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Tamihere: making the tough call on foreshore

John Tamihere: making the tough call on foreshore and seabed

Dominion Post column: making the tough call on foreshore and seabed

Associate Maori Affairs Minister John Tamihere explains his position on the foreshore and seabed (in his column in today's Dominion Post)

Life as a constituency MP, and in particular a Maori constituency MP, in a broad-based mainstream government can be tough at times.

When you first become involved in politics you arrive with passionately held views and a determination to achieve change for your constituents - and by no means should you ever forget or abandon the principles and the people that brought you into politics in the first place.

In opposition, you can rant and rave about everything that is terrible about the world, and if you can connect with people's feelings of angst, violation and frustration, you can lure them into believing that you are a good politician. It's easy to do; you just appeal to Kiwis' baser instincts, and they can be a thankless and ungrateful lot at times - just ask any All Black who hasn't brought home the World Cup in the last 20 years.

But when you are in government you are making decisions for all communities, so you have to be more careful and considered in making sure your actions best serve all New Zealanders, full stop.

Sometimes that responsible course of action on behalf of the country as a whole hits head-on with the intense views of the particular sector or ideology you may represent.

The solution is always a careful balancing act where compromise is accepted to the point where the greatest degree of fairness is achieved, without ever tipping the scales so far that you have departed from all principles that you were elected on in the first place. Serving a constituency based on an ethnic minority in a government which must reflect the wishes of the majority can at times bring these tensions into particularly sharp focus.

It can be a fraught and difficult business, but instead of insisting in a bloody-minded fashion on getting 100 per cent of what you want, you negotiate for what would be fair - for everyone.

So with the foreshore and seabed we could never achieve what the extremists wanted: Maori ownership of the foreshore and seabed. Nor could we do what the National Party wanted, which was to throw out the rule of law and strip Maori of their property rights. The balance won't please the extremists at either end of the spectrum, and on that basis it is probably about right in terms of fairness.

Let's be clear: a vote against the seabed and foreshore policy signed off by Cabinet is not just a breach of Cabinet collective responsibility, it is also a vote for Don Brash, and I would seriously doubt that Don Brash has a better deal for Maori than the Government does.

The representation of a diverse range of viewpoints and backgrounds has been one of the greatest hallmarks of this Government, and a certain amount of freedom of expression of that diversity is a healthy thing.

I would have to admit that reticence is not foremost among my character traits, and I would have to be leading the bunch if it came to a vote for "MP least likely to go on to a career in the diplomatic service", but there are limits that even the most temperamental ministers must accept if they are to remain in Cabinet.

There will be some who will say I should quit in protest at this so-called anti-Maori policy, but I can assure them I won't be doing that. If anyone has a problem with it, they can make their views known at the ballot box in 2005. But I somehow doubt that the views of the extremely vocal reconstructed feudal iwi elite on this issue speak for all my constituents.

So I will have to disappoint them by failing to put myself forward for martyrdom. The easiest thing to do would be to become a short-term hero and martyr. The trouble with martyrdom is that as soon as you have martyred yourself, those who were screaming for it quickly go on to screaming for the next martyr.

Political martyrdom would be futile, and in fact it would be tougher to stay and fight it out. At least inside the Government you have some chance of getting what your people need - almost certainly not all the things they need, but more than pseudo sainthood will ever achieve.

We need to be unleashing the huge and positive potential of our young people. We must focus on ensuring that, with nearly $1 billion in fishing assets being distributed, we become captains on the sunrise aquaculture industry. The challenge for Maori is to move in the next 10 years to embrace solutions for our people - we don't have time to waste by hanging on to victimhood.

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