Many waka, one star to guide them: The Maori Party as a vehicle for Maori politics

When I started posting on this blog it was not my intent to do a party by party round up of NZ Politics (I originally wanted to focus on my areas of specialty in Asia, The Middle East and military matters) but once I started I found myself compelled to continue. I do want to look at the media and the body public a bit later but this post is the last in this vein until something interesting arises in the NZ political sandpit*.

This post has taken a while to write, mostly because there was not much to actually write about without straying into territory that was a lot deeper than I wished to go (something Chris Trotter noted recently in the media) but also because the subject in question, the Maori Party, has not been around as long as most of the other political parties and as such does not have as much of a history that people might want to read about in a blog post such as this.

But things have taken a turn recently and there has been a spate of activity within the party and the subsequent media focus, so suddenly there has been a lot more material to work with which means that a post I was putting off can now be completed.

To begin the recent outburst of media activity seems to relate to the party gearing up for the election in 2017 with the olive branch being extended to Hone Harawira and Mana, the Maori King saying he would not vote Labour and the party refusing to support Helen Clark’s bid for UN secretary general.

Whose behind all this seems to be Tukoroirangi (Tuku) Morgan, through his election as the president of the party. Morgan was previously an adviser to the Maori King (which goes a long way to explaining why the King might suddenly bag Labour in his speech) and his recent comments in the media about rebuilding the party and winning back all seven Maori electorate seats from Labour fit in nicely with the current tone of the messages the party is sending.
All of this is a clear signal that Labour won’t be able to count on the support of the Maori Party come the next election (something which John Key has welcomed) and that the party wishes to re-build the bridges with Harawira (something which Key has not welcomed) and that that the losses of Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia in leadership have not been made good with the addition of Tu Ururoa Flavell or Marama Fox.

And part of the problem with the party is leadership. Flavell and Fox have not really filled the shoes left by Sharples and Turia (at least not yet) and it looks like the task has fallen on Morgan’s shoulders to do the strategic thinking for them. It’s not that Fox and Flavell are doing a bad job steering the party’s ship but for a party becalmed in the polls and electorate there has to be more than a steady as she goes approach on the tiller**.

Currently the party has two MPs in parliament by virtue of Flavell winning the Maori electorate seat of Waiariki and bringing Fox in with him as a list MP. All of the six remaining Maori electorate seats are currently in Labour hands.

In the polls, the party has languished around the 1% mark for so long that they are now in the same position as Peter Dunne and United Future; reliant on a single seat in marginal circumstances for access to parliament.

Policy wise the party can claim to have had some successes with Whanau Ora programme and related funding aspects and while there have been some minor successes in respect to their other policy planks (health especially but also in housing, employment and family violence) these have yet to translate into either the general or Maori electorates, as increases in their polling.

Another problem is that there have been nearly a dozen different vehicles for Maori politics in the last 45 years. From Labour in the 80s (until the fallout over the economic reforms), to NZ First in 96 (when the scooped all Maori electorate seats), to the various splinter parties that formed out of the Tight Five when they left NZ First to a range of others (including representation in ACT and National (although how genuine these were is questionable)) which makes the Maori Party just the current vehicle in a long list of vehicles for representing Maori in Parliament.

So at this time Morgan’s actions to beef the party up are definitely needed but have yet to show any fruit.

Nothing seems to have come out of their overtures to Mana (and given Hone Harawira’s dislike of National and the Maori party’s alliance with them as well as the internal squabbles which lead to him leaving and forming Mana (now dead in the polls after its bizarre alliance with Kim Dotcom) it seems that the band will not be getting back together soon.

The attacks on Labour also may yet backfire given that the majority of the Maori electorate seems to prefer Labour to the Maori Party at this time and how much influence the Maori King has is not currently clear. Perhaps in time his words will have an effect but the issue may be less the message and more the medium (the King) as in other countries, royalty usually tries to appear neutral or apolitical for good reason (that being that once you choose sides its somewhat hard to reverse position and if your horse does not win, then you no longer have friends in the big house).

