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.