Jul 3, 2013

Maori politics: crises, opportunities and the Greens

I was born in 1991. In 1991 Pita Sharples was working across the public service and he was a visiting professor at Auckland University. In 1991 Pita Sharples was working with and for Maori. In the decades before 1991, Pita Sharples was working with and for Maori. He’s still working with and for Maori. For that, he has my deepest respect.

Though service is the rent we pay for living. Pita Sharples’ record of service is long and it's his time to step down.

Crisis versus opportunity

There are two views on Pita’s resignation: that it represents a crisis in the Maori Party or that it presents an opportunity for political renewal.

Well, political crisis’s trigger resignations, but vacancies come with opportunities.

Generational change will create a break from the political period that Turia and Sharples embody. The post-settlement era is close and the Maori renaissance era is closing. The Maori Party must use the leadership change (and the ideological and personnel openings that that change creates) to renegotiate the contract between their party and the Maori electorate.

That means recreating the Maori Party’s political identity. The party was founded in opposition to the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 and based on the premise that the party wasn’t left or right – it was Maori. 

In other words, the Maori Party was a pan-Maori political party. That has failed. The Maori political landscape has fragmented (Mana has split to the left, Labour might be “rising” and the Greens are emerging). The Maori Party doesn’t have to accept the left/right dichotomy, but it must carve a coherent position (e.g. tino rangatiratanga for the post-settlement era). There is space for a kaupapa Maori party – that is independent (and is seen to be). The Maori Party, in its current arrangements at least, is not (and is not seen to be). A leader who doesn’t hold a ministerial warrant (e.g. Te Ururoa) is better positioned to reclaim the party’s independence.

However, the great barriers are that the Maori Party is accountable against its record and Pita Sharples helps anchor the Maori Party’s remaining support. He’s Papa Pita – one of the most trusted Maori MPs. Pita has to leave on his own terms. If his resignation is seen to be forced that will compromise the mana of the man and the party. In that sense, the resignation poses its consequences.

Who deserved the blame?

It’s unfair that Pita has shouldered the blame. Na Raihania’s poor placing in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection was not solely a reaction against the leadership battles in the Maori Party. The party’s troubles are more deep rooted.

If you view politics as a horse race it’s tempting to identify leadership battles, disunity and the back-and-forth of the political process as reasons for the poor showing of party X or politician Y. Reality is more complicated.

Doubts developed in the Maori Party’s first term. The party entered government on a high. Te Tai Tonga elected a new Maori Party MP and a “mana-enhancing” deal was reached with the Prime Minister and the National Party. After the conflict of the previous four years, 2008 felt positively peaceful.

When in Rome, do as the Romans. When in government, don't always do as the government. From 2008 to 2011 the fatal narrative crept in and solidified: that the Maori Party wins had been more symbolic than substantive and that a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for National. Colin James encapsulated it well in arguing that the Maori Party is and was seen as National’s “proxy” in the Maori seats.

The party swallowed its defeats, but its wins weren’t seen to neutralise the eroding trust that the defeats had triggered. The debacle over the Rugby World Cup broadcasting rights, a defeat for Maori seats on the Auckland Council and bad faith in the Tuhoe settlement negotiations contributed to the idea that the Maori Party was part of a mana-diminishing deal. The party also voted for unpopular pieces of legislation (e.g. the ETS) and (consistent with their supply and confidence agreement) a budget that Maori opposed. The Maori Party’s strength is that it’s independent and accountable to Maori (c.f. Labour). But its independence was beginning to be questioned.

In 2010 the negative narratives started developing and the consensus within the party begun unravelling. Hone Harawira tried to cross the floor against budget 2010 and he appeared increasingly isolated. In early 2011 the consensus broke when Hone – after taking a swipe against the Maori Party in the Sunday Star Times – was expelled. The Maori Party split right and Hone (soon to become the Mana Party) split left with prominent Maori Party members (including Annette Sykes, Angeline Greensill and Mereana Pitman) too. The narrative that a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for National solidified and Maori politics divided along class lines. Mana carved a position for the Maori working class and (mostly by omission) the Maori Party was seen to be the party for iwi and the Maori middle class.

Accepting a deal with the National Party was always a risk. Although Labour’s vote had been trending downwards, the Maori electorates remained overwhelmingly left. There was little affection for National, but a grudging acceptance that Maori should operate across the political acceptance. Tough circumstances (e.g. high Maori unemployment) took that acceptance to its limits and in 2011 it broke. With this in mind, the decline of the Maori Party is best traced to 2011 – when the narratives solidified, Hone steered half of the party left and broke Maori politics along class lines - rather than contemporary leadership trouble.

