Nov 2, 2011

Mana and Maori on Asset Sales

The differences between the Mana Movement and the Maori Party probably aren’t immediately obvious, but when it comes to asset sales, the differences between the two parties become clear.

Asset sales are a no no for Mana. Bottom line. Hone Harawira adopts Labour’s line that “we already own” state assets. On the other hand the Maori Party is open to the idea as long as Iwi have some sort of right of pre-emption. This, in my opinion, is not unreasonable, but I still disagree, in principle, with assets sales.

Both parties positions are fairly consistent with their values. Mana is a party for all New Zealanders – especially the poor. Asset sales will primarily affect the poor. For example, SOE’s, as arms of government, have a social obligation to keep prices in check and if prices are not kept reasonable political consequences will follow. However, private companies are largely immune from political pressure and have little to no social obligations. The private sector has a profit obligation and little else. (for a demolition job on the rationale for asset sales see this from Gordon Campbell)

The Maori Party supports asset sales, albeit asset sales with qualifications, because the policy may benefit Iwi. The Maori Party has spent the last three years labouring under the impression that the growth of Iwi corporates will benefit Maori – i.e. the money Iwi are making will “trickle down”. In reality, many Iwi take a top down approach to distributing wealth. Iwi give generously to Uni students, kuia and kaumatua (which is fair enough), researchers and Iwi consultants/employees, but never mind the pohara. Therefore, when Iwi profit is, for the most part, does not translate to anything tangible for those on the bottom.

This brings me to a point I’ve made before. If the growth of Iwi is not benefiting Maori at the bottom, but instead benefiting the educated, those who occupy a higher place on the social hierarchy (elders) and the already successful (consultants etc) then this will lead to a stratified Maori society. Inequality is, as we know, poisonous. Maori don’t need a class system to emerge and contaminate our society.

Stratification will be, I think, an unintended consequence of the Maori Party’s approach to governing. As I said the Maori Party believes what will benefit Iwi will benefit Maori generally (despite evidence to the contrary). The Maori Party’s infatuation with Iwi is a consequence of the Maori Party’s attempts at injecting Maori into the governing and business class. This may be a wise approach, but I disagree with it. Attempting to push your own into the, for want of a better term, governing and business classes is a tacit endorsement of the status quo – the same status quo that disadvantages Maori, women and other minorities. Rather than elevate some Maori, the Maori Party should be focussing on bridging the gap between Maori and non-Maori and building a system that better reflects us as Maori. This what I had to say back in June and I think, for the most part, it still holds true:

This brings me to an interesting point. It is clear that the Maori Party wishes to inject our own into the political class and the capitalist class. The Maori Party believes this is the best way forward – working within the system essentially. The Maori Party prescription is to take on the ruling class on their terms. While on the other hand the Mana Party remedy is to deconstruct the neoliberal framework that has given rise to the political elites and the capitalist class. The Mana Party and the Maori Party both believe in integrating our indigenous systems and values into a western framework. The difference is the two parties believe in a different western framework. The Maori Party is comfortable with neoliberalism while the Mana Party would institute a move towards a more socialist regime. Maori must choose very carefully.
Personally, I applaud the Maori Party on having a model to get Maori ahead. However, I do not like that model because often it comes at the expense of others. For example asset sales. Asset sales will undoubtedly benefit iwi, however that will come at the expense of other New Zealanders. Mainly the have nots. Our aspirations should not come at the expense of others – no matter how much we deserve to get ahead.

There is a worrying divide forming among Maori. It is a divide between the haves and the have nots. This divide is embodied by the Maori Party and the Mana Party. It is a divide between iwi that have their settlements, their land trusts and their middle class and between iwi and urban Maori that do not. It is easier for those who do have to say Maori need to get out of, and I hate these terms, grievance mode and into development mode. I will use the example of my iwi, Ngati Awa, and urban Maori. We, as in Ngati Awa, have a growing middle class, a cultural and spiritual base that we retain, we have a number of successful hapu trusts and we have a Crown apology and a financial settlement. We can move because we have our closure, sort of, and we have capital to utilise to get ahead. Our connections to the whenua remain unbroken and our Ngati Awa tikanga and kawa remains. The same cannot be said about urban Maori. They have no settlement to invest in their futures, they have no connection to their traditional lands, their reo and tikanga is almost forgotten, their incomes are falling and the government is not correcting the wrong. How can these Maori be expected to get into development mode when they have nothing and the wounds of the past are still a substantial cause of anger and marginalisation. Urban Maori have no means of getting ahead as a people. The system and society still operates against them. They have no access to capital and their culture is lost. Now where I am going with this is that the Maori Party is siding with the haves while the Mana Party is siding with the have nots.

I think asset sales will be a big issue for Maori - or at least the parties will make it a big issue. Fundamentally, there is little to separate Mana and Maori. However, on asset sales the Maori Party occupies a unique position to both Mana and Labour. It's a policy plank where the Maori Party can push for some much needed differentiation. Saying "we are the only real Maori party" doesn't have much bite.

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