12 October 2005
Maori electorate seats
Here's a rant I've been saving up for a while - these are some comments I posted on DPF's blog where he was discussing Tony Milne's arguments in support of the Maori electorate seats. In some respects I agree with some of Tony’s points about the Maori seats. My main issue with the current conversation is the perception that the Maori seats dramatically distort the election - I’m not convinced they’re as widely unusual as some people suggest. First, as Tony notes (and I beg to differ with DPF here), in general terms, each Maori seat represents the same number of people as general seats and therefore the “value” of a vote in the Maori electorate is the same as a vote in a general electorate. The 2002 report of the Representation Committee noted that the “target” number of voters per electorate was as follows (www.election.govt.nz/electorates/ reviewing_electorates.html): - South Island general electorate: 54 308 - North Island general electorate: 54 288 - Maori electorate: 53 130 (Although, my rough calculations from the Statistics Department data (revised General and Māori electoral districts based on Usually Resident Population Count, 2001: www.stats.govt.nz/census/2001-electoral-profile/default) suggests an average – total, not just voter – population of 86,000 people for each Maori electorate and 60,000 for each general electorate.) Secondly, manipulating electoral boundaries to ensure that that electorates generally reflect “like” people is nothing new. In fact, it is mandated for general electorate districts. One of the key consideration when the Representation Commission sets electoral boundaries is “communities of interest” (see s35(3)(f) of the Electoral Act). Notably, this allows the Representation Commission to “group” particular voters within certain electorates. For example, there was a famous (successful) challenge to electorate boundaries when urban voters in Marton were going to be split between 2 electorates, diluting “urban voices” with “rural voices”. Further, it’s no surprise that the Mangare electorate has a Pacific Island population of 49% while neighbouring electorates have a much lower proportion (Mt Roskill: 15%; Maungakiekie: 22%, Manurewa: 23.8%; Manukau East: 34%) – the process of electoral boundaries tries as much as possible to ensure significant groupings of one particular ethnic group are included in the same electorate. Overseas, I’m aware of some (successful) legal challenges in Canada where boundaries were drawn though the middle of First Nation communities (there the requirement is to have regard to “communities of interest or identity”). And I think I recall some electorate maps in the US being rather hotch-potch as they tried to draw electoral boundaries to ensure Black representation. On this basis, it’s not hard to see the Maori seats as an extension of the “communities of interest” proposition – rather than the just the provision of “separate” seats. For a long time, particular voters – typically rural voters – have had the benefit of this type of drawing of the electoral boundaries. Why is it so bad if Maori benefit from it?