Te Ururoa is the heir apparent

Te Ururoa Flavell is the ideal leader for the contemporary Maori Party: pragmatic and respected across the left and right. He also offers continuity post-Turia/Sharples and a generational change.

However, the party must consider whether their interests are better represented by an external leader. A leader who isn’t tainted by the debacles in 2011 or the leadership disunity in 2012 and 2013. Rawiri Taonui has identified Naida Glavish as a potential leader. If she were elected that would be a platform for her to succeed Pita in Tamaki Makaurau.

Alternatively, a co-leadership arrangement. Glavish as the female leader and Te Ururoa as the male leader. That gives Te Ururoa the position he has been seeking for (literally) years and Glavish represents a break from the toxic period 2008-2011. Rahui Katene has indicated that she is interested in co-leading the party too. However, Rahui wasn't reelected as the MP for Te Tai Tonga in 2011. She does not represent the clean break that Glavish does. Glavish is the clean break, Te Ururoa is the continuity.

Tamaki Makaurau has fallen

Unless the Mana and the Maori Party come to a deal, say the Maori Party runs Glavish and Mana runs a party vote campaign, then Tamaki Makaurau will fall to Labour.

In 2008 Pita won a 7000 vote majority and the Maori Party secured 28% of the party vote. In 2011 Shane Jones came within 1000 votes of unseating Pita and the Maori Party secured 14% of the party vote. The Mana Party secured (literally) half of the Maori Party’s 2008 vote.

The new Maori Party candidate is not guaranteed to inherit Pita’s vote. The vote will fragment further and the Labour candidate (Shane Jones isn’t guaranteed) will storm through the middle. If Mana and the Maori Party want Tamaki Makaurau to remain with a kaupapa Maori Party then they must come to an arrangement.

Te Tai Hauauru might not fall
Ken Mair has been named as a potential replacement. I think he can win. He has the name recognition and the reputation (he is a respected activist and isn’t tainted by association with the National Party).

Of course, it all depends on how strong the field is. A stronger Mana candidate might cannabilise the Maori Party vote and Jack Tautokai McDonald (assuming he stands again) is well placed to increase his share of the vote. It’s too early to call, but I think Te Tai Hauauru remains winnable for the Maori Party.

The Greens are rising?

The beneficiary might not be Mana or Labour, but the Greens. Mana could be perceived as too close (and partly responsible for) the toxicity in Maori politics. Labour is stable, but associated with the foreshore and seabed era. The same is not true of the Greens.

The Greens are now an accepted part of Maori political discourse. The Treaty is at the heart of the party and its policy is aimed at equality. After 173 years of inequality, Maori are hungry for structural change and the equality that the Greens promote.

The party affirmed its commitment to Maori in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti belection and Metiria Turei has been a consistent and prominent voice on Maori issues. If Maori voters are shopping around for a replacement, the Greens are the best alternative. The Greens are rising? 


  1. Was interested in your Green reference, so checked out the 2008 and 2011 results. In 2008 the average Green party vote in Maori electorates was 3.9%, but in 2011 that had grown to an average of 10.1%. In both elections Te Tai Tonga had the strongest Green party vote by a substantial margin.

    The Greens are still held back in the Maori seats by their relegation to 3rd or 4th place in the electorate battles, when they stand a candidate. But certainly, it seems a Green party vote is seen by Maori voters to be a viable alternative to Labour, Maori and Mana. It remains to be seen whether they can force their way into consideration as a major player though - it's a crowded field.

  2. "the Maori Party was a pan-Maori political party. That has failed."
    This is a very true statement, arguably the seeds of that failure existed from day one. There has never been a single kind of Maori politics. By defining itself as a party only for Maori it automatically placed a cap on its potential and therefore its influence.
    "Mana carved a position for the Maori working class"
    This is true - but by involving the likes of Sue Bradford, John Minto and others from day one it has shaped itself as a broader movement of the NZ working class while still retaining its Maori kaupapa and leadership. This makes sense politically - ultimately I can see the Mana movement occupying a place in the NZ political spectrum very similar to that of 'The Left' party in the German MMP system on which ours is based. They are currently the fourth largest party in the Bundestag.
    "If Maori voters are shopping around for a replacement, the Greens are the best alternative."
    I think historically a vote for Labour in the Maori electorates has been seen as a vote for change 'within the system' via high caucus rankings in the governing party. It is almost a certainty that the next Labour government will be a Lab/Green government so a party vote Green achieves that same objective but with party policy platform and voting history which is much better aligned with Maori interests. From a leadership and caucus ranking perspective it could be years before our first Maori leader of the Labour party whereas the Greens already have a Maori co-leader. Plus if even a small share of the membership and organising capability of Labour amongst Maori transferred allegiance to the Greens they would be able to change the shape and direction of the party even more in favour of Maori via the democratic list ranking and policy formation processes.

