Nov 30, 2010

Evaluating The Maori Party - Part 2

Whatarangi Winiata, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples

In the previous post I examined what I considered were some of the policy successes of the Maori Party. I reinforced the idea that the majority of their policy gains were purely symbolic, although somewhat powerful, they did not translate into tangible benefits for ordinary Maori. In this post I will detail where I think the MP has failed.

The MP failures have been numerous. There have been the small yet largely irrelevant defeats such as the debacle surrounding the Rugby World Cup broadcasting rights, Maori seats on the Supercity (arguably this was an important battle) and the Governments bad faith actions surrounding the Tuhoe settlement. And there have been larger failures. In my opinion their most significant failures have come in the form of what they have voted for. By voting for a bill you are endorsing its aims and its content. No one cares if you disagree with it but are compelled to vote for it. When you vote for a bill you sanction it and you are associated with it.

There are four laws I think the MP should have never supported – the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), the governments tax changes, the changes to ACC and the 90 day right to sack bill.

The ETS presented NZ with a golden opportunity to lead the world and justify our green credentials. We missed that opportunity. Instead we were given, due to the support of the MP, a weak, backwards and potentially economically crippling piece of legislation. The ETS epitomised everything that is wrong with law making under a National government. It was short sighted, visionless, rushed and inequitable. The legislation is so flawed in that it will dump huge costs on households whilst showering our biggest polluters with subsidies – or exempting them altogether. Households will face an increase in prices across the economy including power and petrol costs. Maori households will be hit hard. Voting for a piece of legislation that will offload considerable costs onto Maori households and lead to perverse environmental outcomes due to warped incentives is anathema to kaitiakitanga and is not an example of manaaki on the part of the MP. Pita Sharples admitted that the MP were voting for the ETS on the grounds that it would avoid short term suffering and lead to benefits for iwi. The later reason is used frequently by the MP to rationalise their actions – the “it will benefit iwi” excuse is a cop out. The MP should vote according to what is best for Maori in the real world. Unfortunately, symbolic wins (see the previous post) are only worth so much when you live from meal to meal.

Voting for the increase in GST was another blow for Maori households already struggling in the recession and will do nothing to help most Maori as the increased tax revenue is been used to finance tax changes that will mainly benefit those on high incomes. This was just another cost increase the MP were willing to inflict upon Maori. Hone Harawira was the only member (with the backbone some would say) to vote against the changes on the grounds they will hurt the poor (especially Maori).

The changes to ACC that the MP voted for will also affect Maori heavily. An increase in levies has led to further increases in the price of essential commodities such as petrol. Combine this with the ETS and the increase in GST that the MP voted for and a very ugly picture begins to emerge. If it were not such an absurd suggestion one would begin to believe that the MP actually wants to increase the cost of living for Maori. Entitlements were also affected. I cannot find a reliable source but I imagine that their rationale for voting for changes is that iwi will have the opportunity to cash in on ACC contracts and the like via the governments privatisation agenda.

The MP has also voted, on more than one occasion, to weaken work rights. The most serious of those in my opinions is their vote for the 90 right to sack law. This law will, again, affect poor Maori – those in the working class and especially those in entry level jobs. 

Another more secondary failure comes in the form of the MP’s silence on a number of important issues concerning Maori. Including drilling on the East Coast and welfare changes. This is very concerning and perhaps shows a disconnection between Maori on the ground, and I hesitate to use this word, and the ‘Maori elite’ in the form of the MP and iwi leadership. 

Therefore, I believe, the MP has caused a considerable amount of damage to Maori households. The increase in costs Maori households are facing due to the ETS, tax changes and increases in ACC levies will encourage the growth of the Maori “underclass”. Couple this with weakened work rights and it’s a recipe for instability and a decline in the quality of life of Maori. Although these laws were not created by the MP they have adopted the policies by voting for them. It may seem unfair to attack the MP over these policies, given they are National Party policies, but their support has been crucial. They could have at least mitigated the effects on Maori by refusing to vote for the ETS for example. They had the chance but sadly they failed.

Unlike the policies I detailed in the previous post the policies mentioned in this post are tangible and paint a picture of a somewhat irrational and conservative party. One that does not appear to be doing the best by Maori. At the end of the day no amount of symbolism will pay for rent, feed, clothe and keep the children warm. Symbolism will not create jobs.

However, I certainly do not think these failures will spell the end of the MP. I actually think, if they can manage the F&S issue well, that they will make considerable electoral gains. Hone will without doubt retain his seat. He’s something of a minor celebrity up north. Pita will also cruise to victory. He has, for a number of decades, been one of the most prominent members of the Maori community in Auckland and is held in high regard by many. Te Ururoa will also have a rather easy run to victory. He is vastly more popular than Labour’s Mita Ririnui – Te Ururoa has a strong following in Rotorua. Tariana will also most certainly roll whoever Labour puts in front of her. Even though I do not know her electorate as well as I do the others I am fairly confident in that prediction. Rahui may have a close fight to retain her seat if Labour puts forward a credible candidate with the backing of iwi. Rahui’s support for the new F&S bill will have lowered her in the eyes of Ngai Tahu who oppose the bill. Parekura has vast connections on the East Coast and is well liked up the Coast. By virtue of his whakapapa he will more than likely scrap through for another term. Nanaia is in a similar position. Her connection to the kingitanga will guarantee the support of tribal Maori. With that been said if the MP puts up candidates in the two former electorates of the calibre of Derek Fox and Angela Greensill then they will have a very real chance of seizing all seven Maori seats.