So 10 out of 10 to Morgan for taking action but minus several million*** for not thinking things through because the real issue, which seems to have dogged the Maori party is somewhat the same as the situation into which they have put the King; that being a partisan one.

The formation of the Maori Party was in direct relation to Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Legislation in the mid 2000’s and the party remained in opposition until National took power where it decided to throw in its lot with them. This lead to the party getting into government (a definite success) and the previously mentioned policy successes but at the cost of playing the partisan card.

In the case of the other political parties such partisan antics are normal and can be suspended when there is general common ground (the recent security and intelligence legislation is a good example) but since the Maori party is formed around a defined racial and not political core this has issues.

As the parties own goals/kuapapa state, the project of the party is to represent all Maori and to respect all parties but in these circumstances, by coming out swinging at Labour, they have done just the opposite. This is not likely to resonate well with any Maori who have voted Labour (or Green or even NZ First) in either the Maori or general electorates.

And with 16% of the population identifying as Maori and the party’s own 1% polling this means that there are more people this message will drive away than appeal to.

The party’s siding with National has never sat well with many people and Sharples and Turia have defended it in the past by pointing to the successes they achieved only by being in parliament, something which I agree with, but by playing such a partisan position now and signalling no future co-operation with Labour they have (whether they believe it or not) just shifted the party out of the middle and well towards the right.

Now there is no valid argument for saying that National is anti-Maori but it would be hard to defend the range of National government policies which have had negative outcomes for Maori in both the current and previous National Governments.

Conversely there is no real argument to say that Labour is pro-Maori but the biggest bone of contention between Labour and Maori seems to be the previously mentioned foreshore and seabed issue and the biggest reservoir of angst over that seems to be the Maori party itself rather than the Maori electorate.

In short Tuku “underpants” Morgan may have just cut the Maori Party’s throat in a well-meaning but ultimately suicidal plan to bring the party back to life. The party currently lives on Flavells single seat alone and I would bet my bottom dollar that Labour will be campaigning hard in that electorate in 2017 to remove it from him seeing that there is no room for compromise in the other camp.

So come the 2017 election we may see the Maori Party waka run aground on rocks that were on the chart but ignored due to hubris or bad captaining. The problem being that in and of itself the party was one of the better vehicles for bringing Maori issues into parliament than many of the others. The star to which they all steer is always the same but the vehicles do not seem to be able to complete the voyage.

*-knowing my luck probably sooner rather than later.

**-Yes I was trying to pack in as many nautical metaphors as possible.

***-Zaphod Beeblebrox in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy



17 thoughts on “Many waka, one star to guide them: The Maori Party as a vehicle for Maori politics

  1. I share your scepticism re Tuku. I worked in the TVNZ newsroom making news & current affairs stories (’88-’97) & when he appeared on the scene as a Te Karere reporter I made stories for the guy. Never struck me as having much of a brain – the other TK folk were more on-the-ball.

    The mystery in Maori political psychology is why pan-tribalism doesn’t work. You’d think the Treaty gives them a substantial historical basis for solidarity, eh? But no, apparently tribal loyalities divide them still. No Maori political scientists yet, either. Nobody has ventured into the media with an explanation of why Mana Motuhake disappeared into the Alliance black hole and never (unlike the Greens) climbed back out again…

  2. Dennis: Why there is no tribal unity at a political level was a area I deliberately avoided as after looking at it my assessment would have been rather negative of those I would have ended up naming, so instead I left it out of my post.

    But your completely right, I think the biggest stumbling block to success in Maori politics is the inability to create a vehicle which can include all who want to be included.

    I do think that part of it also needs to bring the urban Maori into things more but again that’s never been able to come to life for long.