  3. I confess to have been somewhat optimistic about a National-Maori coalition producing some new dialogue and ideas across the divide, but I'm not informed enough to know whether much good came of it.

    I think we need to regard a vote for any potentially significant coalition parter as a vote for change "within the system" with the objective of increasing leverage. Further empowering the major parties just allows them to evade any issues that aren't convenient for them.

  4. I think your missing the elephant in the room - actually defining how relevant pro-Maori? separatist? politicians and their parties are too alot of Maori today. The shift of Maori from the Maori to the General roll is a clear indicator of how relevant this form of representation is to conscious kiwis of Maori heritage.

    1. I think its wrong to frame the Maori seats as separatist and I think the movement of some Maori from the Maori roll to the general roll is overblown. The majority of young Maori (those who are first enrolling) are enrolling on the Maori roll. The (small) exodus appears to be among older generations.

  5. What are the Greens policies around Tangata Whenua do they have any policies that promote Treaty principles where did they stand on the foreshore and seabed debate did they speak up and condemn their coalition partner Labour. Mana is the only clear alternative to the Maori party and is New Zealand fastest growing Political Party if Greens and Labour honestly believe they will get longterm ownership of Maori electoral seats is unrealistic.

    1. The Greens were strident in their opposition to the FSSB legislation. Green MPs protested on the steps of Parliament, condemned what they called a confiscation of Māori rights and customary ownership. They strongly asserted the rights and kaitiaki role of hapū to have responsibility for the FSSB and voted against the legislation passed by Labour. They were not and never have been part of a formal coalition government with Labour.

  6. You should research Green policies, visions, principles and activism and you will find that they have stood beside Maori on all those issues. And yes we certainly called Labour to account during the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election where we felt voters needed to be reminded of their failures for Maori. And Green Co-Leader Metiria Turei enjoys the respect of Te Ao Maori, especially wahine Maori, and especially people who don't enjoy the toxicity of the Mana/Maori Party relationship - and has been a consistent, credible and staunch advocate for our people.

    So no - voters beware - Mana is not and has never been the only clear alternative. Thankfully our people know this.

    1. I think the Greens have definitely been the only party that has tried to provide a clear picture of the complex situation for Maori in NZ. I've never seen any manufactured challenges on superficial grounds - i.e. how there's always meant to be a division between Maori (good) Non-Maori (bad) - and that's just the way it is etc. The Greens seem to be always aiming for equilibrium in social and economic justice. I think we Maori are due that respect.

    2. The Greens Maori policies are very light and fluffy they don’t tackle redress or affirmative action
      1) Reversal of the New Zealand settlements Act 1863 –cede vast tracts of land back to Iwi
      2) Stop the end date on Treaty settlements –Why should the culprit determine that date
      3) Entrench the Treaty of Waitangi into the Constitution
      4) suppress the Treaty hate movement -1law4all party, NZCPR, Treaty gate
      Policies around Taonga , health and hapu don’t make redress for the unmitigated disaster of colonisation
      I suggest you go back to the drawing board with those policies they are not to dissimilar to labours.

    3. "Suppress the Treaty hate movement -1law4all party, NZCPR, Treaty gate" - that's the beauty of a free and democratic society that tolerates those who hold different views Joe. Suppressing dissent usually strengthens it, exposing the flaws in the logic of those who hate the Treaty is a far more useful approach to neutralise the opposition - if we believe we are morally right then there is nothing to fear.

    4. Hear that silence that’s the greens speaking up against 1law4all the anti-maori party –Mana has published press releases by Te Hamua Nikora criticising them for burning copies of the Treaty of Waitangi at klan rallys. If Greens are really pro Maori grow some balls undermine these rednecks in the public arena.

    5. Good on Te Hamua for taking a stand against those crazy buggers.

  7. It's 'crises'. Jeez, what do they teach you at law school these days? :)

    1. Thanks :) - the perils of relying on spell check to do your editing.



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