Submission to the ​​Justice Committee on the Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Words and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill

May 2024

Student Christian Movement Aotearoa (SCMA)

Tēnā koutou katoa Justice Committee:

Student Christian Movement Aotearoa is a progressive Christian group in tertiary institutions across the Motu. We write to you as Christians committed to justice and God’s desire to see all flourish and as a movement committed to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We believe that God is always on the side of the marginalised and that we are called to do everything in our power to work towards the way of God here on earth, where all can have abundant life: especially the last, the lost, and the least. 

We write in support of extending the delivery period for voting papers from 6 days to 14 days as well as extending the voting period. We acknowledge the limitations on NZ Post and believe this new time frame would allow more people access to civic participation.

However, we are extremely opposed to the measures that would reinstate polls on Māori wards and Māori constituencies and require new polls on those electorates that have not had a poll. Below we outline three concerns we have with the proposed legislation. 

1. The 2021 amendment to the local government elections was a step forward in acknowledging the wisdom and knowledge of tangata whenua and providing representation for an underrepresented group. Removing any barriers, such as the need for referenda, to the establishment of Māori wards and Māori constituencies allows for historically underrepresented, marginalised voices to be heard. 

As Christians, we acknowledge our part in both the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and in the subsequent sins associated with settler colonialism. Missionaries, priests, pastors, and lay Christians were not innocent in the history of Aotearoa colonisation. The impacts of colonisation are still felt today. This reality has been outlined extensively in Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal reports, in the academic literature, and recounted in oral histories so I will not list them again here. “Ka mua, ka muri.” We walk forward facing the past. We look to learn from our history, and we see this new legislation as a move away from co-governance and thus a move away from embracing the vision our spiritual ancestors had at Waitangi in 1840. 

2. In any democratic system of governance, the interests of the many do not always consider the interests of the few. In this way, democratic governance is by nature hegemonic. And when majority rules, it is easy to dismiss the needs of the few. Māori wards and constituencies, while imperfect, mitigate in part the hegemonic tendencies of democracy.

Majority ruling in its own interest at the expense of the minority has been seen throughout Aotearoa New Zealand’s history, where the interests of minority groups such as Māori, have been disenfranchised and betrayed first by a system that excluded their voices, and then by a system of majority rule. There may come a time when the interests of Māori are adequately considered by a general population of voters. But that time has not yet arrived. Allowing local governments to establish Māori wards and constituencies helps mitigate this historic underrepresentation.

While there are of course, other minority and marginalised groups whose needs are not represented in local government, we see Māori representation as a key first step in allowing for bicultural partnership to operate at all levels of government in the spirit of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

3. Representational democracy is still democracy, and the local government representatives who established these wards and constituencies were duly elected. Not every decision — especially decisions that require moral courage and specialised knowledge of political and historical contexts. That is why we have representational democracy.

The Bible as a whole tells many stories about many things, and it is not a political handbook. It is, though, a collection of texts with rich wisdom on the condition of humanity. In its political messages, one theme that comes through abundantly clear is that humans often and perhaps inevitably fail at self-governance. When the people en masse, or as a mob, gather together to make political decisions in the Bible, it always ends disastrously. We see this backlash against Māori voices in the same vein as other reactionary, populist, mob-like mentalities that have contributed to further racism and oppression against Māori. We elected leaders to lead. Mandating decisions go to referenda undermines the very leadership and decisions of those we have elected. 

Diversity enriches us all. Hearing the voices of Māori at all levels of governance enriches us all. As tangata tiriti, we hope and pray that you would lead with courage, and recognise that justice is met when Māori are truly given power to help govern this land at all levels.

Ngā manaakitanga,

Michael Toy
Public Theologian
Student Christian Movement Aotearoa

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