Māori and the National Government

November 28, 2011

The results are in and for the next three years we will be governed by the National Party, with support from John Banks (ACT) and Peter Dunne (United Future).  A lot of pundits will talk about the respective campaigns of the Māori Party and Te Mana, and what the future holds for these independent Māori voices in Parliament.  The reality is that both parties failed in the 2011 election.  The Māori Party lost Te Tai Tonga to a family dynasty; Hone’s share of the vote was further eroded in Te Tai Tokerau; and Te Mana failed to secure enough votes to bring in Annette Sykes into Parliament.  I felt very despondent on Saturday night watching the results come in, and seeing the swing of Māori support back towards Labour and New Zealand First.

Over the past two days I have taken time to reflect on the position of Māori politics following this election and on what the next three years holds in store for Māori.  If the tide continues to go out on the Māori Party and Te Mana then 2014 could spell the end of this experiment in independence.  Māori continue to support Labour in large numbers, despite the Labour parties continued disrespect of Māori tino rangatiratanga.  The more I observe Māori politics, and the more I talk with Māori, the more I realise that if we are truly committed to tino rangatiratanga, we need to move past the “Labour = good, National = bad” thinking that pervades our people.  Neither Labour nor National can ever provide an independent voice for Māori, and neither party has the best interests of Māori at the core of their policy.

I believe it is time to go on the front foot and start attacking Labour as much as National on their respective Māori affairs records.  During the Native Kowhiri debates there was very little debate, and a lot of agreement.  Why did none of the Māori Party candidates challenge Labour to state their support for, and extension of, Whanau Ora? Or ask why their party enacted the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2003? Or why they failed to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? Or challenge them on their policy of increasing the retirement age to 67, despite the poor life expectancy of Māori making that increase extremely discriminatory? Or why, in their last term in Government, they proposed carving up the assets of the Māori Trustee, currently held on behalf of Māori land owners, and placing them in the hands of a private entity?

If we want change and if we want control of our own destiny, then we need to support our own parties and give them the power to sit at the table of Government and advocate our position.  I do not care what a party in opposition says, it means nothing.  To effect change you need to be working with the Government of the day.  This is why the Greens were so successful this election.  They have proven to those on the left of politics that they can achieve policy wins for their supporters, and that will continue through the next three years.  The Māori Party has done the same over the past three years.  But whereas the Greens were rewarded by their supporters for the job well done in gaining improvements in green policy areas, the Māori Party has been criticised, attacked, and labelled traitors for daring to seek gains for Māori outside the machinery of the Labour Party.

The Māori Party can, and should, continue to work with National during this Parliamentary term.  Their three MP’s were re-elected to Parliament on the back of their work with National over the past three years and those who remained loyal to the party will be looking for that to continue.  By strong, be smart, and be clear about what the Party will support and come back in three years time and stand on your record of achievements.  Do not let Māori go backwards in the next three years.


My Voting Intentions

November 25, 2011

Picking up on a trend that has developed this week, I join in other bloggers and social media participants in openly declaring my voting intentions.  I think it is important for my readers to understand where I am coming from in terms of political ideology when I discuss issues on this site and, ultimately, if you are not prepared to openly defend and justify your voting choice then you should not be voting for that party in the first place.

This has been an interesting campaign for me as my final decision on who to support has fluctuated back and forth between the two main options all month.  I will not be voting the same as I did in 2008, or 2005 for that matter – meaning for all three General Elections I have been able to vote, my decision has been different at each election and, on each occasion my decision was made on election day.

In 2005 I exercised my right to abstain from voting. The Māori Party were new on the scene and not confident enough in their policies to win my support; National, my party of choice growing up as I did in Jim Bolger’s electorate, had under the leadership of Don Brash, undertaken an unprecedented and unsavoury attack on Māori which I could not support; and following Labour’s enactment of the Foreshore and Seabed Act in 2003 I had vowed never to vote for them.  Waking up on election day I realised that no party had convinced me to support them so I stayed in bed.

My choice in 2008 will surprise and possible offend some people.  I had been won over by the Māori Party but I was perhaps a bit naive in my understanding of MMP and believed that with 5 electorate seats likely, my party vote would be wasted so I could give it to my second choice.  Feeling the effects of the recession, my vote went to a party that had argued against the Foreshore and Seabed Act and had a strong plan to improve our economic system.  That party was ACT.  Their 20 point plan made sense to me.  Only a year earlier I had completed a degree in Finance at the University of Auckland and believed that in the midst of a recession, economic reform was required.  Of course, I would come to regret that decision and came to realise why people often get cynical about politics.  After the election, the focus shifted away from the debate on our economic system and ACT descended into the farce that was the Auckland Supercity and deviated so far from their principled stand for the protection of property rights they developed around the Foreshore and Seabed Act so as to be unrecognisable as a liberal party.  It was disgraceful, populist politics which has always failed in this country and the movement away from its ideological groundings over the past three years is why ACT will fail tomorrow.

