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Local Electoral (Repeal of Race-Based Representation) Amendment Bill — First Reading


Local Electoral (Repeal of Race-Based Representation) Amendment Bill

First Reading

Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) : I move, That the Local Electoral (Repeal of Race-Based Representation) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. The bill that I have moved and am debating tonight is a bill designed to repeal those provisions of local government law that provide for separate Māori wards and constituencies in local authorities. At present the Local Electoral Act provides for an option of separate Māori wards and constituencies at district and regional council level, and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Act 2001 mandates such seats in that region. If this bill passes, it will repeal the provisions of the Local Government Act that allow there to be separatist race-based legislation, or race-based seats on councils—

Hon Dover Samuels: Have you got the support of the Māori Party to do that?

Hon TONY RYALL:—I would not think so—and also to remove the provisions of that Act in respect of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. The outcome will be that there will be no racially based electoral representation in local government.

When the previous Government brought in legislation to provide for separate race-based wards in local government, the Labour Party hailed it as some sort of brave new world. Since that time not one local community has chosen to set up separate race-based seats—not one local council has chosen to have separate race-based seats. The provisions are unused, and they are already antiquated. They are not necessary, and they are divisive. Those communities that even considered having separate Māori representation soon found a complete lack of support in their communities for it, from all groups in the community, and they also found those seats divisive and completely unnecessary.

The National Party view, which we enunciated in our election policy at the last election, is that race-based representation is no longer needed in New Zealand, either at a parliamentary level or a local government level. We believe that it is divisive.

Hon Dover Samuels: That’s not what you told the Māori Party.

Hon TONY RYALL: Well, I have, actually. Everyone knows what my view on this is.

Hon Dover Samuels: You said to them: “Let’s get into bed together.”

Hon TONY RYALL: I would ask that member whether he thinks he would have needed a separate Māori ward to get elected to the council he represented.

Hon Dover Samuels: No matter what I think—it’s what you think.

Hon TONY RYALL: Well, it does matter what that Minister thinks, because he is the living embodiment of the fact that we do not need separate Māori seats to get Māori on to local authorities. That is a really important point, because that is one of the arguments that Mr Ririnui and the other liberals on the Labour side keep making about the need for separate race-based seats. They say that Māori cannot get elected to local government without dedicated seats. Well, I challenge members to tell Jacob Te Kurapa, who is on the Whakatāne District Council representing Murupara, that he would not be there without separate Māori seats—that he needs separate Māori seats. They should tell Bryan Riesterer, who is a Māori elected to a general seat on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, that he cannot be there because there should in fact be dedicated Māori seats. They should tell Tai Eru, who was elected to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in the general—

Hon Mita Ririnui: No, he wasn’t.

Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, he was. He was elected to the regional council in the general Rotorua seat, and that member knows it. He was elected originally to the Rotorua electorate of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. I must say that I omitted to say that this bill would be referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee, should it be passed. We think, from our side, that having separate Māori seats not only is divisive but also it limits the representation of Māori voters, for this reason. Surely the issues that concern Māori should be relevant to all the people who are elected on to local authorities, just as the concerns of other groups in the community should be relevant to them. But the accountability for Māori issues, if we have only Māori wards, is that members of councils think that only the Māori councillors need to be concerned about those issues.

Similarly, another reason we should not allow separate Māori wards is that it destroys the very important principle of equity of vote, which underpins our electoral system. Here in New Zealand we have an equity of vote—that is, the value of each vote in determining a member of Parliament is basically equal. That is why we have 55,000 in an electorate, plus or minus 10 percent, so that the vote of each of those constituents is basically equal. Each person has an equal say in getting someone elected.

But what happens when we have separate Māori wards? Let me tell members. In the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, which is the only part of New Zealand where there are separate wards—and they did not choose to have separate Māori seats in the Bay of Plenty; it was forced on them by the liberal Labour Government, which forced it on them at the last election—

Hon Mita Ririnui: No.

Hon TONY RYALL: Do not say it was not forced on them, because the Parliament passed the law to say the council had to do it, even though the council at the time had a majority not to do it. Let us see what happens to equity of vote. In the Tauranga ward of Environment Bay of Plenty—that is, a general seat—the person who only just got in, was the chairman of the Labour Party in the area. He got 11,600 votes. So that is what one needed to get elected in the Tauranga ward.

John Carter: 11,000?

