Despite taking a hit, the Maori Party has signed up for another three years with National. The two parties have signed a confidence and supply agreement as well as a new relationship accord. The agreement differs from the last in that the Maori Party can vote on an issue by issue basis (except on matters of confidence and supply, for example the budget). Obviously, this gives the Maori Party room to oppose asset sales. However, as much as the Maori Party would like to distance themselves from asset sales, and the government’s larger agenda for that matter, the party is still going to be tainted by association.
The agreement includes the establishment of a ministerial committee on poverty, chaired by Bill English and deputy chaired by Tariana Turia. With English at the helm I doubt the government will dismiss the committee in the same way Act’s economic taskforce was ignored last term. The Maori Party needs to reclaim Maori poverty from Mana (Mana owned the issue last term) and bust the perception that they favour the symbolic over the substantive. Having said that, with the government committed to returning to surplus the next three budgets will probably be zero sum. With that in mind the committee will just be a flash vehicle for reshuffled funding and, as a result, just another symbolic win for the Maori Party.
The agreement also includes an undertaking to shift the focus of Te Puni Kokiri (TPK) towards jobs, education and housing. Again, an attempt at making substantive gains, however, again, the win is weak. It is difficult for many Maori, if not most, to connect changes in TPK to real world gains. I think this particular policy is more about protecting TPK. TPK was, I think, first in line for cuts this term. However, with an increased and broadened focus I doubt the government can cut staff and funding without crippling the agency and undermining the Maori Party. Then again, when has that ever stopped them.
The big announcement is the retention and expansion of whanau ora – the Maori Party’s trophy policy. A stand alone commissioning agency, whatever the hell that is, will be established and funding for rheumatic fever will be doubled to $24m, 20,000 more low income homes will be insulated and work will progress on iwi providing social housing. The Maori Party’s re-election strategy revolved around whanau ora so no surprise to see the above. The rheumatic fever funding is, in my opinion, a huge win for the Maori Party. For example, in Tai Tokerau rheumatic fever was the dominant health issue and many voters were calling on their MP, Hone Harawira, to address the problem. Of course, Hone was and is in no position to do so – he actually had to point to work done when he was a member of the Maori Party thus undermining his decision to split from the party. The home insulation win is neither here nor there. Iwi providing social housing is not new, but with government backing we should see proliferation.
Overall, a good deal for the Maori Party. The party is free to oppose the government on all issues except confidence and supply. This should, in theory, lead to a more independent image this term. In other words, it’ll be hard to accuse the Maori Party of being the National Party’s proxies in the Maori electorates. In terms of policy gains, I’d give the Maori Party 6/10. Nothing to set the world on fire, but nothing to complain about either. The challenge for the Maori Party will be to distance themselves from National’s agenda and destroy the perceptions created last term. For example, the perception (or reality some say) that the Maori Party sold Maori down the drain with the MCA Act, ETS, GST, ACC changes, the 90 day law and so on while only winning symbolic gains like the TRT flag over the harbour bridge. The symbol over substance argument.