Dec 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

Blogging will be fairly light over the next few weeks. I imagine I will only have internet access sporadically (I probably won't feel inclined to write something anyway). I hope you all enjoy your holidays, enjoy your family and enjoy the weather. The Christmas period is a great time to remind ourselves;

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata  

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people

Dec 22, 2010


The Herald reports;

“Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell has criticised a Rotorua judge for sending a teenager to prison for 12 months for breaching a sentence of home detention

Last week Judge Phillip Cooper sentenced Mere Ohlson, 17, to jail after she breached her home detention by cutting off her ankle bracelet and leaving the address where she was supposed to be serving her sentence. She was arrested four days later.

Mr Flavell said he was shocked at the sentence and the judge had other options including sentencing the teenager to some form of rehabilitation instead of spending $100,000 of taxpayers' money to keep her in prison.”

This is a bizarre decision and, in my opinion, manifestly excessive. I fail to see how a breach of home detention warrants a 12 month prison sentence. It is more appropriate to extend her community service hours and her home detention length. Save cell spots for those who actually need to be there, those who pose a threat to society.

Rotorua District Court Judges have a strange fondness for excessive sentencing. The two lead collaborators in the robbery, Bouden Walden and Darcy Te Kiri, were sentenced to 20 months jail and 28 months respectively. During the robbery no violence occurred and no damage resulted – they just stole a packet of pinapple lumps worth $2.90. Somehow the Judge reasoned that a financial loss of $2.90 and probably minor emotional harm is worth 20 months and 28 months in prison at a cost of around $500,000.  

New Zealand needs to start doing things differently. The old approach has failed and continues to fail on a larger and larger scale. Judges with a penchant for penal punishment over rehabilitation need to stop perpetuating the problem.

Dec 20, 2010

Sinking to new lows

Trading upon prisons is a sick, vile business that Tainui and the Maori Party want a piece of. The big question for me is do they expect to offer rehab programs at a price or will they foot the bill? If they wish to offer rehab programs for a price they are woefully naïve. What makes them think government would offer money to Maori authorities on top of what they pay SERCO. What makes them think SERCO would contract out some responsibilities at a price? SERCO will cut rehab programs for increased profits and efficiency. Rehab is luxury that private prisons and Tory governments have no interest in.  

Dec 17, 2010

My thoughts...

I've just created a new page with my thoughts on the best and worst performing Maori MPs. I think it is a fairly predictable and orthodox list however you may think otherwise.

Dec 16, 2010

What's really going on?

Many Maori, including myself, feel let down by the Maori Party. The party promised so much, there was grand rhetoric and great notions of what could be achieved but sadly reality diverged from the desired script. A common criticism from the left is the Maori Party has favoured symbol over substance and to a lesser extent shown far too much deference to the ‘Iwi elite’ and not enough compassion towards Maori at the flaxroot.  But by framing the issue as one of class and of symbol vs. substance are we missing the bigger picture? Are symbolic gains and deference to iwi leaders the first step towards a larger goal? I think so.

The Maori Party’s primary goal is to normalise kaupapa Maori and empower the Maori political establishment and in turn empower Maori – essentially a long term strategic goal. Therefore, I think the Maori Party is of the view that they cannot empower Maori until Maori issues enter the mainstream consciousness and are an accepted part of the government’s agenda. Second to that goal is to empower a political establishment that can engage and persuade the government of the day – cue the Iwi Leaders Group. With this in mind it appears that the party’s symbolic gains are about normalising Maori issues and are a step towards real Maori empowerment while the party’s deference to iwi leaders is about empowering a politically effective Maori organisation that can influence the agenda and outcome of political decision making.

Unless Maori issues are a permanent part of the political landscape we will always struggle to remain relevant, struggle to cultivate understanding and remain recipients of token gestures when the political climate allows. Furthermore, unless iwi are empowered they have no chance to effectively leverage government on our behalf and therefore bend the system in our favour.