To conclude, it may seem like I do not approve of the MP’s unlikely coalition with National. I do. I just think the MP has failed to manage the relationship as best they could and as a result of that poor management they have done considerable damage to the lives of many Maori. But that aside, it was a brilliant tactical move on the part of the MP – unexpected and very, very clever. Make no mistake; the gains the MP has made are only possible because they are happening under a National Government. Were Labour in power National would be howling “reverse racism” and fuelling racist sentiment and Labour would have almost certainly crumbled under the pressure. The coalition also followed one of the worst few years in race relations in New Zealand’s history (Orewa, F&S etc…) and was a powerful sign of maturity in our politics.

Without doubt the MP has transformed the face of New Zealand politics. Maori issues are now in the spotlight and are a permanent part of the political landscape. This sort of progress is invaluable and has us taken hundreds of years.

My hope is that, in future, the MP will really live by their motto:

He aha tem ea nui? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

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


  1. Tēnā koe, nau mai, haere mai ki te blogosphere, Muzza!

    Since KP is on your list to the left I assume you've seen some of my writing on these topics, and it'll come as no surprise that I agree and disagree. We mostly agree, I think, that many of the policies the māori party has supported this term have been deleterious, both to its constituency and to its principles -- and that these can only be traded off against other policy gains or goodwill to a certain extent. My list is mostly the same as yours -- ETS, workers rights, MCA, private prisons, tax (though the latter is supply, written into the coalition agreement).

    Where I think we differ is with regard to the balance of symbolic versus substantive policy gains. You accept the critique that too much of what the māori party has gained has been symbolic, whereas my view is that symbolic gains are a necessary precursor to substantive gains. In my view the māori party's most important job is the strategic task of normalising kaupapa Māori politics -- putting issues which matter to Māori in the spotlight, on the agenda, because since colonisation, Māori never gained anything in politics except by the acquiescence of the Pākehā political establishment. Moreover, the māori party is not in a strong position; one head of a double-header coalition facing strong enmity from both the National party's constituency and the constituency of the main opposition party. So my critique is less that the party could have achieved greater positive gains, and more that it could have conceded smaller negatives.

    But all that aside, I'm happy that there's another person now discussing these issues with an understanding of the norms and motivations governing the party's actions -- someone who doesn't reflexively write off anything without a dollar-and-cent payoff as "empty symbolism", and who doesn't expect the māori party to be good little brown Marxists, and attack them as Hori Tory kupapa scum the moment they deviate from what best serves the white working-class electorate. Mauri ora to that.


  2. Kia ora Lew,

    Thank you for your contribution.

    Indeed, i am a regular reader of your perceptive postings at Kiwipolitico.

    You are right in pointing out that the MP had no choice but to vote for the tax changes or compromise everything they had achieved to date. It is not a fair critique without taking that into account.

    I agree with the notion that substantive gains can only be made if Maori issues are moved from the fringes and into the centre of NZ politics. The MP is the main actor in this respect. Other supporting actors do exist and are playing a vital role in normalising things Maori. The excellent work Te Taura whiri does during Maori language week immediately springs to mind. Therefore, i think normalising kaupapa Maori should not be the MP's chief concern, certainly it should be a top priority, but the day to day wellbeing of the people should come first.
    Without doubt Maori cannot achieve true cultural wellbeing until Maori issues are accepted and respected so the MP's actions could be viewed as taking into account the long term wellbeing of the people. I think this is a highly optimistic perspective though.

    It is true that the MP is not in a very strong position at the moment. Push hard and they risk reenergising the redneck right, push slowly and they risk missing the opportunity to make gains and push only halfway and they risk losing their supporters. However, they were not always in such a tight position. When they entered government they were the recipients of a considerable amount of goodwill on the part of the media and National supporters and this goodwill continued, for the most part, up until the Marine and Coastal Areas bill started to take shape. They were also in a healthy position in the eyes of their base. Sacrifices had been made but progress was on the agenda. Sadly, when their base examined what that progress looked like, they were rather disappointed. Predictably, the redneck right did not like the look of MP progress either and the MP started to come under attack from both sides. Therefore i think poor decisions were made along the way.

    Anyway, i definately tautoko your last paragraph!

  3. *Poor decisions in terms of the how they approached the F&S issue.

  4. Kia ora Muzza

    I voted for the maori party to represent the interests of maori and advance maori aspirations. My expectations were low and I have been amazed by the symbolic gain of the UN dec being ratified. That is the beginning of the end because although it has no direct effect yet, it will be used and it will create inescapable options for the politicians which will force them to support maori development and empowerment. This win is more than symbolic for me - it strengthens spirit and connects maori to all indigenous peoples and that is where our future lies - aligning with other indigenous peoples working for fairness and equality.

    In general i agree with your conclusion that the symbolic gains don't outweigh the practical deprivation that maori are feeling because of the maori party support for the government. I have been disappointed when the maori party offer the line that they are, "just voting for the legislation to move it forward so that we can hear what people think about it" - that is either inexperience or outright disinformation.

    The maori party appear to have forgotten the long view - they are acting with only a short-term vision and that is a real worry. It is time for the maori party to get their succession plans into place - I'd like to see them have it visibly in place by the next election otherwise i fear the backlash in the booths may be severe.

  5. Kia ora Marty,

    That is true that the UN dec connects us, as Maori, to other indigenous peoples and strengthens the wairua. Where i am sceptical is whether or not the Courts will choose to take it into consideration. Judges are fickle characters and international law is a murky area.

    I think the leadership will cop the blame at the ballot box for the practical failures of the Party. I share your desire to see a succession plan as well! Unfortunately, i cannot think of anyone (off the top of my head) who would make a quality successor to the current leadership.



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