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On Monday, the Māori Affairs select committee will consider changes to the laws around Māori wards on local councils, and it seems extremely unlikely at this stage the new proposal won’t be supported and passed into law. If so, it’ll mean any local councils that establish Māori wards won’t be able to scrap them for at least two elections.
At just two days, the submission period for the law change was unreasonably short. But given how few people care enough about local body politics to actually vote in local body elections, it seems extraordinary there’s much opposition to the law change, except of course this issue involves something Māori, and the perception for some people that Māori might be getting special treatment.
Of course, both of those points are 100% right. The issue does concern Māori, and Māori don’t just deserve special treatment but are contractually guaranteed a form of special treatment under the Treaty.
Martin van Beynan wrote a really thoughtful piece last week in which he asserted that New Zealand is in the midst of a period of profound change. At the centre of the change is the role of Māori governance and leadership in New Zealand’s day-to-day affairs. I won’t read you the whole piece, but I think Martin’s absolutely right. Sometimes it can be hard to recognise the significance of a moment when you’re in the middle of it, but chalk up Monday’s select committee hearing as another little sign. We are in a moment of sorts.
We’re fortunate, I think, to live in a country that has been relatively assertive in at least trying to acknowledge and correct some of the wrongs of the past. I speak as both a New Zealand and an Australian citizen: when I compare the two, I'm proud that New Zealand is much more mature in recognising the complexity of its own history.
The Treaty settlement process is imperfect, but it’s an earnest effort that I think benefits a majority of New Zealanders, Māori, and Pākeha alike. And more and more we are experimenting and embracing forms of Māori sovereignty in miniature. Take Whānau Ora, for example: A programme promoting Māori health solutions for Māori families established by the last National government and supported and funded by the current one. Rangatahi courts work like youth courts in a way, except sessions are held on local marae and follow Māori cultural processes. And honestly, has any Pākeha New Zealander’s life been drastically and disasterously affected by the establishment of Māori seats in parliament? Of course not.
I have little doubt the next head of Oranga Tamariki will be Māori, and increasingly those agencies responsible for some of our worst societal problems will seek to find Māori-led solutions for Māori.
Of course, there will be scrutiny of this leadership. There should be scrutiny. Māori leadership, like all leadership, deserves scrutiny.
But non-Māori have nothing to fear. Māori are not taking over. They are not climbing in our collective bathroom window.
Changing the law around Māori wards in local body councils won’t even guarantee that every council will establish the wards. It’ll merely remove an obviously-discriminatory provision.
This is a good thing. It speaks to our values. It's a sign of a maturing country.
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