However, I do not think this is full justification for some of the actions the Maori Party has taken. As I have detailed in previous posts I am very, very disappointed with what the Party has done. This post may give the impression I have had a change of heart – I haven’t. Lew’s comments in this post and the views of some friends have led me to reflect more closely on the party’s motives.

Dec 15, 2010

Constitutional Review

It is awfully worrying that the likes of Moana Jackson and Margaret Mutu have rejected the Maori Party/National run constitutional review. These people should have been central to the debate not forced to run their own process due to dissatisfaction with the current process. In my opinion a royal commission should be handling this issue and Moana should have been included as a member. Instead we have a part time group of politicians who know nothing about constitutional law. But perhaps I am too cynical - good things may come.

In any case I hope the group explore a variation of the Westminster system, but not necessarily a departure, that better reflects Te Ao Maori.  Any changes must reflect our democratic values, provide for government stability, protect the rights and freedoms of citizens and incorporate Maori values. With that been said I actually think our constitutional arrangements work well - all I would like to see is small changes to our constitutional conventions and relevant statutes that better reflect New Zealand in the 21st century and the interests of tangata whenua.

Constitutional changes are often driven by or result in the establishment or of a new political order. But will that political order be Maori?   

Dec 14, 2010

Just Drop It

It is time for the Maori Party to step back and revaluate their position on the Marine and Coastal Area Bill. It is now clear Maori do not support the bill, Pakeha are largely hostile and cross party consensus is lost. Continued support for the bill will result in harsh punishment at the ballot box next year. Rahui may lose her seat and Te Ururoa will be in trouble in Waiariki if Labour or another Party put forward a strong candidate. The party vote may survive unaffected - the 2.4% who vote MP are a core group of, for lack of a better term, staunch Maori. 

I think the MP should drop their support for the bill and focus instead on repealing the F&S Act alone. A sufficient, long term replacement at this time is not viable. The Party’s activists (Annette Sykes, Hone Harawira etc) and academics (Moana Jackson, Margaret Mutu etc) are opposed and so are many iwi (Ngai Tahi, Te Atiawa, Ngati Kahungungu etc). Without broad acceptance among Maori the issue will smoulder and ignite in the long term. However, when it does ignite I do not think any government would be willing to revisit the issue. Mainstream New Zealand’s patience would be stretched thin and rednecks would not be willing to compromise more than they already have (they lost one battle but damn it if they lose the war) therefore political will would be near nonexistent. It would be a weak and self interested move for the MP to leave the issue for future generations. Cross party support was also vital to suppress redneck discomfort and reassure mainstream New Zealand that the bill was no threat to their interests. Sadly Labour’s decision to pull support has provided a vehicle for redneck discontent and encouraged pessimism among mainstream New Zealanders.   

Come the 2011 election it is predicted that the MP will decide who governs the country. If this does eventuate the MP will have enormous leverage and could push for a much, much better deal. Both Parties will do anything to occupy the Treasury benches so the MP could push hard on the issue if they are in a strong position post election. However, if they continue on the path of destruction they may end up with only three members or less if Hone says ka kite.

The current haste the MP is approaching the issue with is unnecessary. This issue is the MP raison d etre and Maori are patient. They will wait for the best deal but nothing less. A view to the long term is required, a lasting solution, a just solution – anything less is unacceptable.

Dec 10, 2010

Goff - FAIL

What does one make of Phil Goff’s decision to withdraw support for the Marine and Coastal Area Bill? Crass opportunism? Genuine concern about the content of the bill? Well I certainly can’t tell.

Although I do not support the MCA on the grounds that the test for customary marine title is far too high – borderline unachievable – I do not support Goffs decision to withdraw Labour Party support. But one has to say that it is a clever end of year move by Goff. The foreshore and seabed becomes a very topical issue during the holiday season and without doubt conversation will pop up around the BBQ, the dinner table and the beachfront about the MCA bill. Goff has ensured that those conversations include his name. He has also stolen some of NZ First and ACT’s thunder and provides accommodation for disappointed Maori who are looking for a better deal. On the other hand the move could be interpreted as a dog whistle to the rednecks. That was my initial feeling I received from the six o’clock news. It was not until I read Goff’s press release that I realised the move was more than just redneck bait.

