Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Mike Butler: Historian twists voting history
An historian who wrote an op-ed piece titled “Maori focus on constitutional moves”, (1) published in the Wanganui Chronicle on Saturday, claims the way the government introduced voting spawned a legacy of disempowerment for Maori.”In an article that previewed a visit by the Constitutional Advisory Panel to Wanganui on Thursday, Danny Keenan wrote: “As most Maori are aware, their 19th century forebears had to wait 27 years after the 1840 treaty before being granted the vote in 1867. The franchise came to Maori 15 years after it was awarded to Pakeha. Inequalities like these have spawned a legacy of disempowerment for Maori.” He added that the Maori seats “were established as an act of denial”. Are these claims correct?
At that time, the right to vote was restricted to males having individual ownership of a freehold estate to the value of £25. Males without property to that value and women were excluded. Some Maori men could supply proof of a freehold estate to the value of £25 and did vote.
Native Affairs Minister Donald McLean introduced the Maori Representation Bill in August 1867 "to provide for the better representation of the native aboriginal inhabitants” because “the peculiar nature of the tenure of Maori land and to other causes the native aboriginal inhabitants of this colony of New Zealand have not; heretofore with few exceptions been able to become registered as electors or to vote at the election of members of the House of Representatives or of the Provincial Councils”. (2)
For anyone looking at what the Maori Representation Act 1867 intended to do, that was it. Disputed ownership of customary Maori land that had no title meant many Maori who wanted to vote could not provide the proof to meet the electoral requirement. The Act removed that impediment by extending the vote to all Maori men. (3)
A “Maori” was defined as "an aboriginal native inhabitant of New Zealand and shall not include half-castes". The right to vote was extended to every male Maori adult (aged 21 and over) of sound mind who has not been convicted of any treason or felony. The colony was divided into four Maori electoral districts -- Northern, Eastern, Western, and Southern. The four Maori electorates were an interim measure for five years.
It meant that Maori men of sound mind who had no convictions gained the right to vote before many non-Maori men of sound mind who had no convictions because the property qualification had been removed for Maori and remained for non-Maori.
Maori men gained a non-property right to vote 12 years before European males, which occurred in 1879 through the Qualification of Electors Act. Maori males who met the property qualification were entitled to vote in either Maori or European constituencies.
Already, Keenan’s assertion that 19th century Maori “had to wait 27 years after the 1840 treaty before being granted the vote in 1867 looks shaky because Maori men who met the property qualification have been able to vote as long as non-Maori men who met the property qualification. The fact that Maori men gained a non-property right to vote 12 years before European males would indicate that the 1867 Act was more an act of empowerment than an “act of denial”, as Keenan wrote.
The 1867 Act was by no means the final word on Maori representation. That Act was extended a further five years in 1872, and extended again in 1876, that time indefinitely.
The Electoral Act 1893 extended the vote to all women, non-Maori and Maori alike. The term “Maori” was redefined to include half-castes and their descendents. The four Maori seats and electorates remained. Maori persons convicted of any treason, felony, or any offence punishable by penal servitude or imprisonment with hard labour for three years or upwards were excluded from voting. (4)
Any Maori qualified to vote was also qualified to be an MP. Maori adults were entitled to vote in either Maori or European constituencies but not both. James Carroll became first Maori to win a general (European) seat in 1893.
With voting rights extended to all New Zealanders, subject only to an age qualification, any practical reason for separate Maori seats had disappeared. Nevertheless, separate seats continued, and this separate representation took on a life of its own as political parties courted Maori support. For instance, in the 1946 general election, the National and Labour parties were tied for general seats, and it was only Labour’s hold on the four Maori seats which enabled it to stay in power.
The National Party feared that cutting the Maori seats would bring thousands of Labour-voting Maori on to the general roll in its marginal rural electorates. When parliament reviewed the Maori seats in 1953, while re-aligning Maori electoral boundaries, the vested interests of both Labour and National meant that Maori seats remained.
So, if the Maori seats were “an act of denial”, and an inequality that “spawned a legacy of disempowerment”, would Keenan want to abolish the Maori seats? No. Keenan, illogically, argues that a new constitution “should safeguard the Maori seats” not least because they guarantee Maori representation in parliament by Maori. And guaranteed Maori representation is a treaty right”.
There you have it. Maori seats were bad, but Maori seats are now good, and must be entrenched, because the treaty said so.
1. Maori focus on constitutional moves, Wanganui Chronicle,March 16, 2013.
2. Daily Southern Cross, August 23, 1867. http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=DSC18670823.2.22
3. Daily Southern Cross, August 23, 1867. http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=DSC18670823.2.22
4. Electoral Act 1893. http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-GovActs-t1-g1-t2-g1-g1-t1.html
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