It’s a struggle for the champions of democracy to stem the rising tide of co-governance arrangements that make a sham of electing our councillors and (before long, you can be sure) members of Parliament.
They have cause to feel like that Canute feller trying to hold back the incoming tide.
Trouble is, being a champion of democracy can’t be squared with the modern-day need to recognise that our indigenous people are special people.
Democrats expose themselves to the charge they are racist and reactionary if they resist proposals to appoint our special people directly to positions of power and influence in our governance arrangements.
They certainly have been chided by a New Plymouth city councillor for having the gall to resist giving local iwi members a very special place – and very special privileges – in the city’s decision-making system.
According to Cr Howie Tamati, these champions of democracy are creating a confrontation about a proposal intended to have positive impacts on the community.
The council (which Alf suspects kept voters in the dark about this idea at the last local body elections) is considering appointing six iwi members on to influential council committees and giving them full voting rights.
The proposal – flushed into the open by the Taranaki Daily News – would spare these iwi members the hassle of standing for office and campaigning to win enough votes to get elected.
We may suppose the appointees won’t want to make decisions without being personally rewarded, of course, so probably they will be paid for their toils.
And guess what?
Despite having campaigned to get himself elected, Cr Tamati has lots of sympathy with the idea things should be made much easier for his iwi cuzzie-bros.
“I can’t see any harm in the idea. I applaud the mayor for having the heart and the mind to try and engage with Maori more effectively,” he said.
Ah, but at least two reactionaries can be found in the council’s ranks.
It seems that Councillors Murray Chong and John McLeod are staunch champions of old-fashioned democracy.
They are complaining it is undemocratic for people who are not elected by the community to be able to vote on community issues.
It is hard to disagree, because it is palpably undemocratic.
We may suppose therefore that Cr Tamati is not a democrat, because
… Tamati, who is also the president of New Zealand Rugby League dismissed their claims and said they had missed the bigger picture.
Adding iwi members to the policy, monitoring and regulatory committees had the potential to create meaningful engagement and inclusion around the council table, he said.
“I am disappointed in the position two councillors have taken. It has polarised people before it’s even got to the council table,” he said.
The new appointments would also bring added knowledge and understanding to the committees.
Cr Tamati makes the fascinating observation that many people from iwi would not be elected to council because they are not well-known outside of their Maori communities.
“I got on council because of my profile, because people in the community know me, and that’s an advantage, but for most Maori there’s not enough people who vote who know them,” he said.
He wails about Maori being denied a proper role.
But if you pause to think about it, he is saying anybody who doesn’t bother standing for office is being denied a proper role.
So what’s good enough for iwi should be good enough for everybody and we should simply dispense with local body elections.
But that’s not going to happen. Cr Tamati – like everybody who is willing to debase our democratic structures in the name of the Treaty partnership – wants special arrangements only for indigenous citizens.
He quite rightly points to the fact that other councils in New Zealand already have non-elected Maori on standing committees with voting rights.
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has seven Maori with voting rights across four committees, Marlborough District Council has four Maori representatives across four committees, Waipa has two across two committees and Wairoa and Napier each have one.
Local Government New Zealand’s principal policy adviser Mike Reid has said iwi appointments to standing committees were now common practice, and the Human Rights Commission also backed the idea.
In 2010 the commission released a report that said unless positive steps were taken Maori representation would “continue to languish well below the proportion of Maori in the population”.
This is true.
It doesn’t make it right to dismantle a system of government our forefathers fought and died for.
It does show how far the tide has come in and washed away important planks in our democratic structures while citizens display a dismaying indifference.