• Tau Henare
Maori Affairs

over the next four months maori are going to be hammered with a simple message: the choice is yours.

because simply put the choice is yours - to choose to be on the maori or the general roll.

maori representation in parliament was established under the maori representation act 1867. the legislation was designed to solve the problem created by the property qualification which prevented most maori from voting because their land was owned communally.

it was also envisaged the maori seats would foster maori co-operation with european institutions and laws.

the act provided for the election of four representatives in single member electorates, three in the north island and one in the south island. only maori were able to stand as candidates, and only maori males aged over 21 could vote.

despite the provision made for maori representation in the act, maori were underrepresented in parlaiament with only four seats for a population of about 50,000 compared with 72 seats for a population of approximately 250,000 non-maori.

the maori representation act was intended as a temporary measure pending the individualisation of maori land titles. once land was individualised maori would be able to register as electors under the provisions of the property qualification which all electors were required to meet.

however maori did not adjust as quickly to the european system as was first anticipated. maori representation was therefore extended until 1872, and extended indefinitely in 1876.

in 1893 the provision that allowed maori who met the property qualification to vote in a european constituency was abolished. all persons who were of more than one-half maori descent were required to register and vote in one of the four maori electorates, while those of less than one-half maori descent could only vote in a european electorate. only those who were exactly one-half maori and one-half non-maori were given the choice of being enrolled in either constituency.

a european electoral roll was established in 1862 and enrolment was made compulsory in 1924. the maori roll was not established until 1949; compulsory enrolment for maori was not instituted until 1956.

the electoral act was amended in 1967 to allow those on the maori roll to stand as candidates in european electorates, and those on the european roll could stand for the maori seats.

in 1975 two national candidates of maori descent were elected to represent general electorates - w r austin, mp for awarua, and the late ben couch, mp for wairarapa.

the electoral amendment act 1975 introduced what is now commonly known as the maori option.

the option allows all persons of maori descent to decide after each census which roll to be on.

the amendment renamed the european roll, the genral roll and also provided for the number of maori seats to be set after each census, based on the population quota used to determine general seats. the number of maori seats would, therefore, depend on the number of maori registered on the maori roll .

this provision was repealed following a change of government from labour to national in 1975. the number of maori seats was again fixed at four.

but oh how times have changed and again we're back to this situation where the number of maori seats is determined by the number registered on the maori roll.

theoretically, if all maori registered on the maori roll maori could have 12 seats in the house. imagine that, 12 maori mps as of right, and that doesn't take in to consideration maori list mps.

then again if everybody abandoned the maori roll maori representation in parliament would be at the behest of party lists.

the royal commission on the electoral system noted the maori seats have a symbolic significance for maori that goes beyond the issue of political representation... for many maori the seats are a base from which to continue the search for a preferred means of maori political expression and representation.

if that is what maori want - so be it.

the next four months represents an opportunity

for maori voters to send a message loud and clear to parliament about where they believe their political future lies.

the choice is yours.