Aug 20, 2013

The Green Party and Māori

The Greens have not traditionally been seen as a party of Māori aspiration, but instead as largely an urban Pākehā dominated party. There is a great deal of truth in this. But the history is more complicated than many realise. Support for the party among Māori has at times been high, and other times low. It has fluctuated with the stability and strength of the other parties.

Te Roopu Pounamu, the Māori members' network of the Green Party, was established in 2000 and grew in strength as a voice for Māori in the party. With the leadership of Metiria Turei, the network succeeded in amending the party’s charter to recognise and commit to the Māori text of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This was a defining moment, because it has ensured that there is one mainstream party with significant support that is committed to stand up against historical and contemporary breaches of Te Tiriti. I don't think Labour will ever commit to the Te Reo Māori text, and we need to remind our selves of that more often.

The Greens polled very well in the Māori seats in 2002, with a Māori electorate party vote average of 10.5%, the year Metiria entered Parliament.

However, the political climate dramatically shifted with Don Brash’s Orewa speech, the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 and the establishment of an independent Māori political voice, the Māori Party. Many of our members and voters were inclined to support this independent Māori voice, and so our support took a hit in the 2005 elections, an election that saw the emergence of Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples as significant and influential political leaders, with a huge range of support among Māori voters. We lost an average of -7.3% party vote in the Māori electorates, and this was a strong contributing factor to our close proximity to the 5% threshold in that particular election.

The confidence and supply agreement between National and the Māori Party was the catalyst for another shift in the political climate. A steady stream of activists, members and supporters began dissociating themselves with the party and the Government it was supporting. This conflict came to a head with the departure of Hone Harawira from the Māori Party, which led to him forming the Mana Party.

However, Hone and Mana haven’t been the only beneficiaries of the Māori Party’s decline. The Greens also saw a rise in support, in part due to this political shift, but also because of the ascension of Metiria Turei to co-leader and her ever-growing profile in Māori communities. Metiria has become a champion for wāhine Māori and Māori whānau and is immensely popular; particularly among young, educated Māori. With the exception of Winston Peters, she is the only Māori leader of a mainstream political party.

The Greens support among Māori raised dramatically at the 2011 general election, a +6.3% party vote increase, largely due to the influence of Metiria, the relative decline of the Māori Party and the exposure of other Māori candidates in the party. Support for the Greens at least doubled, in some cases tripled, in all of the seven Māori electoral seats.

Indeed, in Te Tai Tonga, Dora Langsbury and the Greens achieved second place in the party vote, the only other electorate the Greens have been able to achieve this in was in Wellington Central in the same election.

Metiria Turei and Marama Davidson during
the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti by-election 2013.
Since 2011 Metiria Turei has continued to gain influence and popularity and the party has received more interest from Māori media and Māori political commentators. Following the death of veteran Labour MP Parekura Horomia the decision was made for the Greens to stand in the resulting by-election in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. High profile indigenous rights activist Marama Davidson was selected as the Green candidate. Despite shockingly low voter turnout, and an older, working class voting base, Marama received 11.6% of the vote. This was the best result the Greens have achieved in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti and was the first time the Greens have stood in a by-election in a Māori seat.

Due to the by-election the party can no longer be ignored and not seen as a credible option for Māori. It has staked its place in the Māori seats as a fresh and viable 21st Century alternative to the ‘old’ Māori politics of sectionalism and patriarchal leadership.

The Greens also have a strong Māori caucus for a party of it's size. Denise Roche (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Huri) and David Clendon (Ngāpuhi, Te Roroa) are talented MPs with significant experience in their respective portfolio areas; gambling, local government and waste in the case of Denise and small business, justice, police and Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the case of David.

With the planned departure of both Tariana Turia and Pita Sharlpes, the key battleground seats in 2014 will be Te Tai Hauāuru and Tāmaki Makaurau. Tāmaki is particularly vulnerable for the Māori Party, and the young, fairly liberal electorate has the potential to have a significant swing to the Greens. The Māori Party is stronger in Te Tai Hauāuru but has no clear succession plan. It is also the home of the Ratana-Labour alliance. However, the Greens went from 3.5% party vote to 11.2% in the 2011 election in the electorate, coming third place in both candidate and party votes, ahead of the Mana Party.

