It’s commonly accepted that the New Zealand Maori Council is redundant. With the rise of the Maori Party, the Mana Party and the Iwi Leaders Group, the Maori Council find their position threatened.
For consultation purposes, the government prefers to deal with the Iwi Leaders Group. The government prefers to deal with an organisation that’s ideologically sympathetic. I think it's fair to describe the iwi leaders as neoliberal. For example, they support asset sales, PPPs and so on. However, what cements the Iwi Leaders Group as the advocacy and consultation group of choice is money.
The Iwi Leaders Group are a multi-billion dollar collective. The Maori Council, however, is anchored by an Act of Parliament and an act that is due to be reformed or, quite possibly, wiped off the statute books. The Iwi leaders are secure. On the other hand, the Maori Council is subject to the whims of the government of the day.
In my opinion, the Maori Council still have an important role. The Iwi Leaders Group largely represents the commercial interests of iwi, with some notable exceptions, whereas the Maori Council’s focus is more broad. It is, after all, the Maori Council who are lodging the water claim. In contrast the iwi leaders are engaging in backroom dealing in an attempt to secure a political solution. The iwi leaders are taking a pragmatic approach, arguably the best approach, but I prefer the Maori Council’s approach. Before engaging in deals, I’d prefer to know the legal position. Then again, an adverse finding undermines your bargaining power. The threat of legal action is persuasive, but neutralised when the Court has or will find against you.
Perhaps the water claim issue illustrates the need for the Maori Council and the Iwi Leaders Group to merge. Both sides are taking opposite approaches and, in the process, undermining each other. The Iwi leaders already perform many of the Maori Council’s functions, only with economic leverage and political connections that an Act of Parliament can’t give. Surely the only option, or the most sensible option at least, is to merge.
On a slightly different note, there are claims that the revival of the Maori Council is merely a power play on behalf of Donna Hall and Sir Eddie Durie, the co-chair and Hall’s partner, and a useful vehicle for other Maori power players, for example Rahui Katene. I don’t put much stock in this. I rate the integrity of Sir Eddie Durie too highly.
Ultimately, I think a merger has to be on the cards. The Maori Party, Mana Party and the Iwi leaders perform what the Maori Council once did, only more effectively. There isn’t any space for the Maori Council.