Hon TONY RYALL: Eleven thousand six hundred votes; but to get elected as the Māori representative in the equivalent sort of Western Bay of Plenty area, one needed only 721 votes. Because that is what Raewyn Bennett got. So to get a representative for Tauranga, one needs 11,600 votes; to get a representative for Mauao Māori, one needs 720 votes. In Rotorua one needed 7,600 votes to get elected in the general ward. In the Okurei Māori ward, one needed only 1,700—that was for Tai Eru, a good man. He needed only 1,700 votes. So the very important principle of equity of vote is undermined by these separate Māori seats.

The fact that there is not one local authority in this country that has chosen to have separate race-based legislation, indicates that the House should support this legislation, because the provisions that I seek to repeal are unwanted, unnecessary, and divisive. If members look at the only example in the country where we do have these electorates, I ask them whether they think Māori are better served, from having these separate seats. I do not think so. Actually, what do Māori think? Do they think these are something that encourages them to vote more? If we look, for example, at the Western Bay of Plenty Māori seat, Mauao, 23 percent of the voters turned out.

John Carter: How many?

Hon TONY RYALL: Twenty-three percent, compared with, for example, 40 percent in the Rotorua general seats. So even Māori were less interested in going out and voting in those Māori seats, even though Mr Ririnui decided that they were going to be such an electoral advantage for him in the 2005 election. And look what happened! Mr Ririnui campaigned on these seats. He said to his Māori people: “I’ve given you separate representation on the regional council.” That was the centrepiece of his re-election campaign, and what did the people of Waiariki do?

John Carter: They didn’t turn out.

Hon TONY RYALL: They did not vote for him. They expressed their view on his bill, by not re-electing him to that ward.

So the National Party supports abolishing race-based seats. We think they are divisive. We do not think they are necessary. We think they are unwanted. We think that local government should be there to serve all New Zealanders, regardless of their racial background. We think it is completely unnecessary for there to be separate or dedicated wards to secure representation of Māori people on those local authorities. Because in the Bay of Plenty we have shown that competent, good people, regardless of their ethnic background, can be elected to local authorities. Just ask Jacob Te Kurapa, ask Bryan Riesterer, and ask Tai Eru about his first election.

Hon MITA RIRINUI (Minister of State) : I would say that tonight Tony Ryall’s greatest fear is that this bill will go to a select committee. That is his greatest fear, and I will say why. He fears that if it goes to a select committee, then he will have to front up to the people of the Bay of Plenty, who voted in favour of this legislation.

Judge Peter Trapski conducted an inquiry into Māori representation on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, and also into the establishment of Māori wards. You see, the member is telling only part of the story. He has a very selective memory. He also knows that over a period of 9 years prior to 2000, the people of the Bay of Plenty—the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, its councillors, all 33 iwi, the four tribal confederations, the 133 hapū—met to talk about the issue of Māori representation at a local level.

Why was that such an issue? It is simple: the Bay of Plenty at that time was the fastest growing region in the country, and Māori landowners owned 52 percent of the land available for development. Māori people in the district also owned the greatest percentage of fisheries assets in the region. Māori were the fastest-growing economic force in the region.

Mr Ryall talks about councillors, but he forgets to talk about the people—the people who should be making the decisions about the development of their areas. He also forgets to say that most of the Māori members on local authorities at the time were seconded. In the whole country Māori members made up only 5 percent of numbers on councils, and the majority of those were seconded. Yet Mr Ryall comes into this House and says that the representation is race-based. Well, he would rather that the people who own the land, the resources, and the assets had no say at local government level. That is how the man thinks. I describe this bill as “Ōrewa revisited”.

Paula Bennett: Oh!

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Listen to Paula Bennett! She has been in this House only 5 minutes. She would not have a clue about the issues on the ground in the Bay of Plenty. She is a puppet to Tony Ryall’s bill.

Hon Tony Ryall: Her family’s from the Bay of Plenty.

Hon MITA RIRINUI: I do not care where she is from. The people I am talking about are the ratepayers, the landowners, and the business people of the area—the people who make a difference in the area, not the people who skive around elsewhere.

