Democracy and voter equality is all Greek to Coffey – but he does favour tweaking the electoral system to give us a Treatocracy

Tamati Coffey, a Labour list MP and chairman of Parliament’s Māori Affairs Committee, may well be busy answering hundreds of letters. Point of Order therefore should be more patient while we await his responses to questions we put to him.

On the other hand, he may ignore all correspondence.

In that case we would have cause to be aggrieved because – as the chairman of a select committee – we understand that our taxes contribute to his Parliamentary salary of $179,713 plus an expenses entitlement of $16,980.

The questions we emailed to Coffey on Thursday last week were triggered by the recently published Local Government Commission’s determination for Rotorua.

This would result in three Māori Ward Councillors being elected in Rotorua’s local government elections, but (as Kiwiblog pointed out) without sacrificing the important principle of equality of suffrage.

That being so, a bill which is now going through Parliament to over-ride the Local Elections Act – and to give Māori more voting muscle than non-Maori in Rotorua – is no longer needed.

Coffey is zealously sponsoring this measure, the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill.

He will also chair the select committee which considers public submissions on it, because the bill is being treated as a Maori and Treaty of Waitangi issue rather than a local government issue to be considered by Parliament’s administration and governance committee.

The bill therefore will be considered by a committee chaired by a fellow who – it seems – is not strongly wed to the principle of equality of suffrage, and who would “tweak” our democracy to give effect to his thinking about the ideal electoral system.

We hoped to find out what he think by asking him: will the bill proceed regardless of the Local Government Commission determination, and if so what are the reasons?

We overlooked another factor that shows there is no need for the bill (but we are sure Coffey is aware of it).  According to the Local Government Commission’s determination, Maori already make up 36 per cent of the Rotorua District Council of one mayor and 10 councillors.

“The Council noted that there were currently four Māori members on the Council, all of whom had been elected at large under the current representation arrangements.”

In the absence of a reply from him, we looked for evidence of Coffey’s enthusiasm for “democracy”.

The results were disquieting.

In his speech at the bill’s first reading, he enthused about the voting arrangements being entrenched in the bill (giving greater weight to Māori votes), which are bound to serve as a model for other local authorities which come under pressure to promote the specious notion of a Treaty “partnership”.

The bill provides for one mayor elected at large; one Māori ward with three seats across the whole of Rotorua; one general ward with three seats across the whole of Rotorua; and four at-large seats, which can be voted for by anybody, if you’re on the general or the Māori roll.

The Rotorua Lakes Community Board and a Rotorua Rural Community Board would be maintained.

In other words, as Kiwblog explained: 

The Rotorua Council no longer believes in one person one vote. It believes that if you are not Maori, you should only get 40% of a vote. They think 22,000 people should get the same number of ward Councillors as 56,000 people – because those 22,000 people have the right ancestors.

Coffey seems keen to translate this egregious plan into law because (as he told Parliament) the council called him to ask:

“Would you be the local member that will take this to Parliament? Because we believe that it’s the right thing to do. Will you do it for our city?”

Hansard records that – unlike Point of Order – the council got a response from him:

And I said to them, “I will do it for our city.” More than that, I want this to come to our Māori Affairs Committee, of which I am the chair.

He described the proposed arrangement as a “partnership” and said:

This is what we want. This is what Māori have always wanted. This is what Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Ngāti Uenukukōpako envisaged when they, back in the day, negotiated the terms and conditions for the Fenton agreement. They always envisaged that there would be a meaningful partnership between Māori and the Crown.

Coffey acknowledged that this could well serve as a precedent, saying

.. there are councils all around the country right now that are talking about the idea of co-governance. It’s a very important kaupapa. I know that many councils will also this year be asking themselves the same questions: what is the ideal situation for us?

This ideal, in other words, is Treaty-based “partnership” and co-governance rather than democracy, although Labour MPs perhaps think they are one and the same.

Angie Warren-Clark, another Labour list MP, said:

So the preferred option that has come to this House to be discussed is that there will be one mayor, one Māori ward with three seats—so that’s Te Ipu Wai Taketake—and three general seats: Te Ipu Auraki ward. So there’s a general ward and a Māori ward. There will be four at-large seats and then, of course, there’s the Rotorua Lakes Community Board and the rural community board. This, to me, sounds very much like democracy. It sounds very much like there is actually parity amongst voters.

But her own numbers underscore that – to the contrary – the aim is to give much more power to a Maori roll vote than to a general roll vote:

I want to acknowledge the fact that there are 21,700 people on the Māori roll. There are 55,600 people on the general roll.

Tamati Coffey, in a second speech during the first-reading debate, revealed his own curious ideas about democracy.  He said people across New Zealand

… have become really wedded to this idea of democracy being one-way. Can I say to the people of New Zealand and all of those people that are listening to this that are thinking about putting in submissions: democracy, at its very fundamental is Greek.

The parliamentary process that we partake in right here, that we’ve cut and pasted for our Chamber, right here, is actually English; this is from a Westminster system.

There is nothing to preclude us being able to tweak democracy to make it work for us here in Aotearoa.

“Tweak” means removing equal voting rights.  Some citizens (based on race) should be regarded as more equal than others.

Coffey did draw attention to differences between Athenian democracy and present-day democracy – but does he appreciate all of the differences and their constitutional implications?

In Athens, all adult citizens were required to take an active part in the government. If they did not fulfill their duty they would be fined and sometimes marked with red paint.

And the Athenian definition of “citizens” was different from modern-day citizenship concepts: only free men were considered citizens in Athens. Women, children, and slaves were not considered citizens and therefore could not vote.

Each year 500 names were chosen from all the citizens of ancient Athens. Those 500 citizens had to actively serve in the government for one year. During that year, they were responsible for making new laws and controlled all parts of the political process.

When a new law was proposed, all the citizens of Athens had the opportunity to vote on it – but to cast their votes, citizens had to attend the assembly on the day the vote took place.

This form of government is called direct democracy.

New Zealand has a representative democracy, in which citizens vote for representatives who create and change laws that govern the people rather than getting to vote directly on the laws themselves.

Coffey – we suspect – supports neither model when  he calls for tweaking.  Rather, he wants to give us a Treaty-flavoured Tweakocracy – or Treatocracy.

Maybe he will tell us when (or should we say “if”) he replies to our email.

9 thoughts on “Democracy and voter equality is all Greek to Coffey – but he does favour tweaking the electoral system to give us a Treatocracy

  1. Coffey is the prime example why we should not have any unelected MPs telling us what to do to benefit his beliefs while we pay for the privilege ! Scrap MMP and let’s have Single Preference Vote as per Australia.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mr Coffey is one of those MPs who really should not be in the house. Anyone who loses their seat when the electorate swung massively towards his party must be intensely disliked by his electorate. Now he seems to be showing the rest of NZ just why he is so actively unpopular.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pericles, the great Athenian statesman of the 5th century BC, said democracy was government by the many, not the few, with equal justice for all. Mr Coffey thinks this needs “tweaking”, and wants a tribal oligarchy instead. He is supported by Labour and the Greens in this ambition. Good, now we know where we all stand.

    Liked by 1 person

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