Māori Representation

After much debate, in 1867 Parliament agreed to set up four electorates specifically for Māori. This solution was similar to the 'special representation' introduced for gold miners earlier that decade.history-Taiaroa_1.jpg

To avoid difficulties with property ownership, all Māori men over 21 were eligible to vote (and stand for Parliament).

The small number of Māori who owned individual freehold land were still allowed to vote in the European electorates. This 'dual vote' would survive until 1893.

On the other hand, four seats was a fairly modest concession: on a per capita basis at that time, Māori deserved 14 to 16 members (Europeans then had 72). In addition, the arrangement was to be temporary, lasting only five years. Most politicians expected that in due course Māori would own or rent land as individuals and the seats could be done away with.

However, it soon became clear that this process - the 'individualisation' of Māori land ownership - would take much longer. The experiment was extended in 1872 and in 1876 the Māori seats were established on a permanent basis.

By that time some of the Māori members of Parliament were pressing for an increase in the number of seats, not only to better represent their population but also to reduce the size of their huge electorates. It would be more than a century, however, before these efforts were successful.

Very few Māori took part in the first elections, held in 1868, but interest began to grow in the 1870s and 1880s. The government tried to bring all tribes into the system by establishing polling booths in areas like the King Country and Urewera.

Law changes in 1893 and 1896 completed the almost total separation of the Māori and European electoral systems. From then until 1975 only so-called 'half-castes' were allowed to choose which seats they wished to vote in.

Did you know? As a result of the 1867 legislation, Māori men achieved universal suffrage 12 years before European men.


Photo credit: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand Credit information.


Last updated: 08 February 2013