  3. I am, following a developing theme, very disappointed in this post. Not only does it favour style over substance and, as a consequence, continue to undermine the seriously thoughtful stuff produced by Lew and Pablo over the past few years, but you have mispronounced and misspelled my cousin’s name– it’s Zaphod Beeblebrox. How about a little fact-checking?

  4. Ford: You got me on the name but where exactly is the rest of my post style over substance? This is probably the most referenced, direct and succinct thing I have written on this blog. Also given the name error (now corrected) I think I can be forgiven slightly, its not like I mixed up Hilaroy Klintoon with Hilary Clinton. You cant take one error and build it out to cover the rest of what I write as full of fault.

    There is no ranting, no character assassination, no side trips into other areas or even my usual dramatic hyperbole.

    Everything else, except my own conclusions, and you are free to disagree with those, is fact and checked (you may note the number of links in the post) and written in a short easy to read style. If you want a more hard academic style, sorry I don’t do that in my posts, I do enough of that in my day job and in some ways I am a counterpoint to Pablo (and possibly Lew) in that I can still present my opinions but just not exactly as they do, you don’t just want more of the same every time do you?

    Also if you can explain what exactly was disappointing about the post that would be helpful. You didn’t agree with my conclusions or is it something else?

    Also my style of posts are a bit unorthodox but your just going to have to get used to that, the only developing theme you are seeing is that of my thoughts and opinions on subjects. Granted NZ politics is not my specialty but I have been an active observer of politics in NZ and apart from a core of political journos what exactly were you expecting, it was a speculative piece. I have been blogging for about four months, I think I have developed quite nicely actually when you consider my output.

    But if you want to provide some suggestions please feel free. I cant say I will follow them but I will take them under consideration.

    Perhaps you will enjoy more of my stuff once I move away from NZ and start looking at Asia and the Middle East.

  5. Parliamentary seats set on a racial basis are race privilege. Privilege of one ethnic group or race race over another is racist obviously. The revolution and revulsion from this situation can not be far away.
    When a Society travels along a pathway to inequity and inequality, there will be by natural events a time of reckoning.
    We know that Societies can become sick without knowing it, and it seems that the others are unwell and not us.
    We know we are all right because most say so. We have the Television, the media, academia , and the priests of progress to repeat what the truth is.
    We have a leader who did not appear to us as a flimflam, but he is. We are a people with Maori tribal leaders the foremost among us, Then after that, European and other ethnic groups including Asian are roughly equal second class. It would all not be so bad if Maori benefited, but Maori do not, their criminal tribal leaders take all.
    We have a separatist Maori Party dominated government which is led by appeaser-in-chief John Key who only listens to what he has decided to hear.. .
    The New Zealand Government today is without a core, direction or spirit , and absent to the imperative doctrine of equity, and equality.
    Entire civilisations fail and die on these grounds, as their former vigour is lost to social malady.
    In a letter I burdened Don Brash and others with, I said that I see that our trouble is so deep within Government, institutions and individual apathy, that it is now irreversible other than by sudden revolution at the ballot box.
    In the meantime, I say to people, we have to come to terms with the options we have.
    I have no career at stake, no ambition, just an iron in the fire.
    We willlift NZ First to 15% in the next election, and thereby sack most of the bad spirits we have now.

  6. Everyone is a racist because our deepest loyalty, history, lineage is an embedded part of who we are. We have an ethnicity and a race to which we belong. Sometimes it is too far distant to have any real meaning or is fractured through multiple connections. It becomes racism when it is used for discrimination and hatred.

  7. A couple of points

    1. John Key would welcome a rapprochement between Hone Harawira and the Maori party. He just can’t afford to say so. The deal would be that the Maori Party stands aside for Hone in Tai Tokerau and Mana stands aside for Te Ururoa in Waiariki (and the other Maori seats). That would give the Maori Party a fighting chance in six seats, Hone a good shot at regaining Tai Tokerau, and the prospect of Labour losing the six seats it now holds. So a Maori/Mana reconciliation would help National’s electoral prospects. The only possible downside is that Hone might back in Parliament making radical comments on the issues of the day, but that could also work to Key’s advantage. Even if he can’t say so, regardless of who is in government John Key would be happy to have Hone Harawira on the other side of the House.

