Shane Jones won promotion and the Maori Affairs portfolio is back where it belongs – within the top 5. Jones will take a different approach from Parekura before him and Pita Sharples opposite him. Parekura was and Pita is a relationship politician. They leverage their relationships to achieve change. Shane can build good relationships with other politicians, officials and voters – like Parekura and Pita – but Shane’s cut from a different cloth: he can and will rely on the force of his personality and intellect to drive change. Parekura and Pita didn’t and don’t exert that sort of blunt pressure.
Nanaia Mahuta won promotion too. She’s in the shadow cabinet and holds the Maori development and Treaty settlement portfolios. Nanaia can open doors. She’s experienced and knows how Maori politics works. But there’s one problem: can and will Shane and Nanaia work together? If not, Labour will forfeit its advantage over Mana and the Maori parties: stability.
The Maori caucus split between supporting David Cunliffe and Shane Jones. That might not be indicative of deep rifts – but only differences in opinion - but the perception is building that Labour’s Maori caucus is fractured. If the Maori caucus doesn’t signal that it’s going to sew up its divisions then the Greens will credibly make a claim to being the only stable kaupapa Maori party.
The other member of the Maori team is Rino Tirikatene. He retains the Associate Maori Affairs role. Rino will act as Shane’s deputy and Nanaia will go about her roles. Meka Whaitiri didn’t win a Maori portfolio. That’s a shame. I think she could have deputised for Nanaia in the way that Rino will deputise for Shane. The challenge for Shane and Rino is to find cohesion. The challenge for Nanaia is to exploit the (very few) cracks in the government’s Treaty policy. That’s not easy. Reshuffling was never going to be an outcome in itself, but it will bring a focus that the Maori Party should be worried about. There are now three Labour MPs - including two front benchers - who are coming for the Maori Party's jobs.
Post script: props to Louisa Wall and Moana Mackey. Their promotions were richly deserved. Wall steered through the Marriage Equality Act with clarity and confidence. Despite entering Parliament in 2003, Mackey hasn’t registered. That’s a shame. She works hard and is rarely acknowledged for it. In 2012 she robustly opposed the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act. She carried Labour on that count and others. Her promotion is overdue.