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The Māori Roll Explained

What are the Māori Seats and why do we have them?

The journey of there being Māori seats in parliament began in 1853, during a time when Māori were not represented in parliament as they did not qualify under the property requirement because they possessed their lands communally and not under individual title like Europeans. Stupid I know. In fact, back then, Māori could not even vote unless they had individual title granted by the Crown.

During the wars of the early 1860s, however, some European politicians argued that it was vital to assimilate Māori into the political mainstream to ensure lasting peace between the two races. They were also keen to reward those Māori tribes who had fought alongside the Crown. So, after much debate, parliament agreed to set up four electorate seats specific to Māori under the Māori Representation Act of 1867.  With this, to avoid difficulties with property ownership, all Māori men over 21 were eligible to vote and stand for Parliament.

Despite these changes, it wasn’t until after 1975 that Māori could choose whether or not they voted in Māori electorates. In 1975 the government introduced what is known as the Māori electoral option where voters could decide which roll they voted on. This is held alongside or following each census every five years. Basically, if you have Māori heritage you can choose to be on either the Māori or the general roll but you cannot change rolls until the Māori electoral option takes place.

The benefits of voting on the Māori roll means you get to choose who represents each Māori electorate and therefore gets one of the seven Māori seats in parliament. The Māori electorates are currently Te Tai Tokerau, Tāmaki Makaurau, Hauraki-Waikato, Waiariki, Te Tai Hauāuru, Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, and Te Tai Tonga.  

So how are the Māori electorates determined? Well, when New Zealand introduced the MMP voting system in 1993, the law was changed to vary the number of Māori electorates according to the size of the Māori electoral population, using a similar quota to that used to determine the number of General electorates.  Put simply, this change has meant if more Māori enrol on the Māori roll, it can result in more Māori electorates. Given this, since 1993, the number of Māori electorates has grown from four to seven.

The number of Māori seats does not reflect the proportion of New Zealanders who identify as being of Māori descent because many Māori choose to enrol in general electorates. The number of Māori seats reflects the proportion of voters on the Māori roll at any given time, and the number of seats will increase or decrease according to the results of the Māori electoral option and how many Māori are enrolled on the Māori roll. At the conclusion of the last Māori electoral option in 2013, there were 228,000 Māori on the Māori roll and around 184 000 on the general roll. So, it is split quite evenly.

At the moment Labour holds six of the Māori seats and the Māori party one. However, the Māori party earned a second MP in parliament at the last election based on their party vote. Any political party can put forward candidates to run in the Māori seats, however, currently only Labour, the Māori party, the Green party and the Mana party do.

With Labour and the Māori party both campaigning hard in the Māori electorates, the possibility of Hone Harawira being re-elected in Te Tai Tokerau, and Metiria Turei’s political survival on the line in Te Tai Tonga, the battle for the Māori electorates is proving yet again to be one of the most interesting aspects of the electoral cycle. Given this, you can be sure there will be more surprises come Saturday.