The Green Party does face significant challenges that it will need to overcome. However, all of these challenges can be met and if there’s anything that can be learnt from the last two decades in Māori politics, it is that the pendulum of Māori political support can swing quickly and in sometimes unexpected directions.

History has proven that we as Māori are willing to test new political options and vehicles of Māori aspiration. With their track record, values and personality the Green Party occupies a prime position to be able to be a powerful voice for our people both in Parliament and on the streets.

Post by Jack Tautokai McDonald


  1. The Greens are like every other liberal Pakeha movement. They can declare support for kaupapa Maori on an intellectual basis. Not too sure about on a practical level. Most of conservative Te Ao Maori feels that way too.

    So why bother chasing votes in the Maori seats? It's a 3-way struggle for electorate votes between Labour and the 2 kaupapa Maori parties. Party vote in the Maori seats is redundant (less than 3% of the total party vote available nationwide?) because it's spread amongst several contesting parties, therefore is diluted.

    The only real vote-gathering opportunity available in the Maori seats is the 40% plus of voters who either aren't registered and/or don't bother to vote. Breaking through and reconnecting the disconnected. That's the big issue for all parties wanting Maori votes.

    Manaia C (sorry not registered)

  2. Kia ora Manaia

    You raise some good points.

    In my view the Greens go further than other liberals do in their affirmation of and commitment to kaupapa Māori, and especially to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

    The foundations of the New Zealand Green Party's ideology are very similar to the foundations of kaupapa Māori. The fundamental Māori concepts of whakapapa, mauri, mana whenua, mana moana and hapai i te pani me te rawakore are the cornerstone values of my world view as both a Māori and as a Green.

    Indeed many in the Green Party see the future of the party as a political embodiment of the intended Treaty partnership, a movement that works in harmony with both tangata whenua and tangta tiriti.

    There is work to be done in strengthening the practical ties between Te Ao Māori and the Greens but in my view the the conservatism in Te Ao Māori that you speak of is no longer entirely resistant of the Greens. Also, a younger, more liberal demographic is the future of our people anyway.

    The Greens are seen by many Māori as the way of the future. The other political parties have tried and on the most part have failed to make significant gains for our people.

    You are right that party votes in the Māori seats don't amount to a huge block overall. But they can make a difference for a party of the Greens size (as was evident in 2005). Also, many Māori are enrolled in general seats, so a commitment to kauapapa Māori isn't important only in the Māori seats.

    Agree completely re non-voters.

  3. Kia ora Jack,

    I hear what you're saying and I don't doubt Green sincerity towards kaupapa Maori.

    In my view it's about voter perception.

    I know I harped on earlier about Maori conservatism in the electorate.

    While I think there's truth to that, the real point I wanted to make was the lack of development of Maori liberalism.

    I think the high amount of non-participation of Maori in elections plays a big role.

    A lot of those non-participants are young people who can't be bothered registering or voting.

    But there's also a large chunk who have been eligible to vote for at least the last 5-6 MMP elections (some even longer) and still aren't registered.

    It wouldn't be an issue if the actual numbers were low. Admittedly I don't have the figures but I would suggest the amount of Maori who fall into these two categories would be enough to gain an extra Maori seat, possibly two.

    For any party let alone one like the Greens, it would be a huge challenge trying to get those non-voters involved. Granted, parties like the Maori Party and Mana have had periodical recruitment-registration drives to get more people to ballot boxes (the recent Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection was an example).

    I think their success was limited though, possibly because of self-interest - only targeting short-term gains (votes) and not long-term benefits (constituency building).

    Constituency building is where a modern liberal Maori movement can be built.

    I don't want to go into it right now (I'll only end up writing forever) other than to say I think it's not fully developed.

    But I think there's an opportunity in the Maori seats to change that and it lies in the untapped 40+% of Maori who don't and/or haven't ever voted.

    All that's required is investment.

    Manaia C



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