And that brings me to 2011.  My conservative, right-wing tendencies are no doubt obvious to you by now and I find much that I like in National’s policies.  Then again, there are many policies of both the Greens and Labour that I support as well.  A Capital Gains Tax is required, as is a high earners tax coupled with an increasing tax-free bracket at the bottom.  Taking GST of fresh fruit and vegetables is not the answer, removing GST altogether is.  A consumption tax will always disadvantage the lower social-economic groups and a tax on an individual product or class of products should only be used to deal with the negative externalities created by that product.  The award for the best policy of the campaign goes to the Greens for their initiative to introduce a lower tax rate for small businesses.  A one-size-fits-all approach to policy does not work in a diverse community.  The worst policy is Labour’s plan to increase the retirement age to 67 and is another gross insult to Māori after years of failings by the Labour Party.

Tomorrow my vote will be for the Māori Party.  All four electorate seats are likely to be retained and with 3.7% of the party vote, another two members will enter Parliament as list MP’s.  The ability of the Māori Party to secure list MP’s is the next step of its evolution towards becoming an established, sustainable party in Parliament and I am beginning to realise the true power of MMP in this regard.  6 Māori Party MP’s are better than 4!  I believe in the kaupapa of the Māori Party, I respect the hard work that all four of them have put in over the last 3 to 6 years, but most importantly, I want to support a party that not only places Māori issues at the front and centre of their policy platform, but also has the proven ability to work with whoever forms the Government to achieve gains for Māori.  Whānau Ora, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2003 would not have occurred without the ability of the Māori Party to work with the National Government.  National and Labour might have turns at occupying the treasury benches, but under MMP, a powerful centrist party can remain influencing Governments of the day for generations.

Even the Greens recognise this, and have worked constructively with the National Government over the past three years.  A minor party will never have their policy programme implemented in its entirety, and often promises the world in full knowledge that they will never be held accountable for not getting them implemented.  In politics, I will take every small gain that can be gained for Māori – if we take one step at a time we will slowly, but steadily, gain a lot of ground.


Tāmaki-Makaurau Debate: Child Abuse, Economics, and the Māori Seats

November 23, 2011

On Monday night I attended the Native Affairs Tāmaki-Makaurau debate in Newmarket and, true to form, here is my timely review of proceedings.

Overall Impressions

First off, I am not overly concerned with who “won” this debate, or any other debate for that matter.  I went with the intention of focussing on what was said, and to witness a contest of ideas and not a battle over who is the better speaker.  Oratory will only take you so far in politics, true change comes from effectively following through with your promises.

That said, all four candidates put their case for election strongly, and Tāmaki-Makaurau is one of only two Māori electorates to have four quality candidates campaigning (the other being Te Tai Tonga).

Child Abuse

The main topic of discussion of the night revolved around rangatahi Māori, specifically focussing on policies dealing with the harmful effects of child abuse within Māori communities.  Across the four candidates, the focus was on reducing poverty as a way of ending child abuse.  While this is a noble aim, it further perpetuates the idea that child abuse is caused by poverty.  While no doubt there is a strong correlation between poverty and child abuse, the argument that the former causes the latter is not as strong. It is an apt repeated truism that correlation does not equal causation.  To simplify the argument, to state that poverty causes child abuse is a gross insult on those many thousands of Māori struggling day-to-day to support their whānau who have the good sense not to harm a young child.

Politicians have a tendency to reduce a complex problem down to one or two talking points (or “solutions”) which, conveniently, correspond with the very policies that they are campaigning on.  For the Māori Party, it is about strengthening Whānau; for Labour, the emphasis is on supporting children; and for Te Mana and the Greens, the focus is on improving financial support to those at the lower bounds or our economic system.  While each party’s policy encompasses a range of all three themes, it was clear on the night that each of these was their core policy platform.

Child abuse is a complex problem, and arises in the context of what I call the Economics-Education-Community matrix.  Economics encompasses sufficient resources for each whānau to provide comfortable for their needs; education refers to the general level of skill, knowledge, ability, and ethics of our people; and community encompasses the shared support that is required to raise a child.  Any empirical study of child abuse is likely to show that the risk to a child increase when 2 or all 3 of these elements are lacking.

