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National: Get rid of Maori seats

Published: 10:06AM Sunday May 04, 2003

The National Party is calling for the abolition of the separate Maori seats in parliament.

Leader Bill English made the call in a speech to a regional party conference in Masterton.

English recalled that the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System, which led to the introduction of MMP, advocated an end to the Maori seats.

The commission argued that separate Maori seats were unecessary because proportional representation would get Maori into parliament.

English says Maori already have good representation in parliament without affirmative action.

In 2002 National made a bid for all seven Maori seats but managed only four percent of the party vote there.

Only New Zealand First has ever broken Labour's hold on the seats.

But none of its 13 MPs are now from Maori electorates. It deliberately didn't stand there last election to show they are unnecessary.

"Mr English is seeking to try and save his career by pinching New Zealand First's policies. It isn't going to work," Winston Peters told ONE News.

And by English's own admission voters are still wary of National's recent leadership spat.

"They expect National to be way they always thought it was: united, competent and decent. And when we achieve those things they will support us," English told the conference.

But National's sole Maori MP got in on the list.

And she thinks her party's call for the abolition of Maori seats is premature.

"As politicians we've always gota be mindful about that. Maori certainly are very aware that their rights are fragile," Georgina Te Heuheu told ONE News.

Te Heuheu says a big constitutional change like abolishing Maori electorates should be up to Maori themselves.

She says she accepts it because that's what most of the caucus wants, but questions whether the time has come.

Te Heuheu says she has always thought the seats won't be needed one day, but Maori should make the choice as a significant number choose to remain on the Maori roll.

She points out that Maori are unhappy at Labour's plans to ditch the Privy Council and she is warning her colleagues to think long and hard before agreeing on something just as drastic.

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