So which group will see Goff’s move as in line with their interests? Maori or rednecks? Well, plain and simple Maori do not trust Labour on this issue. Goff’s move will be interpreted as divisive politics and a return to the populist 2004 attitude that swept the Labour Party. If his intention was to woo disillusioned Maori he has failed terribly. However, if his intention was to pick up a few redneck votes then I think he has succeeded somewhat. Any opposition to the bill will be seen by rednecks as aligning with their views. Certainly Goff’s rationale (opposition to backroom deals) is in line with the concerns expressed by the likes of the Coastal Coalition. The gross irony is the F&S Act 2004 allowed for backroom deals as well – the Court process became a mere formality.

Although I believe Goff intentions were more complex than laying redneck bait that is all I think he has achieved. I have never liked Goff and now I dislike the man even more. No issue is more divisive and emotional than the foreshore and seabed and I look down on Goff for igniting the politics of division in the run up to Christmas.

FU Whakatane District Council

There is deep dissatisfaction among some residents within the Whakatane District. Disgruntled residents from the Rangitaiki Ward, which includes the towns of Edgecumbe, Matata, Te Teko and Awakeri, have renewed calls to cut ties with the Whakatane District Council (WDC) and move under the governance of the nearby Kawerau District Council. You can read some background here. I’m interested in the issue because I think it demonstrates the perennial problem peripheral wards face.

Peripheral wards are often neglected by major interests in the centre of the district and there is almost always conflict between the interests of rural residents and the interests of urban residents. Under the ward voting system residents only have a set number of representatives who are electorally accountable to them so inevitably those residents residing in the urban centre have substantially more representatives as a result of the ward system compared to those in the less populous rural wards. Therefore, the urban representatives rule Council by majority. The interests of urban electors are at the forefront of the Council agenda at the expense of the less powerful rural electors. The ward system also tends to produce voting blocs so when the urban bloc enforces policy that is detrimental to or ignores rural constituencies they do so without fear of electoral consequence. Essentially they act with impunity as they are only accountable to their ward as opposed to the entire electorate.

I hope the residents of the Rangitaiki ward are successful in their attempts to break away from the WDC. The WDC is a joke. Run by incompetent, narrow minded, uninspired small town hicks with atmospheric notions of self importance. The Rangitaiki ward is the WDC cash cow so they will pay a very heavy price for the neglect they have shown the ward.

Evaluating The Kingitanga

King Tuheitia and John Key

With the Kingitanga in the news recently a number of people have been questioning the relevance of the contemporary King movement. Questions are beginning to arise as to the practical purpose and significance of the King movement. This is especially true from the time Kingi Tuheitia took office. It is disheartening to hear questions along these lines because I think they are misguided and miss the overall aim of the Kingitanga. In my opinion the Kingitanga is still an important and enduring expression of Maori unity with deep historical meaning. It should not be forgotten that the Kingitanga is not a cheap imitation of European models but an expression of the mana, determination and unity of Maori rather than an expression of power or sovereignty. At its core the Kingitanga represents the spirit of the Maori people and the enduring struggle for mana whenua. Maori are a fiercely parochial and sometimes fragmented people who on occasion view themselves as singular rather than one piece of a whole – the Kingitanga serves as a unifying symbol to counter parochialism.

The Kingitanga continues to foster unity by honouring historical connections with many hapu (but not all unfortunately) through the poukai and koroneihana system. This continued symbolic unity is the Kingitanga greatest strength. These hapu are the ones who empower the Kingitanga and give the movement mana. As long as these hapu continue to participate in the poukai and koroneihana and honour the Kingitanga then in my opinion it is still relevant.

