MPs like Jami-Lee Ross are exactly why we need Maori seats in ParliamentLast week new National MP Jami-Lee Ross gave a good maiden speech. A proud Ngati Porou Maori, he also commented on the Maori seats.
I don't subscribe to the view that I, or any New Zealander of Maori descent, requires special seats to be elected to Parliament, to councils or to any other body in this country. It’s my hope that the people of New Zealand will be given the opportunity in the near future to examine the role of Maori seats in Parliament by way of referendum. I am a New Zealander of Maori descent, and am proudly so, and I hope to challenge the status quo in my time here. I will be criticised along the way. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that all New Zealanders should be treated equally.The criticism has already started with Massey University lecturer Veronica Tawhai calling him “ ignorant”, pointing out that equal treatment does not automatically lead to equal outcomes.
For quite some time policies in New Zealand have focused on achieving ‘equal outcomes’, which puts in place protective measures for vulnerable or alienated groups, like Māori” states Ms Tawhai. “The Māori seats are an example of this, protecting the political voice of our indigenous people, often under-represented in mainstream political processes”.Tawhai appears to view a referendum as a threat to the protection of that political voice and taking way the protection that would lead to unequal outcomes for Maori.
Jami-Lee Ross doesn’t want an “examination” of the role of Maori seats – he wants a referendum to see them ditched. We already have a referendum – it’s called the Māori Electoral Option, where Māori have the choice as to whether the seats stay or go. Given that more Maori have exercised the option to go on the Maori roll, they must still want the Maori seats.
The question many are asking, is notwithstanding Maori views on the seats and the Option, do we need the Maori seats now that we have 23 Maori in Parliament. Jami-Lee Ross is a good example why we do. It is clear that he has no intention of being an effective representative of the Maori people – he is a MP for Botany and judging by his first speech he will be a good National Party MP, too. But he appears to have little interest in actively furthering Maori political aspirations, unlike MPs such as Pita Sharples. Maori need people in Parliament that are willing to effectively represent the Maori people and their political aspirations.
If many of the 23 Maori in parliament are more interested in seeking a promotion to a Ministerial position or an increase in their list placing than advocating for their own people; if there is tension between political party and representation of Māori interests and they side with the party every time – i.e acting like party delegates instead of representatives - they are no more of a representative of Maori than most of their non-Maori colleagues. They are not aiming to provide fair and effective representation of the Maori people and their political interests. Until they do, the Maori seats should remain to provide Maori representation that is guaranteed.