Economics

This is not to deny the role of economics in leading to child abuse, merely noting that it is but one factor.  There remains, however, the wider and more systemic issue of poverty in New Zealand.  Thousands are struggling to support themselves and their whānau from day-to-day, even with the strong Governmental support coming in the form of our benefit system and Working For Families.

In all honesty, there was a lot of common ground amongst the four candidates on this issue.  All supported an increase in the minimum wage, all supported more financial resources being directed towards those in need, and all failed to adequately address the implications of their policies.

The point was strongly made at the end of the debate that while raising the minimum wage was needed, where is that extra money going to come from – especially when you consider that many of our small businesses are facing the same financial struggles as the people are.

Raising wages is definitely a good thing, but what support can we provide for those businesses who have to wear the extra cost? Not to mention the inflationary effects of such a dramatic, and immediate, rise in the minimum wage, as advocated for by the four parties.  A higher across-the-board wage rise will bring an increase in prices, perhaps by as much to offset the rise in wages.  Yet, this analysis and debate was sadly lacking and we should expect better from our aspiring political leaders.

Another point I commented on during the night was the almost exclusive focus on providing more Government support.  Only once was the need to foster entrepreneurship raised, and even then Dr Sharples quickly moved on.  The key to lifting Māori out of poverty is through the creation of jobs and the sustainable development of our people and resources.  Instead of discussing these aspects of each party’s policy, the candidates instead engaged in a disappointing game of “my handout is bigger than your handout”.

The Māori Electorates

If recent polls are anything to go by, then Saturday’s election will result in a massive sea-change in Māori politics.  For the first time, we are likely to see the end of the Labour Party dominance of the Māori electorates.  While the Māori Party has secured 4 and 5 seats at the last two elections, Labour continued to dominate the party vote amongst Māori electors – indicating a high level of split voting amongst Māori.  That trend is changing.  The independent hold of the Māori electorates by the two Māori focussed parties looks to remain into a third electoral cycle (contrast to New Zealand First who, despite winning all 6 Māori electorates in 1996, lost the all again in 1999), and Labour’s share of the party vote is slowly being eroded away by Te Mana.

Contrary to many on the left, I feel that all 7 Māori seats will be retained by their incumbents.  While Rino Tirikatene promised much in Te Tai Tonga, his campaign has shown that a family political dynasty is no longer enough to win support in our modern political system.  In fact, the most recent poll of the electorate shows that Tirikatene’s support comes mainly from the older age groups – the very people who remember the work of his Grandfather and his Aunty; whereas support for Rahui Katene is coming mainly from the younger generations.   The other closely-fought seat, that of Waiariki, will remain with Te Ururoa.  Annette Sykes is proving to be too divisive a figure for such a conservative Māori electorate.  However, with Te Mana likely to register at least 1.5% of the party vote, she will still make it into Parliament and will be a welcome addition to Parliament.

Which brings me to 2014.  The retirements of Parekura Horomia, Tariana Turia, and Pita Sharples will be a big loss to the Māori caucus in Parliament.  Looking at the three parties, the succession planning will be crucial over the next three years.  With Hone being relatively young, and demonstrating strong leadership as leader of Te Mana, succession will be of little concern to them.  The party facing the most difficulty is the Māori Party, and the future survival of the Party likely rests on the ability of both Flavell and Katene to retain their electorate seats.  Should they both win, then expect to see a transition of leadership to this pair.  But that is not the end of the challenge faced by the Māori Party.  Replacing both Tariana and Pita at the 2014 election will be a challenge, and it will take two extraordinary candidates to retain their two electorate seats.  However, with the fortunes of Na Raihania on the rise, the loss of Tāmaki-Makaurau in 2014 could potentially be offset with the capture of Ikaroa-Rawhiti. As for Labour, any chance of running a strong showing in the 2014 election relies on their ability to convince Shane Jones to remain in Parliament.


National’s Māori Affairs Policy

November 16, 2011

With the National Government seemingly sleepwalking towards a second term I took some time out of my busy work schedule today to have a look at their Māori Affairs policy.  Overall it is a fairly bland document, highlighting achievements and the areas of social policy that the Government intends to focus on over the next three years.  There were, however, three very interesting policy prescriptions that I want to discuss.

Māori Electorates

Probably the biggest surprise is that National has apparently ditched the policy of holding a referendum on the continued existence of the Māori electorates.  Three years ago this policy was sidelined as a condition of the supply and confidence agreement with the Māori Party and it would appear that the relationship developed between the two parties is such that National can now see the value in the Māori electorates.  In fact, National is beginning to make a push for Māori voters following recent polls showing their support as high as 17% in some Māori electorates, up from an average of approximately 9% in 2008.