There are questions surrounding whether or not the Kingitanga is representative of all Maori but again this misses the point. The King movement is no longer about practical representation but symbolism. The Kingitanga is not involved in political matters or matters that require a voice on behalf of all Maori. When the King does speak he speaks on behalf of Tainui only, and in exceptional cases, where those iwi who originally constituted the Kingitanga agree.

This brings me to the question should the Kingitanga become involved in politics? Certainly the Kingitanga has already forged relationships with overseas head of states in and beyond the Pacific so is it time to enter domestic political discourse? I do not think so. The Kingitanga has always been apolitical but there is now some desire within Maoridom for the Kingitanga to engage in greater public advocacy. I believe this would undermine the strength of the Kingitanga. The Kingitanga is, and should stay, a relationship builder. Te Ata was renowned for bringing people together - connecting people with diverse opinions and getting them to talk to one another. She provided leadership not in a political sense but a human sense. A political stance would undermine the ability of the Kingitanga to build relationships with different governments who may or may not approve of the stance the Kingitanga takes on political matters. An inability to forge relationships with the Crown would be an affront to the principle of partnership and result in diminished mana. It would also not be in the interest of such a symbolic movement to become stained by political decisions and damaged by political opponents. The conflict politics breeds would also weaken the symbolic role the Kingitanga has. For example Tuheitia’s unprecedented move to sack Tania Martin has drawn wide criticism from many in the tribe who disagree with his decision and others who wish the office of the King to remain apolitical. Some Kaumatua have suggested there is a danger in the King becoming a political figure in that the office is no longer tapu – it becomes common, ordinary, noa. 

The political opinions of individual Maori are diverse – there is no single Maori view on political issues so it would be unwise for the Kingitanga to attempt to speak on behalf of all Maori. Such a move would invite quarrels and weaken the unity the Kingitanga embodies - politics will only divide. Where the Kingitanga should take the lead is on cultural issues. Unlike politics this is an area that is not divisive – Maori all agree about the revival of the culture. Facilitating progress on a cultural front will ensure the Kingitanga remains relevant entering the post treaty settlement world.

Another question regarding the Kingitanga is the reign of Tuheitia. Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu’s reign signified the renaissance and recovery of the Kingitanga and the Maori people. I think Tuheitia’s reign will signal the emergence of Maori as equal partners. But is he up to the task? He is something of an “enigma”. Little is known of the man beyond generic facts surrounding his education and so on. We glean nothing from him from his public appearances which are usually characterised by silence on his part apart from welcome or thank you. Shyness perhaps? Humility? This is certainly the view of most. In my opinion his reign has been striking for a lack of leadership. He does not appear to have the unifying skills that are a necessity for any Maori monarch. He has frustrated Te Kauhanganui, the Tainui tribal Parliament, and according to Tuku Morgan the Parliament is “dysfunctional”. If he has failed to bring together his own people how will he fare with the rest of Maoridom?   

With that been said I think his maiden speech signalled good things may come from this man unfortunately he has not managed to follow through in any great way. Undoubtedly he has attempted to modernise the Kingitanga and Tainui. For example creating the Kings Charter (with the help of professional PR advisors), choosing a non-Tainui member to represent him on the executive board and attempting to lead discussions among iwi on future issues such as constitutional reform.

Therefore, the Kingitanga serves an important purpose today as a symbol of unity and I hope more people begin to see this. Whether Tuheitia is the right Arikinui to lead this important body is an interesting question. Whatever the answer to that question I just hope the body remains apolitical – for its own sake.

In Support of Patch Bans

Until not so long ago I opposed Patch bans on liberal grounds but more importantly I believed a ban would not help eliminate any gang associated problems. What Patch bans do do are mask the gang problem and further marginalise the already marginalised. In many cases a Patch ban removes a gang member’s only identity and fuels continued resentment and rejection which always translates to negative behaviours such as violence and substance abuse.  When their identity is taken away from them they need something to rage against. So what I’m trying to say is these people need help not further angst.

