Feb 8, 2011

John Minto at Waitangi

John Minto over at scoop.co.nz provides some useful insight in his latest column;

Harawira gave his speech to an open public forum on the Te Tii marae grounds where everyone and anyone were welcome. The audience of approx 200 was mainly Maori from around the country (although predominantly from the North) alongside a smattering of Pakeha. It was unrehearsed and delivered without notes in the best political tradition of Waitangi Day and was then subject to question and debate from the audience.

This is how politics should operate. Political discourse should always be this accessible and engaging. Currently, politics is reserved for the economic and academic elite and amateur enthusiasts.   

Pita Sharples however delivered his speech to a closed, invitation-only dinner organized by Prime Minister John Key at a flash venue with the main iwi leaders and others of the political and economic elite in attendance. Sharples did the same thing the following day when he delivered a speech to the Prime Ministers Waitangi Day breakfast. Again it was an invitation-only event where he was shielded from any possibility protest. He predictably defended the Maori Party leadership view that the relationship with National was delivering results. He avoided admitting that for most Maori the changes under National have been disastrous.

In essence this is how politics operates for members of the executive. High ranking members of government rarely have the time to mix with ordinary people – they have to govern the country - so inevitably politicians become inward and disconnected from the reality on the ground.  When the opportunity to mix with ordinary people does arise access is only ever granted to the elite. 

Throughout the weekend Pita Sharples declined to attend any public political debate or discussion. Like National and Labour leaders Sharples fronted up for the formal welcome at Te Tii marae but quickly retired to the company of the political and Iwi elite with whom he has become associated.

The leadership need to man up and outline exactly what they are doing and why. Maori have a lot of legitimate questions that deserve to be answered. For example why is the party supporting asset sales? Why is Pita Sharples so enamoured with private prisons? Will The Maori Party go into coalition with Labour? The list goes on and on.  

The conclusion is unmistakable. Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia have cast their lot with National and the Iwi leaders groups. It’s the Maori equivalent of Pakeha politicians taking their lead from the Business Roundtable’s Roger Kerr. 

That’s exactly right.  

There was a time when Pita Sharples would have been happy to engage in public debate at Waitangi and would have looked sceptically and critically at corporate Maoridom. Not so now. Along with Tariana Turia he has been seduced by the soft seats in a Tory Prime Minister’s office and the baubles of political power. It’s a path well trodden before by politicians of all races and stripes over the years but disappointing it has been so quick and so complete as in the case of Sharples.

Minto’s conclusion is robust. The Maori Party, and the personalities involved for that matter, have transformed into something utterly foreign. It is unfortunate that power tends to change people. Direction is so often lost and values more or less warped. As Hone has repeatedly said; The Maori Party need to return to their roots.     

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