Review of the Māori Land Court

Turning to the new policies announced today, and there were two that caught my eye as being positive steps forward.  The first, no doubt influenced by statements earlier this year by Whaimutu Dewes,  calls for a review of the Māori Land Court system and Te Ture Whenua Māori. As part of their plan to “Support Growth in Māori Enterprise and Assets”, National intends to:

Review the role of the Maori Land Court  with a focus on the administration of title and
a view to streamline and enhance support,
record management and development
opportunities for Maori landowners.

The issue of Māori land title has occupied Governments for the past 150 years, the reason being that the laws of succession to Māori land led to fragmented ownership which in itself leads to a lack of owner engagement in their land blocks and a lack of productive use of Māori land.  It is a complex problem and one which, despite the best intentions of Te Ture Whenua Māori 1993, has yet to be satisfactorily resolved.  Regular readers will know that I am a firm believer that the economic development of our whenua can prove to be the key to unlocking the economic, social, and cultural development of Māori.  That said, any new policy direction must maintain the kaupapa of the current regime: the retention of Māori land in Māori hands.

The Māori Trustee

Finally, the Government intend to:

Explore the case for working with the Maori
Trustee to, where appropriate, enable iwi
trusts to manage trustee lands on behalf of
beneficiaries

I am not sure why such an approach will only be explored, rather than implemented on day one of resuming office.  It is obvious to anyone with even a passing interest in this field that the less land managed by the Māori Trustee the better.  We need to be upskilling our own people to run and manage our own land blocks, and not have Wellington dictate the direction of hapū and whānau land.  Rural Māori communities, such as the East Coast and Te Tai Tokerau are crying out for more economic opportunities for their rangatahi and there is scope to provide those here.  The majority of Māori land is located in the poorer, rural areas of New Zealand such as the East Coast and Te Tai Tokerau.  By devolving the administration of land back to the owners, and using even a fraction of the $70 million in assets under the Māori Trustee’s administration to train and upskill Māori in those regions, the next Government can make a massive difference in the lives of these Māori communities.


Te Mana Party Campaign Launch

November 6, 2011

I wrote in my previous article that in order to ensure an independent voice for Māori in Parliament only a vote for the Māori Party or Te Mana would provide that.  Turns out I was wrong, here is Hone Harawira speaking at the Te Mana Party campaign launch in Auckland yesterday:

“We are not just a party for Maori, we can no longer be a party just for Maori.”


Te Tai Hauāuru: An Insight Into Cabinet Discussions

November 5, 2011

Any suggestion that the Māori Party have been a mere pawn in this National-led Government was well and truly destroyed on Wednesday night by Tariana Turia in the Māori TV Te Tai Hauāuru candidates debate.  Turia presented as a fierce, determined advocate of kaupapa Māori and Tino Rangatiratanga and if anyone believes that she would act any differently around the Cabinet Table then those people fail to appreciate and understand the history and the motivations of Tariana Turia.

The Māori Party have been running a fairly consistent line this election that it is better to be sitting around the Cabinet table influencing decisions then being on the outside looking in.  As a matter of pragmatism, such an approach is to be applauded rather than attacked.  Which is why I find it deeply ironic that Labour continue to attack the Māori Party for being complicit in what they see as National’s slow destruction of New Zealand.  This coming from the same Labour Party that during its previous 9 years in Government systematically silenced and ignored the voice of Māori around its Cabinet Table.  The same Labour Party that refused to even engage with Māori over the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2003.  It is time to make one thing absolutely clear.  Neither Labour nor National will ever provide Māori with an independent voice in Parliament.  To see Parekura Horomia, as Minister of Māori Affairs, vote for the confiscation of Māori land through the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2003 was a great betrayal of the Māori people and it led to Tariana Turia – the only Māori within Labour to stand up for the rights of Māori – breaking away and saying enough is enough.

What we saw on Wednesday night was the same Tariana that we saw in 2003.  Strong, determined, passionate.  She is a woman who has carried the hopes of Māori on her shoulders for the past 8 years and has been instrumental in finally given us an independent voice in Parliament.  The record of the Māori Party speaks for itself: They have voted against the Government more times than for it.  What matters is the ability to influence decision-making in this country.  We will never achieve everything we want to achieve through the political process – that is impossible so long as Māori remain a minority in New Zealand’s democracy.  But that does not mean we should pass up the opportunity to achieve small gains along the way because, over time, they add up to something meaningful.