To be fair a Patch ban does have some redeeming factors, mostly superficial like increasing perceptions about the community and reducing colour confrontation, but there is one major advantage. It sends a message to the very young that gangs are an unacceptable part of the community. It says to those susceptible to joining a gang that these people are not to be admired, gang membership should not be an aspiration. Gangs become abnormal because they are out of sight and out of mind for young people.

Therefore, I support gang patches… on Marae. A ban says to rangatahi Maori that gangs are not Maori and they are unacceptable. It says you come onto the Marae as a Maori, Pakeha, Tauiwi. You come representing your whakapapa, you come as a manifestation of your ancestors – you come not as a gang member. I think our Maori leaders must follow the example set by Pem Bird the current President of the Maori Party and respected School Principal and community leader in Murupara. Pem has called a rahui on gang violence and the wearing of gang patches on Murupara Marae. This is a great example of applying ancient Maori solutions to contemporary problems and embodies the sort of innovative thinking Maori need to tackle the problems modern society poses. It is a testament to the mana of Pem that there has been no eruption of violence in Murupara despite the very tense situation in the town.

Therefore, I support Patch bans - to a certain degree. Gangs need to be seen as the unacceptable part of our society that they are.

Dec 6, 2010

Power is still looking backwards

District Court Judge Lisa Trewman has called for a specialist Drug and Alcohol Court. TVNZ reports;

“District Court judge Lisa Tremewan says just jailing drug and alcohol offenders does not work.”

This much is clear so we need to explore new solutions that tackle the drivers of crime. At present we have a system that merely provides a punitive response to offending;  

“Under her proposed drug court offenders would be coerced into undergoing supervision, counselling and drug-testing. Research shows if these measures are used, the likelihood of reoffending more than halves”

Any measure that reduces drug dependency and associated criminal activity should be supported. Certainly there is overseas evidence pointing to the success of such a Court. Sadly;

“Justice Minister Simon Power refused to discuss the idea of a drug court”

A predictable and unfortunate response from Power. I hope that he has a change of heart because this idea could prove to be a great success.

Hekia Parata

There has been a fair bit of speculation surrounding the appointment of a new Cabinet Minister to replace Pansy Wong. Much of that speculation has surrounded Hekia Parata. Hekia grew up on the East Coast immersed in Ngati Porou tikanga, kawa and reo. She is of Ngati Porou and Ngai Tahu descent. She has led a very successful life as a senior public servant, small business owner and now politician. Not bad eh?

Personally Hekia turns me off; she comes across as rather arrogant and showed on the Q+A debate during the Mana by-election that she can be very rude and obstructive. However, she is immensely proud of her identity and is absolutely committed to Maori and the Mana electorate and I admire this. You cannot fault her on that count.

I have read over her maiden speech to try and gain a better picture of Hekia. The speech is largely promising and shows some insight and perception;

“I have grown up in a culture that walks through the present, with the constant companions of the past and the future; this practice prepares us particularly well for this parliamentary role I think – as we weigh actions of today against those of the past, and the implications for the future”

Kia ora;

“I have seen the very kinds of communities of my upbringing succumb to the disease of dependency where State intervention is the norm not the exception; where care givers, and providers, and facilitators, and sector workers replace aunts, uncles, neighbours and friends; where State welfare (rather than social welfare) is the first resort and the basis of an intergenerational life sentence rather than a lifeline; where despair and alienation are masked by drugs and alcohol and abuse; and displaced anger makes victims of children and their mothers; where low expectation in schools is predictably repaid with low achievement; where fault and blame laying has become the defence of failure… I feel called to Parliament to do something about this.”