It is incredible that when Tony Ryall hears the word “Māori”, he panics. I will give members an example of his panicking. Only a couple of months ago in this House he made an issue of primary health organisations in the Bay of Plenty conducting health programmes targeted at people at risk. In this case, the primary health organisations in the Bay of Plenty had targeted Māori men between the ages of 35 and 45 who were at great risk of coronary disease. The primary health organisations went out of their way to identify the people of that particular age group and ethnicity. Tony Ryall was not too concerned about the age group or the type of disease those men were at risk of; he was concerned about them being Māori—and he proved it in this House. His own view was that Indians should be considered, as well. I wonder how many Indians go into his electorate office in Te Puke? I tell members now that the answer is none. He locks the door when they walk past. That is a fact. For Tony Ryall it is not about who is right and who is wrong; it is about who is brown and who is not. That is his problem.

Hon Tony Ryall: What’s your majority in that area?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: He talks about his majority. All he is worried about is his vote. He has not once mentioned the people in the Bay of Plenty who really matter—the people who own the land. All the district councils and local authorities in the Bay of Plenty can see that further development requires Māori to free up their land. The great eastern highway between Tauranga and Whakatāne requires a lot of Māori to free up their land. The developments in Papamoa, Te Tumu, Tauranga, and Katikati require Māori to free up their land so that development can take place. Tony Ryall wants them to do that, but he does not want them to have a say in the environmental issues. He does not want them to have a say.

Hon Tony Ryall: What’s your mandate?

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Would the member like to hear about my mandate? When we went to the Maungatapu school 125th anniversary, who did they talk about? They talked about five generations of my family. Who was Tony Ryall? Someone who wandered in from Whakatāne. That is who they thought he was. [Interruption] It is incredible that during the debates we had on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Bill, the best contribution that “Hone” Carter could make was to tell the House that he had two Māori mokopuna.

John Carter: One.

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Well, he misled the House at that time. But that gave him good reason to oppose the Bay of Plenty’s wishes. I guarantee that when his mokopuna turns 18 and becomes an adult, that mokopuna will enrol on the Māori electoral roll. I guarantee it. Even Hone Harawira will attest to that.

John Carter: You don’t even know what an electoral roll is yet.

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Neither does the member by the sound of things, but I will get back to the bill.

The explanatory note of the bill is interesting. By his own words, Tony Ryall is fearful of Māori representation at local level. I say again that he has no problem with Māori freeing up their land, but he does not want them to have a say in what happens to it.

I do not have too much to say about this bill, but I think Tony Ryall should reflect on his words this evening, and also revisit the statements that were made by the communities of the Bay of Plenty when the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Māori Constituency Empowering) Bill was passing through this House. The bill itself was well debated at the select committee hearings in Whakatāne, and of the 78 submissions that were made to the select committee, 75 percent were in favour of the legislation. So what does that tell us?

Dr Richard Worth: That’s not right!

Hon MITA RIRINUI: Richard Worth should go and do his homework. That example tells me there was overwhelming support for Māori wards at that time.

I ask myself what Tony Ryall’s problem really is. His problem is with Māori. He does not like Māoris; he is fearful of them. He has gone around a corner and I have heard him utter a couple of Māori words: “Kia ora,” and “Tēnā koe.” That is all very well, but one has to be genuine with what one says.

I do not have much more to say about this shameful bill—as I shall put it. I heard Harry Duynhoven say earlier on that some people in this House have made landmark speeches. I think that Tony Ryall has made another landmark one in the expression of his great fear that Māori in some way are claiming their tino rangatiratanga—that they will have a strong voice at local government level and be a strong economic force in the region. If that is so, they will work collaboratively with all communities, particularly business communities. So I say to Mr Ryall that he should get on board, wake up, and learn what is happening in his electorate, and then maybe he will be a better person. Kia ora.

Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) : The Māori Party comes to the Local Electoral (Repeal of Race-Based Representation) Amendment Bill—indeed, to every bill—mindful that Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the founding document of Aotearoa. Interwoven throughout the Treaty is the significance of tino rangatiratanga—the political authority to be self-determining—which Māori share alongside indigenous peoples around the globe. The presence of tino rangatiratanga affirms our ongoing ability to be self-determining, which is essential for our survival, dignity, and well-being. That is the promise articulated in the Treaty, in that parties to the Treaty are entitled to representation in the organs of kāwanatanga governance.

This House should be well aware of the critical timing of the issue of representation, as we watch from afar the progress of the most significant international human rights instrument being negotiated across the globe, the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To our everlasting shame, the New Zealand Government is refusing to support this declaration. In so doing it is misrepresenting tangata whenua and casting further doubt on New Zealand’s already tarnished human rights record.