So no, the Māori Party are not National’s yes men.  Tariana Turia is, and has always been, a passionate advocate for Māori issues both inside and outside Parliament and around the Cabinet Table.  To suggest otherwise has about as much credibility as Shane Jones does with the women in Labour.  That is why the choice should be clear for Māori on November 26.  The only way to guarantee an independent voice for Māori in Parliament is to vote for the two parties that put kaupapa Māori at the core of their policy: The Māori Party and Te Mana.


Te Tai Tonga Debate

November 2, 2011

I was down in Wellington on Monday and Tuesday for a Waitangi Tribunal Advocacy Conference, and while I was there I was extended an invitation to attend the Māori Television Native Kowhiri debate for the Te Tai Tonga Electorate.  While this article is about that debate, I want to briefly mention the Conference as it was a very worthwhile exercise: we covered a lot of material canvassing recent developments in the field, listened to some occasionally heated debates about the balance between justice and resourcing, and generally engaged in a constructive korero over the current, and future, operation of the Tribunal.  I plan to write a detailed review of the Conference later in the week once I have had a chance to fully digest all the materials and korero of the day.

Returning then to the Te Tai Tonga Debate held at Wellington’s wonderful Wharewaka.  My overall impression is that all four candidates performed well in an environment that would have been extremely foreign to them.  Party positions were strongly advocated for, questions were answered to a satisfactory degree, and there was generally a sense of respect for all the candidates by the supporters.   Although respect for the candidates from the audience only went so far.

Before the debate, all the talk was centred on the battle between incumbent Māori Party MP Rahui Katene and Labour challenger Rino Tirikatene.  I felt that both made impressive starts to the debate, although the pressure soon got the better of both candidates.  Rahui found herself, rather unfairly in my opinion, heckled constantly by the Labour and Te Mana supporters and this caused much consternation amongst the assembled Māori Party supporters.  Rino, on the other hand, lost his way on several questions, highlighting the difficulties faced by a political newcomer in getting up to speed with the full range of a parties policies in such a short time.  At one point he announced that Labour would resume funding for the National Diabetic Fund, but quickly rescinded that commitment after a few stern looks from Labour’s Māori caucus in attendance.  Rino also appears to have adopted the rather unsavoury Labour party tactic of speaking over an opponent when they have the floor.  It is unnecessary, disrespectful, and unbecoming of a person who aspires to national office.  Julian Wilcox has proven himself as a fair and impartial moderator and provided opportunities for all the candidates to put their points across so there was no need to force your way into the discussion by talking over another speaker.

In terms of the substance of their comments.  Everyone stuck to their party lines well, and were strong advocates for their party positions.  Rahui defended the actions of the Māori Party over the past three years with mixed success.  To each achievement there were cheers of support from the Māori Party supporters and angry outbursts from the Labour supporters. As I have said before, the fortunes of the Māori Party at this election will depend on how well they can defend their record.  On this showing, there is still some work to be down in this area. Rino provided a good analysis of what needs to be done for Māori in terms of education, unemployment and welfare – although his assertion that Māori are best served by a Labour Party MP because only they can form the alternative to National was nothing short of laughable and self-serving.  As passionate and determined they might be, the Māori caucus within Labour find themselves in exactly the same position as the Māori Party when it comes to discussing Māori issues at the Cabinet Table.  Yes, a Māori voice is at the table, but it is still a minority voice.

Which brings me to the curious involvement of Te Mana candidate Clinton Dearlove.  His low profile and opening contributions in no way prepared the audience for what was to come.  He grew powerfully into the debate as came across as an articulate and passionate advocate for Māori issues.  He is unlikely to win the electorate, and it is therefore a great shame that both Sue Bradford and John Minto have been given the 3rd and 4th spots of the Te Mana list instead of him.  His emphasis of Te Reo and better health outcomes were the big winners of the night, although he appeared to suggest at one time that the health system in New Zealand is inherently racist which had a few of the Māori Party and Labour supporters scratching their heads.  The use of such inflammatory language is fast becoming a feature of the Te Mana campaign and while it appeals to its core support, it is unlikely to be as well received within the more conservative sections of the electorate.  But the problem that Clinton faces in attempting to win the seat is bigger than that.  As one kuia said after the debate, he is a complete outsider unknown to most within the community.  Both Rahui and Rino are well-known within Wellington and the South Island communities whom they represent and this is an important factor that you need in your favour in order to win election in a Māori seat.

All in all, the entire evening was a great success.  Māori Television and the Native Affairs crew did a wonderful job in conducting the debate and it is great to see local issues getting such a prominent discussion.


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