Māori seats, Ministry for Women can't last forever - Bennett

  • 17/07/2017

Parliament still has "room" for dedicated Māori seats, but this should not last forever, Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett says.

It comes after NZ First leader Winston Peters on Sunday announced his party would hold a binding referendum on whether to retain or abolish the seven Māori seats if it governs after the September election.

Ms Bennett downplayed Mr Peters' proposal as populist politics and something he has long talked about.

"I see there still being a bit of room for [Māori seats], but I don't think it will be forever," she told The AM Show on Monday morning.

Māori still needed advocacy given their over-representation in prison and lower success rates in the education system, she said.

"I hope one day that we have dealt with some of those bigger issues and we don't need them."

She compared them to other Parliamentary institutions that seek to address imbalance.

"It's a bit like the Minister for Women - I hope one day we don't need one. There shouldn't be a need for one."

Māori seats were introduced in 1867. Mr Peters says the modern Parliament now contained a number of skilled Māori members who were a match for any politician.

"What's wrong with asking the public of this country, and making it a binding outcome? Who could possibly oppose that?" he asked on The AM Show on Monday.

In February, Prime Minister Bill English said while it had been National policy in the early 2000s to abolish the Māori seats, it was not a policy the party was campaigning on this year.

Too many MPs?

Mr Peters said his proposed referendum would also ask a second question about whether or not the size of parliament should be reduced to 100 members. The current parliament has 119 MPs.

"A referendum to ask New Zealanders to you want to continue the Māori seats - which was something that 1867 for just five years, and never stopped," he said on Monday.

Mr Peters is seen as a potential kingmaker after the election, and his party has between 9 and 14 percent support in polls.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says New Zealand still has to improve circumstances for Māori.

"Winston has a very old-style view of the Māori seats," she told RNZ.

Earlier, the pro-democracy lobby Democracy Action supported Mr Peters' proposal, saying the Māori seats were from a bygone era, and should have been removed when MMP was introduced in 1996.

"New Zealanders' civil and democratic rights should not be based on race or ethnicity," the group's spokesman Lee Short said.

NZN / Newshub.