As we reach the end of 2012 it is time to look back and reflect on an eventful year in Māori Politics. No one issue has dominated this year quite like the water rights and asset sales issue and those involved contribute in a large way to the make up of my winners and losers list for 2012.
The Iwi Leaders Group
Without a doubt the big winners from 2012, the Iwi Leaders Group have established themselves as the go-to national Māori body for Crown engagement on national issues. They have established a good working relationship with the Government over the past 18 months, and have clearly adopted the approach of working with Government to achieve progress for Māori rights over a more antagonistic approach. While many question their standing and their beliefs (occasionally referred to disparagingly as the “Iwi Elite”), you cannot overlook the fact that this self-selected group comprise the elected leaders of many of the major Iwi in the country. With this comes a lot of weight, and a lot of influence with the Government.
This may come as a surprise to many of my readers, but I consider Paula Bennett to be the Māori politician of the year. You might question her kaupapa, but to survive the MSD security breach scandal and to oversee the most drastic reform to our welfare system since Jenny Shipley in the early 1990s is no easy task. Add to that the ease with which she brushes aside the attacks from Jacinda Ardern in the House and you have a Māori politician who appears brilliant at her job. With the remainder of the National Party Māori caucus either failing to fire (Henare, T) or making a complete fool of themselves (Parata, H), having one competent Māori in the National front bench, regardless of her politics, is something to celebrate.
Runner-up in the Māori politician of the year awards, Louisa Wall has shown herself to be the exemplary opposition M.P. Having such a contentious bill pass its first reading with a massive majority is no easy task for an opposition M.P, what makes her all the more remarkable is the effort she undertook to sit down with opponents, listen to their concerns, and quietly convince them of her case. A future Minister of Māori Affairs, if not destined for higher honours.
It is hard to think of a Māori politician who has made as great an impact as Tariana Turia has over her 18 years in Parliament. Her decision to cross the floor on the Foreshore and Seabed Act led to the formation of not one, but two Kaupapa Māori political parties and a renewed influence of Māori politicians in the House. While Whanau Ora is a mere shadow of her initial dream, her efforts to curb smoking in Aotearoa have been immense and given even the big Tobacco companies something to worry about. Her decision to retire marks the great cross roads in Māori politics. Can the Māori Party survive without her, or will the independent Māori voice represented by the Māori Party and Te Mana be dragged back into the welcoming arms of the Labour Party?
The National Party
Yes, the National Party are one of the big winners of 2012. While the partial asset sale programme has been delayed, a crushing victory in the High Court a few weeks ago means that it will take a miracle in January to bring about a final halt to their key policy platform. Ructions within Ngāpuhi aside, they have also made great strides in settling historical grievance claims with Hapū and Iwi and an historic Tuhoe settlement is on the cards for early 2014 – a mere two years after it lay in tatters.
With the retirement of Tariana Turia in 2014, Rahui Katene looks set to succeed to her Te Tai Hauaurau electorate seat and, by extension, the co-leadership of the Māori Party. Her work with the New Zealand Māori Council, and a renewed effort working at the ground level, has seen her restore the mana lost when she was defeated at last years election. Expect to see and hear more from Rahui in 2013 as the Māori Party look to position her as Tariana’s natural successor.
The New Zealand Māori Council
Fought a good fight before the Waitangi Tribunal, but ultimately failed in its quest to unite Te Ao Māori behind its cause and were dealt a massive defeat by Justice Young in the High Court. While they have been granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in 2013 it will be a tough ask convincing the Supreme Court to bring a halt to such an important economic policy for the Government.
Abysmal and embarrassing best sum up the performance of Hekia Parata in 2012. Will be very lucky to survive the next Cabinet reshuffle.
Te Ururoa Flavell
While there is no word yet on what Pita Sharples plans to do post-2014, it is likely that with Tariana Turia stepping down, he will stay on for one more term to see in the transition. It has proven to be a long wait for Te Ururoa Flavell to take over as the male co-leader of the Māori Party, a position he has coveted for a long time. The question now is if, not when, he will succeed Pita.
It has been a quiet year for Hone, the only notable event I can recall is his arrest and even then no one really seemed to be too outraged about that. It appears that the media, and public at large, only make room for one rebel-with-a-cause in New Zealand politics and this year that mantle has been taken up by Kim Dotcom.
The National/Act Government
Making the list again is the National Party, this time joined with its Government partner, ACT. By all accounts the Government has handled the asset sales and water rights issue very poorly. Instead of fronting the issue and putting in place a clear separation between the two issues, it found itself on the back foot with the seemingly misguide plan to remove the Treaty of Waitangi protections from the legislation setting up the mixed-ownership model. Having the Waitangi Tribunal rule against you and face massive public criticism from Māori over its consultation, or lack thereof, in relation to the Shares Plus issue, were low points for this Government.
The Waitangi Tribunal
While it is no surprise that the Government ignored the Tribunal’s Stage I report on Freshwater Issues and Asset Sales, the fact that it did leaves no doubt about the role and status of the Waitangi Tribunal in national politics.