Ancestry-based representation – is it racist?

By: Blogger

Straight from city council
A personal view,
by Councillor Steve Morris

I received a letter in the mail this week inviting me to go on the Maori electoral roll, as I have Maori ancestors, and it got me thinking. Many of those in favour of ancestry-based representation try and shut down debate by branding anyone with an opposing view as ‘racist,’ ‘prejudiced,’ or ‘bigoted.’ I disagree and in New Zealand we have freedom of speech, the right to disagree.

In 1867, only property owners and lessees could vote. Almost all Maori land was communally held which effectively ruled them out from voting so Parliament introduced special seats. By 1893, property ownership wasn’t a prequalification for voting and almost everyone could vote by secret ballot. Except Maori, who couldn’t be on the general roll and were forced to endure the patronising practice of voting for MPs by a ‘show of hands’ until 1937.

Fast forward 80 years and our democracy has made great strides. A quarter of all MPs are of Maori descent and every party in Parliament, except Labour, has a leader of Maori descent. The reason for setting up special seats 150 years ago has vanished. Some want to introduce ancestry-based council wards in 2018 and the colour of people’s faces at Tauranga City Council is often cited as the reason why. Isn’t that racist?

If an important part of our community is cut away from being represented by 10 councillors with 10 votes and instead only represented by one ancestry-based ward with one vote, is that really better for anyone?