Reflections on Westminster-style democracy..

Our government structures are based on those of England, unsurprisingly.  Early settlers from England, Scotland and Ireland assumed their right to install the systems of government they were used to.  After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, they flooded the country with immigrants (historian James Belich describes the settlement process as a tsunami).  The settlers ignored Te Tiriti, overruled the customary lore and law of Maori established during several hundred years here, and established their own dominance by military force during the Land Wars in the 19th century.

The Westminster parliamentary system has some considerable strengths, in that it provides for elections, and for an Opposition to challenge, publicly, in a ritualised manner, the actions of the majority ruling Government party or coalition of parties.  However, this enshrined attitude of hostility between two parties is now seriously outdated.

During the leadup to the election we became particularly aware of the behaviour of interviewers and panelists during television programmes. Pakeha participants often interrupted each other, and talked over the top of each other.  The Maori panels of contestants for the Maori seats were entirely different.  They waited to be invited to contribute, there was very seldom an interruption, and there was a warmth and courtesy which made them a pleasure to watch. There was just as much challenging of viewpoints, but far less personal discourtesy, and therefore the Maori panels (with one notable exception where two long-time sparring partners got out of hand and shouted at each other!) were more interesting and informative.

The complexities of decision-making in the 21st century would be vastly improved if the behaviour of the Maori candidates was the norm, rather than the combative style so many Pakeha (men, especially- but Judith Collins and her ilk too) adopt.  We also need more sophisticated systems of selection and election, checks and balances, and wider  access to information and resources in easily understood formats. 

The only serious attempt being made at present  to develop alternatives to the Westminster system is the extensive consultation and discussion process being led by Maori, over several years so far: Matike Mai.

Information about this is available from this website:

 and many other related sites on-line, and in booklet form. There are ongoing meetings which Pakeha and others are welcome to attend.

For those interested in thinking more about these issues, there have been some especially good articles published on-line in Newsroom during this election period.  We especially appreciate:

Emma Espiner ‘s “Watching Two New Zealands”

Dame Anne Salmond’s “The Politics of Human Survival”, and “Navigating by the Stars”.

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