Apr 15, 2014

Our double reality: on being Maori and being political

Well, they haven’t done anything wrong. In holding a lucrative fundraiser at the exclusive Northern Club, the Maori Party neither broke the law nor transgressed some moral jurisdiction. But the grievous hypocrisy is unmistakable. Consider this:

Dotcom’s dollars are off limits, but money from privileged Auckland isn’t?

Donations arrive attached with expectations of reciprocity. The Prime Minister will expect a return in loyalty. The donors will expect their interests to be represented in Cabinet. To think otherwise is deliberate ignorance. Donations are made on the basis of self-interest and shared identity. But does the Maori Party want to be the party of privileged Auckland?

The Maori Party doesn’t just suffer at the hands of racists, but at the hands of Maori leftists and separatists too. At times it seems like the party is fielding unjust criticism from all sides. But this isn’t one of those times. The party has played into the central criticisms others make: that it's drifted away from the people.

Sure, a fundraising dinner at the exclusive and prestigious Northern Club is far removed from the lived experience of most Maori. But the real story is how political fundraising compromises political independence and political values. Politics doesn't happen in a vacuum. How you practice it- and, importantly, who you practice it with - is loaded with meaning.

Maori Party President Naida Glavish on Native Affairs

I’m not accusing the Maori Party of selling out. That’s too easy and it tells us nothing about the complexity of their situation. What I’m accusing the party of is saying one thing while doing another. There’s the hypocrisy levelled at Hone Harawira, but there’s also a deeper contradiction.

The Maori Party argues it's neither left nor right - it’s Maori. Pita Sharples is no social democrat and Tariana Turia isn’t a classical liberal, sure, but that doesn’t mean they can retreat from the political spectrum. They are part of politics as usual. Not as a matter of ideology, but circumstance and practice.

You can’t claim to be separated from mainstream politics when you sit in Parliament with a ministerial warrant. You can’t claim to be above mainstream politics when – as Patrick Gower put it – you’ve adopted the National Party fundraising model.

This speaks to the unsteady, unsure ground Maori politics exist on. Maori experience a sort of double reality. We experience politics as both New Zealanders and Maori. This dual reality causes angst and havoc in Maori politics. Where does the border begin and end? How do political parties naviagte two competing worlds? Is it even appropriate to distinguish instead of integrate?

The trick is to acknowledge that and be very clear – for the sake of your own integrity – when and why you’re moving between the Maori political world and the world of rightwing wealth. Especially when the world you’re emigrating to is so far removed from the reality for most Maori.

The Maori Party is based on an appeal to our collective purpose. Yet it works so hard to undermine it. They can enjoy nice food and cavort with whoever they like. After all, the Maori Party is about establishing kaupapa Maori politics. It can help establish new social norms if it likes too. But it should recognise the consequences.

A democracy is a country of competing interests and competing powers. Maori are no longer content to be the weakest. The Maori Party is testament to that. But their approach to progress has been ineffective and - as of yesterday - quite stupid. They didn't do anything wrong, but they're not doing much right either. 


  1. I agree and would take it a step further with both the Mana/Dotcom 'alliance' and MP $-raiser revealing a lack of moral compass in Maori politics. Admittedly there's not many parties that could claim to have maintained a steady course through what have been remarkably traumatic times in this countries history. When we suck up to rich people, we accept and augment their power. And they will never give up their power. History shows you ultimately have to take it...

  2. Personally I find the entire situation depressing. Contrary to what some may think, the Maori electorates are still vulnerable to attack over their legitimacy within our democracy. All this raruraru between Mana and the Maori Party doesn't help. Especially when they end up attaching themselves to other parties to garner resources. What will the obligation aka debt be? It feels like my two votes could end up completely wasted in the election. So really, why bother?

    Tuari Richards

  3. Personally I feel there was nothing wrong with the dinner as it was a fundraiser, so wot they had the prime minister there, come on they are in a coalition & I believe Key needs the Maori Party next election too. Every other Party does this why cant the Maori Party, just seems pretty trivial stuff to me, move on.

    1. Guests paid for access. The wealthier the 'voter', the more access he/she can get (bet ya 50 cents theyr'e mainly tane). Oravida boss (wife of the Minister of Justice) paid $56,000 for a game of golf with our democratically elected leader. Aotearoa/NZ is corrupt but we ignore this because most other countries are more corrupt. Slippery slope, and we're on it. Neither trivial nor something that disappears because we 'move on' .

  4. Let's be honest. It was promoted as an opportunity to dine with the PM - at a cost. A chance to be up close and personal with the person overloaded with State Power. Oravida's execs understand that. It's why they have his photos plastered all over their walls. Influence.

    I felt sorry for Whaea Naida. Poorly equipped to handle that interview on Native Affairs. The Maori Party possibly never suspected she would have to defend something like a fundraiser dinner? And shield her MPs from scrutiny? The PM was happy to take questions on this from media. Why didn't Mr Flavell front on this on Native Affairs?

    Matiu S.

  5. The Maori party defending such ostentation during a time when there is so much poverty struggle and pain in our communities is arrogant and so out of touch . Another example of the growing pomposity of the Maori middle class



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