Against that context we come here tonight to debate another attack against Treaty justice and the representation of tangata whenua, but this time the attack comes from the Opposition side of the House. Mr Ryall has applied the hostility of Labour and New Zealand First’s retreat from the international support for indigenous people to our own domestic situation—namely, local authorities. But the fatal flaw in Mr Ryall’s logic is that he has mistaken representation of tangata whenua as representation based on race rather than as a Treaty right and a representation on the basis of sovereign nations. No doubt the people of Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa, and Te-Whānau-a-Apanui would see themselves as such. This is an ongoing mistake that falls into the context recently described by District Court and Waitangi Tribunal judge Richard Kearney, who said: “New Zealanders generally had a staggering, almost criminal lack of understanding of Treaty issues”.

Section 19 of the Local Electoral Act 2001, which relates to the ability of the councils to establish Māori wards or constituencies, is an important model of the Treaty in action in our contemporary times. But an equally important section of that Act is section 4, which describes the principles of public confidence in, and understanding of, local electoral processes. Perhaps the member might have been better served putting his energy into that area, and developing strategies to address the “almost criminal” lack of knowledge about the implications of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, rather than getting misled into talking about matters of race. The confusion and blurring over racial matters was something that Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen observed last November when he investigated the state of Aotearoa. He described the ethnic and cultural diversity as a fact of life that should not be ignored when it came to policy. However, he warned against a narrow-minded focus on race.

I have to wonder why the constitutional significance of tangata whenua, which was recognised in the provision for Māori wards and constituencies, has been relegated to being about the race card. Whose special interests are being protected when the member and, indeed, all National members, stand in this Parliament to exert power and make policy decisions that diminish the value of Te Tiriti o Waitangi?

The Māori Party believes that population-based Māori seats in local body councils represent the absolute minimum in terms of meeting Treaty obligations. I commend the Bay of Plenty Regional Council for being the first council to make such seats a reality. We believe that the Treaty partners—Māori and the Crown—should be pursuing opportunities to debate new forms of governance and other means by which we may share political power. Democracy is more than one person, one vote. Democracy is to be actively involved in the matters of one’s nation and community. Thank you.

NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) : I begin my speech by referring to this idea of race. Tony Ryall said the Local Electoral (Repeal of Race-Based Representation) Amendment Bill addresses raced-based legislation. I would like to point out to members of this House who often talk in those terms that “race” is an intellectually discredited term, and has been since the 1940s, when evolutionary scientists rejected it because race-based definitions are imprecise, arbitrary, have many exceptions, have many gradations, and the number of races observed depends on who is looking at them. In fact, the very word “race” came out of European exploration of the world and was an adjunct to racism.

In the face of the rejection of the concept of race by evolutionary scientists, social scientists have replaced the term “race” with the term “ethnicity”, which refers to self-identifying groups based on beliefs, shared religion, nationality, or descent. An ethnic group is a population whose members identify with each other on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry, and it is usually united by common cultural, behavioural, linguistic, or religious practices.

I say that because I am sick of hearing people talk about race when such a concept is an absolute fallacy. If members go to any university, they will hear that. It is so frustrating to hear this constant rhetoric about race-based legislation when none of this legislation is about race at all, and it never has been. Legislation that supports Māori aspirations or representation is not about racism—in fact, it is the antithesis of it—in my view, it is about democracy.

I object to this legislation because it cuts across democracy. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Bill was brought to this House by Mita Ririnui, on the request of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. Who is Tony Ryall to try to repeal that Act? I was on the Justice and Electoral Committee that heard from submitters who had advocated for years to get that legislation before the House. They got the support of the regional council, the legislation came here, we passed it, and now Tony Ryall thinks he has the right to turn around and spit in the face of all those people and this Parliament.

The Local Electoral Act provides the option to establish Māori wards and constituencies. That is a local decision. Again, who is Tony Ryall to prohibit that? He argues that no council has adopted that measure, but that just proves that this legislation is a cheap stunt. If no one has adopted it, what is the problem that he is trying to rectify? It is a cheap political stunt to bang on with the anti-Māori rhetoric that the National Party got their blip in the polls from. Frankly, most of us in this House are absolutely sick of it.

  • Debate interrupted.