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MMP is good for Maori

MMP is good for Maori

First published on Spectator.co.nz…

National’s hope of winning support from Maoridom is not based on a credible track record of delivering from Maori. The party is overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon and is regarded as unsympathetic to the plight of low-income Maori, particularly urban Maori.

Maori have always been a critical constituency for the Labour Party. Ever since Michael Joseph Savage forged a political marriage with Ratana, the Labour Party has embraced Maori as an important community of voters.

Labour’s Maori warriors have spanned the party for generations. Names such as Tirikatene, Wetere, Rata and Tapsell are names that are etched into Labour’s history like a totara tree forges roots in the earth.

Yet amidst the triumph of Labour’s marriage to Ratana came the tragedy of first-past-the-post. The electoral clout of Maoridom was ring-fenced into four Maori electorates – Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Maori.

Although Maori had the option of the general or the Maori roll, the electoral clout of Maori was never able to be fully applied in seats where large communities of Maori voters could sway the outcome of an electorate contest. Could Maori have made the difference and delivered Labour victories in seats like Northland, Papakura, Tarawera, and Waitotara? We’ll never know.

But MMP has delivered new opportunity. But along with opportunity comes danger. Sadly Maori were one of the early casualties of MMP.

The first MMP election saw the five Maori electorates fall to New Zealand First. The swing against Labour was astonishing. The move did not represent an abandonment of the principles of the Labour Party. Rather is represented a seduction of Maori by a new political force led by one of New Zealand’s most unique political actors, Winston Peters.

Yet only weeks after deciding to move away from Labour in 1996, Maori found themselves welded into a coalition between National and New Zealand First. The irony of this arrangement was lost on no one. Jim Bolger, ever keen to find a friend in politics, found himself returned as Prime Minister by virtue of the fact that he could count of the Maori electorate MPs to provide him with a majority in the House.

Maori were outraged. Right from the time that Peters announced his intention to coalesce with National, Maori began to again line up with Labour. From the word go the seeds of the conservative government’s defeat in 1999 were being sown.

But beyond the drama of 1996, several other new Maori MPs were elected to parliament. Georgina te Heuheu became National’s first Maori woman MP by virtue of her high place on the party list, as did Donna Awatere-Huata for Act, and Alamein Kopu for the Alliance. Despite losing the Maori seats to New Zealand First, four Maori list MPs were elected for Labour - Dover Samuels, Nanaia Mahuta, Tariana Turia, and Joe Hawke.

But politics is more than numbers. It’s also about policies and achievements. Very little was achieved for Maori during the time of the National-New Zealand First coalition. The coup that saw Jim Bolger fall to Jenny Shipley sparked the demise of the marriage of convenience. Soon a new vehicle of political opportunism – Mauri Pacific – was formed.

Led by Tau Henare (now standing as the National candidate for Te Atatu), Mauri Pacific contained all the elements that Maori despised – political opportunism, a lack of philosophy, expediency and an inability to articulate any policy position that was non-negotiable. All Mauri Pacific MPs (coincidentally all of whom were elected as New Zealand First MPs in 1996) were defeated in 1999.

Maori decided to opt for the party that had always stood at the front of the pack on Maori issues – Labour.

The party’s triumph in 1999 included the election of five new Maori MPs. John Tamihere, Parekura Horomia, Mahara Okeroa, Mita Ririnui, and Georgina Beyer, a Maori woman who is also the world’s first transsexual MP, joined the four sitting Labour Maori MPs.

The tragedy of 1996-99 has been replaced by two and a half years of steady gain for Maori. Three Maori MPs – Sandra Lee, Horomia, and Turia – are Ministers. Samuels, rehabilitated after being sacked in 2000, is a parliamentary under-secretary outside of cabinet. On the government backbenches, Tamihere possesses the intellect and savvy necessary to propel him into the executive in the near future.

With the centre-left set for re-election in 2002 the agenda of the Labour-led government looks set to dominate New Zealand politics for another parliamentary term. That’s good news for Maori who are benefiting from the government’s economic and social policies.

Income-related rents for low-income state tenants, many of who are Maori. Cheap rent means more money to spend on items such as healthy food and prescription medicine.

Jim Anderton’s jobs machine has focussed attention on the economic development of regional New Zealand, thus providing the stimulus to create jobs and wealth in areas previously neglected by the last National government. Economic growth in regions such as the Waikato, Taranaki, the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast is good news for Maori.

Special Housing Action Zones (SHAZ) designed to improve housing in Northland, East Cape, and the Bay of Plenty will undoubtedly have a positive affect on rural Maori. The Community Renewal programme, launched by Housing Minister Mark Gosche, is a positive initiative that will benefit residents – many of whom are Maori – living in Aranui, (Christchurch), Clendon (Manukau City), and Fordlands (Rotorua). Neither the SHAZ nor the Community Renewal programme initiatives would have been possible under a National led government. But such initiatives are commonplace under a Labour-led government that regards intervention as both a positive and necessary role for central government.

National and Act have rallied against such initiatives. In so doing the parties are rallying against initiatives that work in the best interests of Maori. This merely serves to help consolidate Labour’s vice-like grip on the Maori vote.

National leader Bill English is reportedly keen to try and again support from Maori. Although National’s hope of winning support from Maoridom is not based on a credible track record of delivering from Maori. The party is overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon and is regarded as unsympathetic to the plight of low-income Maori, particularly urban Maori.

But for Maoridom the courtship creates an opportunity to promote initiatives that benefit Maori families. Fortunately Maori are well represented by the current government, which recognises the intrinsic importance of Maoridom within New Zealand society.

MMP has delivered more Maori MPs, including more representation in the executive. Despite the protestations of National and Act, the government has continued to adopt policies which are providing Maori with the opportunity to access education and training, access quality and affordable accommodation, and gain meaningful employment. That is a significant achievement, and an illustration that despite the early hiccup that is New Zealand First (and Mauri Pacific thereafter), MMP is working for Maori.

Send your comments to:Spectator News Editor.
© Spectator News Agency, Multimedia Investments Limited, 2002.

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