She has identified the problems but, judging from the tone of this, I suspect her understanding of the underlying causes and her solutions are hori tory stuff. Please prove me wrong;

“We have slogged through the mire of compliance regimes and related costs. We have encountered the impervious official at the point of export, indifferent to the effects of inexplicable bureaucracy and the costs incurred”

This is where she begins to lose herself;

“We must liberate businesses”

“Restore whänau and families as the cornerstones of our communities and our country, and mediate the role of the State through community based organizations, and through connected and coordinated support”

Shes back on track this is good stuff.  Does it sound a lot like Whanau Ora?

All in all it was an articulate address and a promising one at that and I certainly hope she is promoted.

(Unfortunately at the end of her speech she quotes Margaret Thatcher – It sent a chill down my spine)

UPDATE: Hekia takes over Women's Affairs as well as Ethnic Affairs. Excellent.

Dec 5, 2010

Annette Sykes, Maori Elite and Neo Liberalism

I have an enormous amount of respect for Annette Sykes and I like to think I have more than a few things in common with her. She was born and bred in Kawerau and witnessed “a thriving mill town reduced to a community that is dependant on the diminishing generosity of the welfare state”. This experience shaped her perspective. I was also born in Kawerau (in 1991) and I grew up witnessing the horrifying consequences of Ruth Richardson’s neo liberal fantasies and this experience shaped my perspective. Whenever I came back from boarding school and now university I always take time to reflect on the damage two decades of neo liberal policies have had on the town.    

But anyway Annette recently delivered the annual Bruce Jesson lecture and spoke about ‘The Politics of the Brown Table’. It was an illuminating speech and well worth a read as she sheds light on the National Iwi Chairs Forum (NICF) and the Iwi Leadership Group (ILG). The Maori Party also cops substantial criticism. In the previous post I made a number of observations about the ILG from an outsider’s perspective. Annette is very active in Maori politics and her speech contains a collection of perceptive insights into the ILG and the NICF from an insider’s perspective. You can read her presentation here. This post is a further discussion of some of her points and neo liberalism.

Much of her address is a harsh critique of the so called ‘iwi elite’ and their neo liberal agenda. In my opinion her assessments are true and justified. Without doubt neo liberalism undermines Maori efforts for self determination. Neo liberalism encourages the privatisation of communal assets, the commodification of Maori land, the extension of market forces into Maori areas previously untouched and an increase in corporate power and inequality. This all contributes to depriving Maori of the ability to determine the conditions of their lives. Annette Sykes quotes Moana Jackson who makes the pertinent point that Rangatiratanga;

“has in effect been redefined yet again as a neo liberal right of self management bound by the good faith of the Crown and what the Court of Appeal called in the 1987 Case the ‘right to govern’. Moving on from the past and recognising the special place of tangata whenua has become a journey not of constitutional change but of devolution and the authority of the State to devolve or permit Iwi to manage certain resources and programmes subject to government funding and rules of contract”

Neo liberalism makes our people sick.

Annette also discussed iwi authorities. It is worth touching on iwi authorities as market models with an indigenous flavour. In the push for development iwi have embraced the neo liberal model. Iwi are now seeking neo liberal ends such as the right to exploit natural resources and the commodification of land and taonga. They also want to play a part in the privatisation agenda of the current government (e.g.private prisons, PPP etc...). It appears to me that iwi authorities have rationalised such goals by adopting the ‘trickle down’ philosophy. They seem to reason that Maori participation in the neo liberal experiment will result in indirect ‘trickle down’ benefits for ordinary Maori despite the trickle down theory been rather discredited. Iwi authorities are also structured like a bad business. There is a worrying overlap between governance and management (leading to more power in the hands of management), little to no accountability and murky decision making processes.

 I like this particular observation Annette made not of iwi authorities but Maori authorities in respect of a new Maori hegemony;

“The compliant acceptance of this state of affairs, by the few not the many, illustrates the continued subjugation of Maori to a neo liberal economic hegemony to protect the stability of the construct of Crown unitary sovereignty”

Annette also believes, and I tautoko this, that the NICF and the ILG are enagaging with government on behalf of Maori without a mandate. Certainly I do not know who my Ngati Awa representative is nor do I remember any person ever coming forward to discuss receiving such a mandate. I do not know if this is the situation with other iwi but I would assume it is. It is vitally important that the NICF have an established mandate as they have been leading dialogue with the government on many issues – instead of the Maori Party. However, it appears the NICF and the ILG are a just a group of self elected elites. “High Caste” as Annette puts it.