    2. Why is pan-tribalism not the rule in Maoridom? Well, at marae level it is. Last night I was at a hui where Tainui, Te Arawa, Whanau Apanui, Tuhoe and others joined together to honour a couple from Ngati Raukawa. This is normal. It is the rule under the auspices of pan-tribal organisations such as te hahi mihinare, te hahi Ratana, te kingitanga, te kotahitanga, the Maori Party or the Mana Party. Of course tribal divisions go back to the pre-war era, and while the common threat of 1845 through to 1866 did something to overcome older animosities and bring iwi together as one, inter-tribal antagonisms re-asserted themselves from 1866 through to 1872. From 1872 onwards there was a slow, fitful and incomplete movement back towards a common Maori interest and identity. More recently that movement has to some degree regressed as a possibly unintended, though to the colonial authorities positively beneficial, consequence of the “treaty settlement” process.
    One thing is evident. Pan-tribalism cannot prevail as an independent principle, any more than the principle of a “united Europe” could prevail against the forces of disunity irrespective of the rules on which a united Europe was based and the practical consequences of those rules for its constituent peoples. In Maoridom pan-tribalism has only been strong under the auspices of various pan-tribal religious and political movements (including for many decades the Labour-Ratana alliance and for a few years New Zealand First), and it will re-assert itself when either a new politico/religious movement emerges, or one of the existing movements is rejuvenated.

  8. Geoff: Thanks for the information, that’s very interesting stuff. I will have to take those into consideration.

    One of the points that came out of me thinking about the situation in the Maori party is that as with Labour, National, NZ First and all the rest is that the racial background of those who vote for them is not the primary reason for voting for them. Often its economic or political or some other value.

    Obviously Maori also have differing views on life and living and all that so a party that may try to unify Maori needs something which effects all Maori.

    I could speculate on that and have my own guesses but I would like to hear what you think such issues might be that would genuinely have most, if not all Maori getting behind a Maori Political party as you are closer to the source than I.

    I do wonder how strong a Maori/Mana alliance would be though. It seems that Hone left under pretty ugly circumstances and that was after a prolonged period of him and the party fighting over things. I know he got most of the flack but I think some of his views around the Maori Party and national were valid. Also he has been demonsised in the press so much that it would be interesting to see if Mana and Maori did joining and national remained in government how that would turn out. Would Hone have ot be on his best behavior.

    In short I could have read things wrong but Hone seems to be no fan of National and not one to want to go back to the Maori Party if they remain with National, I could be wrong on that but based on what i know at this time thats my feeling.

  9. No one is expecting a merger of the Maori and Mana parties, but an electoral arrangement of the kind suggested in my previous comment is on the cards. Usually in such a deal (e.g. ACT/National, United/National) the parties expect to end up on the same side of the house but in the case of a Maori/Mana deal the odds are that they would be on different sides of the house, and that is accepted by both Mana and Maori. So it would not be an alliance in the usual sense of the word.
    To figure out what it is that can cause Maori to come together as one for electoral purposes you would probably want to look at the history of Ratana/Labour and NZ First as well as the Maori Party.
    It seems to me that the common elements are first a person of mana, second an issue (particularly an issue related to Maori “rights” under the Treaty of Waitangi, or anything which seems to present a serious threat to Maori interests in general, also extending to sovereignty and wider socio-economic issues) and third a lot of coming and going on nga marae. Before Winston Peters captured the Maori seats for NZ First he was a regular visitor to the marae of Tai Tokerau, and presumably to marae in other rohe as well. The marae visit is the Maori equivalent of door-knocking in European suburbs. Provided there is a measure of mana to begin with, it is very effective.
    Once you get a shift among an influential minority, Maori tend to swing as a group. That explains why Maori could be solidly Labour one election, then all for NZ First the next, followed by an emphatic shift to the Maori Party then an equally decisive shift back to Labour. The dynamic is that people want to be on the same side as their kaumatua, kuia, apotoro, minita and so on. Does that mean that Maori will follow Tuheitia and abandon Labour once again? Not necessarily. The momentum for these swings is generated at the hapu level. To capitalise on Tuheitia’s remarks, the Maori Party would have to put a lot of work into key leaders of hapu over the next twelve months.

