1867, Donald McLean: Seats of power

Sir Donald McLean established the Maori seats. (Alexander Turnbull Library)
Sir Donald McLean established the Maori seats. (Alexander Turnbull Library)

Colonial politician and public servant Donald McLean is New Zealander of the Year for his work in introducing the law that set up the Maori seats in Parliament.

The historian Alan Ward wrote in the DNZB that it was largely McLean's reputation as a practical man rather than a theorist that helped him get the bill through.

In arguing his case, McLean said a remedy had to be found to remove the causes of discontent that affected "every people who conceive that they have no voice in making the laws by which they are governed".

The Maori seats have been an important part of New Zealand politics ever since and the number has been increased from four to seven.

At the time they were introduced, the Herald opposed them. "For our own part we have all along advocated a very different measure of representation for the Maori," said an editorial "and that is, to induce him to individualise his title to his land and obtain a Crown grant for it, and to register himself as an elector, as any other inhabitant of the colony does".

In the 21st century the Herald has consistently resisted arguments for the abolition of the seats.

"The Maori seats are delivering on expectations that they would bring Maori into national politics," said an editorial in 2008. "They are proving their worth. Their entrenchment would, in practice, change very little. But it would be a positive way of acknowledging their value."

McLean's lasting achievement makes him a worthy New Zealander of the Year for 1867.

From the Herald archives:
Opposing Maori seats, New Zealand Herald, 30 August 1867

Summary of House of Representatives general assembly, New Zealand Herald, 30 August 1867

Further reading:
Biography of Donald McLean, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

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