Annette makes a great point that it suits the government to have a “one stop shop” for Maori policy in the form of the ILG. Why? Because the government can fulfil their statutory consultation obligations and expect not to run into unworkable opposition because the ILG support their neo liberal agenda.

So I encourage you to read Annette’s speech - it truly is excellent. My hope is people of her standing and ability are listened to by our so called Maori leaders.

Hat tip Te Whaainga Wahine 

Dec 1, 2010

The Rise of Corporate Iwi

 A truly fascinating development in Maori politics has been the rise of the Iwi Leadership Group (ILG). Without doubt the ILG is one of the most powerful interest groups in New Zealand. The Maori Party leadership certainly seem to view the group as the sole legitimate interest group representing Maori. But just how powerful is the ILG and do they really represent Maori?

Well, they are very, very powerful. A sign of the power of the ILG comes in the form of their influence over policy formulation. Weaker groups only have the power to influence policy after it has been announced whereas the ILG has the power to influence policy in its earliest stages. From an outsiders perspective it would appear the IWG have a monopoly over the development and direction of Maori Party policy. You could even say that they set the agenda.  

However, the ILG ‘insider status’ is the most potent illustration of their power. An insider group is essentially a group that is treated as part of the political system, a group that is consulted on the relevant issues as a matter of courtesy and obligation. Insider groups have no need to release policy papers or stage some sort of provocative action – they have the ear of sympathetic politicians and the ability to call upon the government of the day or as Annette Sykes put it; “they have the right of access”. For example the ILG was consulted directly with regard to the ETS and mining Maori land – despite only a small number of iwi having a voice on the ILG. Negotiations also took place with the ILG over the foreshore and seabed. This confirms that out the numerous Maori interest groups outside of government, the government treats the ILG as the only group with an established mandate to engage on behalf of Maori. Whether this mandate has been earned is another question.

The ILG’s success is in no small part due to the cultivation of good relations with the political class as well as successful leveraging. The ILG leverages government by threatening to oppose the government’s Maori policy, or as one anonymous commentator put it “cultural blackmail”. Without ILG support the policy could be seen as lacking legitimacy. They also use more direct methods such as threatening litigation over issues the government would rather consign to the past.  The group’s brand of indigenous corporatism is probably also a contributing factor to the success the group has had with government.   

But does the ILG really represent Maori? Well, they don’t represent me.

I consider the group to be more of a sectional interest group as opposed to a collective interest group. They represent a certain section of the Maori population – a section whose needs and desires are not exactly the same as the general Maori population. Despite this the ILG have attempted to frame themselves as a collective interest group primarily because their legitimacy relies on them been seen as representatives of all Maori. There is the argument that the ILG represents iwi and by extension the people. I do not buy this. The needs and desires of iwi authorities are not necessarily the same as the needs and desires of the people.  I certainly agree with Annette Sykes in that the ILG has shaped policy that does not “benefit Maori in any way, shape or form”.

Although I have my reservations about the Maori Party I think the mandate to act on behalf of Maori rests solely with them. Not the ILG. I echo the sentiments of Annette Sykes;

“The [Iwi Leadership Group] are corporate Maori. They're not ordinary Maori. They're the corporate entities, so what they [the Government] are doing is they're setting up a sounding board of corporate Maori. That is by no means an inclusive approach to the Maori position”

And agree wholeheartedly with Hone Harawira;

“It is us who have the honour of speaking up for our people. And we do our people a grave disservice by passing this on to somebody else to handle; and I have no intention of treating my people with such disrespect”

All Politics is Local

                                          Protesters demand Maori representation on the Supercity

Discussion around local government (LG) in New Zealand is terribly thin. Mainstream political discourse does not pay particular attention to LG in a meaningful manner. LG appears to be a topic reserved for political scientists and amateur enthusiasts - this is a shame. I think we need to have a conservation about the style of politics in LG and how it affects outcomes, we need to look at the make-up of LG and ask whose interests are been served, we need to debate the place of Maori in LG and we need to look at how we can address the problems presented by LG in its current form.