  10. Geoff: That last part about influential Maori explains the shifts I kept seeing in seats and parties over time.

    When I was going through the electoral history I was wondering why they kept changing who they voted for and wondered if it was a positive thing (ie being able to pragmatically vote for the best candidate) or a negative thing (ie being very fickle).

    Seems I was wrong on both counts.

    Thanks for the extra info, you have inspired me to do some more digging and maybe even another post as this seems to be an area which is over looked in mainstream media.

  11. An item from the SteamNMud website (see below) suggests that Tuheitia’s remarks may be having an impact on political allegiances within Maoridom.
    At the same time it is true that some of Rawiri Waititi’s whanau have long standing affiliations to Maori/Mana parties, and presumably would have encouraged his decision to defect from Labour. So did the mana of the Kingitanga combine with the sentiments of whanau to effect this dramatic change of allegiance? Or did Rawiri decide that a Mana/Maori political collaboration would put paid to his chances of taking Waiariki for Labour? Probably a combination of all three factors at work here.
    From SteamNMud:
    “The Waiariki runner-up in the last general election ..Rawiri Waititi is no longer a staunch supporter of the Labour Party but instead has thrown his support behind the Māori Party.
    “After the King’s speech I thought it was high time Māori start determining their own destination in regards to our political alliances… ” Mr Waititi said.
    “I believe we need to start supporting parties like, the Māori Party and Mana Party…”

  12. Hmmmm… Flow on effects.

    I wonder what the percentage would be on the general role given the current polling of Mana and Maori? Lets see come the next round, if we see an uptick I think we may have a change on our hands. The proof in the pudding will be translation from the elites/leaders to the average Maori voter, if that shows change then its game on for the Maori party.

    The other, but related, thing that is interesting here is if Rawiri Waititi has made this decision willingly or under pressure?

    Thanks for the info.

  13. Rawiri Waititi comes from a family of pretty strong minded folk. I have no reason to doubt that he is his own man and made this decision himself – no doubt after listening to and considering the views of others.

  14. just a brief comment on the influence of the Maori King. I am frequently on the marae in my role in the Youth Court, admittedly it’s a Tainui Marae. I am not a fluent te Reo speaker but know enough to know the King is held in the highest regard, is always the first to be acknowledged, has great inherited mana due to his whakapapa. The depth of this influence and in what direction it falls could only be gauged by a Maori speaker. Only such a person could determine any partisanship or influence and unless trust had been established it may not even be revealed to an ‘outsider.’ Maori is a metaphorical language of great subtlety where messages can be given but not necessarily received!! From the outside he does seem to be Tuku’s puppet but that is just wild supposition on my part. However those who attend ceremonies and events on the marae are those Maori with the greatest influence and the greatest political nous. Just a few thoughts on this post. Barbara Matthews

  15. While all Barbara’s comments are true, one has to take care in drawing conclusions about the extent of his political influence. Te Kooti for example challenged Maori (including Tawhiao) politically, spiritually, artistically, and architecturally before he himself became absorbed into tradition.

  16. Geoff: You should tell your land grab story to Barbra, the one that you were talking about over on firewalker.

  17. The AKL-304 dispute was more than a land-grab. It was a case of an outside party using a Council controlled organisation as a proxy in a misguided attempt to provoke violent conflict over land rights in our rohe. That would set alarm bells ringing in any society subject to the rule of law. In New Zealand, it has been allowed to pass virtually unnoticed.

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