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.