Nov 28, 2010

Evaluating The Maori Party - Part 1

                                                        Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples

I originally intended my first substantive post to deal with the local body elections however the controversy that is beginning to engulf the new foreshore and seabed deal led me to consider whether the Maori Party has been good for Maori. The short answer is no and yes. Although the MP has made some considerable policy gains on behalf of Maori they have also supported some destructive policies. In this post I will examine what the MP has achieved.

A common criticism from the left is the MP have favoured symbol over substance. To a lesser extent they have shown far too much deference to the "Iwi elite" and not enough compassion towards urban Maori – or poor Maori. In my opinion the first criticism holds true. Many, if not most, of the MP policy wins have had very little practical effect. The Tino Rangatiratanga flag on the harbour bridge, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the Maori Economic Taskforce and so on. On the other hand the MP has achieved some substantial policy wins. Whanau Ora, a constitutional review, guaranteed future of the Maori seats and of course a bill to replace the much hated Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004.  

If you examine these policy wins you’ll finds that they do very little to improve the lives of ordinary Maori, with the exception of Whanau Ora. The most notable effect is that Maori issues have firmly entered the government’s agenda and the mainstream consciousness.

The flag over the harbour bridge was a pitiful gesture to the MP yet at the same time a powerful symbol of unity and maturity on Waitangi Day. A symbol of the enduring partnership between the Crown and Maori.  

The UNDRIP is perhaps a more potent symbol of the place of Maori in New Zealand. It strongly acknowledges the special status of Maori as tangata whenua. In purely practical terms however the UNDRIP will not benefit Maori unless it is incorporated into domestic legislation. The chances of that happening are below zero. I am not a qualified lawyer, however I should mention that if a case that concerned Maori rights were to come before the Courts then the UNDRIP may become persuasive (a finding in favour of Maori could be seen as giving effect to our international obligations). Having said that the executive, more specifically Cabinet, has made it clear that they intend the UNDRIP to have no practical effect. So this may count against the UNDRIP in the eyes of the Court. Furthermore, the UNDRIP is not a legally binding instrument under international law. On balance the UNDRIP is more show than substance.

Securing a constitutional review was one of the MP’s more potent and important wins. It will certainly spark debate about the nature and direction of New Zealand in the 21st century. I expect the republicanism debate to surface, a debate about the place of immigrant New Zealanders and hopefully it will spark a conversation about what it means to be Pakeha. I also expect the review to be very controversial. I think the Maori Party will push hard for entrenchment of the Maori seats, a proposal to incorporate the Treaty into law or at least incorporate the principles of the Treaty into new bills and a proposal to somehow increase the power of tribal authorities. The make up of the review panel will be all important. I hope it is non-partisan and expert. I hold this MP achievement in high regard.

The Maori Economic Taskforces’ recommendations will probably be paid lip service then not implemented due to “fiscal constraints”. This would be a shame because I think there is potential there. I don’t know much about the members of the group, nor have I heard or seen anything from them in form of updates, invitations to consult and so on, but I think it will be one of the more ideologically neutral of the various taskforces set up by the government.

The MP cannot survive on the Party vote alone so the Maori seats are vital. The retention of the Maori seats guarantees the survival of the Maori Party. On a side note I think Maori are the most effective tactical voters. They overwhelmingly give their electorate votes to the MP and their party vote to sympathetic parties (Labour, Greens).

Whanau Ora is both a victory and a worry. Despite its weaknesses and limited funding I generally support the idea on the grounds that we need a new model. However, I do have some very deep seated reservations. Make no mistake; this is the outsourcing of government responsibility into the hands of private providers, albeit Maori providers who do have a special interest in the provision of services to their people. But this special interest is not enough to protect the scheme from corruption. There is little detail surrounding how providers will be selected, what amount of oversight they will be subject to, what sort of framework they will be operating under and how incompetence and other such problems will be detected and rectified.

And then there’s the trophy win. The repeal and replacement of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. Although I do not think the new bill differs significantly from the FSA nor do I think it goes far enough but for the moment I think it is as much as Maori can achieve. I like the bill in that it gives regard to certain roles and responsibilities that could be held by iwi. Local Government would continue to have regulatory responsibility but this would be in conjunction with iwi. For example iwi would help determine how coastal permits are granted and would have a representative on resource consent committees. Iwi could also impose rahui or define areas as tapu and would have rights to certain resources.

I think it is open for debate whether customary title is sufficient to restore mana whenua or whether a stronger form of title is required to achieve the restoration of mana. If customary title is sufficient then only a small number of iwi will regain their mana whenua under the Act as the threshold is far too high.

The method of gaining title I prefer is negotiations with the Crown. Although this process will contain the same weaknesses as the treaty negotiations process such as vast inequality between the parties (the Crown has vast resources where iwi have none), stalling tactics, unfaithful negotiating and general fatigue on the part of iwi etc. Despite these weaknesses there is room for give and take, compromise and flexibility.  
If iwi were to pursue title through the Courts they would have to satisfy a rigid legal test. There would be no room for compromise, flexibility and other similar notions.

Needless to say there are deep divisions within Maoridom regarding the MP support for the new bill. The activist faction of the MP (Hone Harawira, Annette Sykes and the like) are opposed to the bill on the grounds it is a sop and does not go anywhere near far enough. Moana Jackson is also opposed for similar reasons. The Tai Tokerau and Wellington electoral committees want the MP to drop their support as do Ngati Kahungungu and Ngai Tahu – two powerful iwi. Another point of contention among Maori is that under the bill Maori will have fewer rights than private, mostly foreign, owners. There has been a lot of speculation about whether these concerns will translate to large scale revolt or the electoral demise of the MP. I do not think so. Maori are a patient people and they will accept incremental steps. The party will receive a boot up the backside no doubt but the MP stands for more than the foreshore and seabed. The MP is now bigger than the foreshore and seabed. Lastly I don not think the depth of feeling around the issue is there anymore. We are in a recession – Maori have bigger things to worry about.

To sum up, I think what has underpinned all of the MP’s policy wins is that they benefit iwi but not ordinary Maori. The Maori Economic Taskforce will most probably recommend courses of action that will strengthen the position and power of tribal runanga. Whanau Ora will also benefit iwi runanga. The new F&S bill will give runanga economic power over the foreshore and seabed. It will not lead to a more educated, healthy and prosperous people (Whanau Ora might if managed right but I do not have high hopes given, from personal experience, the incompetence and lack of vision I have come to expect from many Maori authorities). What is good for the runanga is not necessarily good for the people. Although runanga give generously to the elderly and those seeking higher education little support goes out to struggling, mainly urban, Maori. The, for lack of a better term, “Once were Warriors” type Maori receive nothing.

In my next post I will examine where the MP have gone wrong.  

1 comment:

  1. Kia ora Muzza. Haere mai ki te blogosphere! I look forward to Part 2 of your post on the Maori Party.



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