then no wonder we’re fucked. We don’t stand a chance as a society, do we? We’ll be ok providing we keep working [for them] but when we get sick, exhausted, old we’re gone son.
    It’s like earthquakes. Here’s an analogy for you. We Ch Ch people had heard of earthquakes. I mean, who hasn’t right? We’ve seen on the tee vee the damage and destruction earthquakes can do but until one actually lives through earthquakes one really has no idea what earthquakes feel like and sound like. This enormous, unstoppable force is suddenly going up your bones and it’s at that moment that everything about the rules of the game change. All you worry about is your next breath, you don’t worry that the 60 inch flat screen’s just fallen on the cat.
    If, by some miracle, the collective ‘we’ were to suddenly realise that our country wasn’t under our voting steerage we’d be rightfully extremely concerned. I imagine one of the first questions might understandably be “ Then who’s in control of us? “ and perhaps “ Who the fuck gave them permission to be in control of us and our country? “ ( Well, we did. By virtue of our apathy. Read on? )
    We’re constantly told, often in a most benign and casual way, that the market forces are in our best interests. The market will guarantee we get the best bang for our buck. (The people who tell us that are advertising agencies employed by the corporates, it should be pointed out.)
    That, is clearly wrong, incorrect, and in my view deliberately misleading and while we try to survive under a mysterious cloak of complete and ever thickening bullshit we sink further down the gurgler while one or two sequester billions, often by cheating the very same tax systems that gave them our assets they’re stealing away with.
    How many Maori billionaires do you know? I know none at all.
    How many non Maori billionaires do you know who will certainly exert terrible force over us AO/NZ’ers? peter thiel? elon musk? bill gates? james cameron? mark zuckerberg? We couldn’t function without Facebook sucking out our money while paying no taxes. Freaky bezos’s amazon does the same thing. He’s here and now and he’s taking your money while paying no taxes cheers and thanks very much. And who else is there here who lead much more covert and below the radar lives who are as, or more rich than those cunts? ( Oops. That just slipped out. Apols. )
    Not many would be my guess.
    Then tell me @ Maori? What do you think of compulsory voting? As opposed to “ Why bother? Won’t change a thing. She’ll be right mate. “
    Have you seen this film?
    Life of Pi
    The storyline revolves around an Indian man named “Pi” Patel, telling a novelist about his life story, and how at 16 he survives a shipwreck and is adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
    Maori and non Maori are adrift together in the Pacific Ocean. We must learn how to feel empowered by each other’s cultures, beliefs and skills. Not repelled by them which is what the corporations would want. Divide then conquer etc.
    If we don’t? The corporate monsters will come and get us. ( I believe they’re on their way already.)
    What we’ve got as a system of voting and collaborating without the absurd and illogical fiscal walls they built for us isn’t working in our favour. It’s a construct of the corporations who will fuck us up.
    Voting, must be compulsory. Once every three years we must vote. Not that long ago, to get a job in the freezing works or as a warfie you had to join the union.
    From that, our AO/NZ grew into one of the most socially progressive countries in the world with the vote for women, state housing, taxes paid for hospitals, schools, roading, bridging, rail, etc etc.
    Now? We’re fucked. We were tricked into going corporate by short arsed old douglas and they fucked us.
    Your strength is in your union, your weakness is in discord. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) said that. I have no idea who he was but he was a wise fellow.
    Our strength is in our numbers so we must all vote. And we must lower the voting age to 16 as an after thought. Most 16 year olds aren’t fucking stupid. They need a voice too.

  5. Here’s a great interview by David Frost of Norman Kirk.
    NZ on-screen.
    ” New Zealand politics was a gentler art in the pre-Muldoon early 1970s, when superstar English TV interviewer David Frost made the first of two series downunder. Here he talks to Prime Minister Norman Kirk, and opposition leader Jack Marshall. Kirk is assured and statesmanlike (an act that proves hard for Marshall to follow) as he discusses topics ranging from supporting beneficiaries, to opposing French nuclear testing. ‘Big Norm’ purposefully talks about being in the job for another 25 years. Tragically, he died in office 13 months later.”
    What’s come to represent a truly scary thing for me was during a relatively recent interview between Kim Hill and a retired national party mp who’s name I never got who said on air that he believed Norman Kirk was assassinated . Presumably by the French although one would never know.

  6. How can you talk about democracy and “tangata tiriti” in the same breath?
    If the right of native-born Pakeha to reside in their homeland of Aotearoa comes from the Treaty of Waitangi, then it comes through the British Crown, and if it comes from the Crown then it may be rescinded by the Crown.
    The false dichotomy of tangata whenua and tangata tiriti is an abhorrent doctrine which, consistently with the basic tenets of the colonialism, sees the majority of our people as mere creatures of the colonialist state and devoid of natural or inherent rights.
    And I do not believe for one moment that Maori can be emancipated through the same process that degrades their Pakeha brethren. After all this is the regime which not so very long ago seriously contemplated “a war of extermination” against the Maori people.
    John, you of all people, should have no truck with colonialism and racism.
    If you truly wanted a more democratic state, why would you not argue for a principle of representation that could apply to all regardless of race? Why not put a case for allowing every citizen to choose his or her own constituency? Why content yourself with putting lipstick on a pig?

    • I think that’s answered in so much intermarriage between the races….and their offspring. How those offspring want to interpret things is another thing entirely…

  7. It should be obvious that any Pakeha who accept the unhistorical and contrived doctrine of “tangata tiriti” (fortunately there are not that many of them) will be psychologically shackled to the colonialist regime for so long as the regime endures. No doubt that is an intended and carefully considered consequence of this egregious doctrine. However while the supporters of rangatiratanga will be saddened to see their Pakeha brethren debased in this way, they will not be in the least deterred from the task ahead of them.
    John Minto and his colleague/adversary Chris Trotter both want to preserve the rule of British colonialism in New Zealand for so long as may be humanly possible. Their disagreement centres around how best to achieve that end – whether through Minto’s “Treaty partnership” policy or Trotter’s “Hobson’s Pledge” line – but neither argument will survive critical scrutiny, and neither will stand the test of time.

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