Local governments are a component of the executive branch of government and are completely subordinate to central government (CG). In New Zealand local government is the only form of government outside of CG. There are three levels of LG; regional, district/city and community. In their simplest form they can be described as an institution performing public functions.

Politics in LG differs significantly from the style of politics practised on the national stage. LG is characterised by political consensus as opposed to political conflict. This is primarily due the absence of party politics which is often viewed as unnecessarily divisive. Essentially the political independence of representatives in LG allows for a non-partisan approach to issues facing the community. This gives rise to a predisposition for pragmatism in preference to ideology. So far so good, right?

The make up of LG should be a concern for Maori and proponents of diversity. The make up of LG largely determines whose interests will be served. Currently, LG is dominated by land owners and business owners who are overwhelmingly white, middle class and male; arguably as ratepayers they could be seen as having the most tangible interest in LG, however more often than not their interests dominate council priorities at the expense of the rest of the community. With this sort of makeup in LG there is a greater focus on material projects such as sewerage systems and roads whilst a reduced focus on the provision of amenities such as parks and pensioner housing. For example, consensus is more likely to come about on issues such as rates rebates for business owners whereas consensus on issues such as pensioner housing will be a lot harder to reach given the makeup and interests of council. This is where consensus politics fails in my opinion. Without diversity of opinion and perspective, a one eyed approach if you will, consensus will only be reached on issues that are within the understanding and interests of the decision makers. Consensus politics also makes it hard to identify who is responsible for certain policies. Therefore, voters find it difficult to punish or reward candidates. This translates to poor electoral accountability in my opinion.

So how does consensus politics affect Maori? Often LG fails to adequately address Maori issues and take into account Maori views. This failure is often masked by consensus politics and the lack of large scale controversies that would follow such behaviour if it occurred on the national stage. Councillors can easily dismiss Maori issues and views on the basis that a consensus has been reached and no controversy will ensure because, usually, the only media taking note is the local newspaper.

Often the views of LG are informed through the prevailing beliefs of the community. Perhaps this is largely good for the community but I do not think it is good for Maori. Many communities are rather unsympathetic towards Maori concerns and views. Their understanding of Maori issues is largely informed by their, and I do not mean this harshly, narrow worldview. Sadly, Maori issues are not approached with any great insight or perception and councillors usually reflect this superficial understanding. Furthermore, unlike an electorate M.P, LG politicians usually only interact, in a political capacity, with like minded people, for example their church group. Therefore, their political judgements are informed by people with similar beliefs and backgrounds. This is not conducive to representative government.

Maori are continually excluded from local government and this exclusion is the chief cause of voter apathy. The representation of only a certain section of the community is undesirable. This problem could be addressed through the creation of Maori seats in LG. Maori seats give effect to the Crowns treaty obligation to act in partnership with tangata whenua and acknowledges their special status and role as kaitiaki. Maori seats also ensure diversity of viewpoints in LG. However, I am not in favour of Maori seats on all Councils – I favour having Maori seats only on regional councils and the Auckland supercity. The model pioneered by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council has been a success and should be emulated.   

To conclude I think consensus politics is advantageous – the absence of partisan bickering is more so. What is needed is greater diversity in LG. It would also be good to see an improvement in candidate’s election statements. Election statements are notoriously vague - you cannot make an informed vote based on what is written in them. NZ also needs to see a move towards LG candidates making electoral commitments so those who are elected move into office with mandated policy. The current crop of LG politicians are better described as managers than governors – bereft of policy, basically caretakers.