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The Letter - 26 April 2004

The Letter

Monday 26 April 2004


With parliament in recess the country was politically very quiet last week. But in NZ there are now two nations. In the Maori country there is political ferment. A huge debate is raging within Maoridom over the foreshore, the future of Labour’s Maori MPs and the possibility of by-elections followed by the formation of a new Maori party. No government risks sending the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister on a visit to Tainui, and public failure, unless the stakes are so high they have no choice.


If both Tariana and Nanaia Mahuta resign, Labour would lose its majority in Parliament (with United, Labour has just 60 MPs). A by-election would knock Labour off its agenda. Labour is not sure it would win either by-election. When Matt Rata resigned causing a by-election he nearly won – and he did not have the foreshore issue.


The Letter believes the May Budget is Labour's election Budget. It is a Father Christmas Budget, designed to win Labour the beneficiary vote. The memory of beneficiaries is notoriously short. Labour does not want another winter election, which points to an election no later than April. A by-election would be a huge distraction.


While The Letter is sure Nanaia Mahuta is going to cross the floor on the foreshore issue, we doubt she will cause a by-election. No one including Tariana knows what that Minister will do. Her claim that she wants to follow the advice of her constituency is nonsense. The electorate has made it clear they will support whatever she decides.

While Labour ministers claim in caucus, and in cabinet committees, that Tariana makes a valuable contribution, The Letter is sceptical. Tariana’s contribution to parliamentary debates is non-existent. Her controversial speeches outside parliament show a complete lack of intellectual rigour. Providing she does not cause a by-election Helen Clark would not miss her from the Ministry.


The Rowling Labour government was rocked by Dame Whina Cooper’s Maori land march in 1975. When that land march started there were just 50 marchers at Cape Reinga, by the time it got to Auckland, the Harbour Bridge had to be opened for walking across, and some 3000 Maori reached parliament. Media report 300 to 500 marchers started from Cape Reinga last week. But there were two foreshore Hikoi that began marching last week and the combined number was 1000. Each iwi affected by the foreshore legislation will be starting their own Hikoi to arrive in Wellington on 5 May, the date the legislation is to be debated. On Tuesday when the northern Hikoi reaches the Auckland Harbour Bridge we will get a gauge of Maori opinion.


Murray McCully, in his news sheet, has been claiming the Nielsen ratings show no one is watching Maori TV. The Letter notes that Nielsen does not support this claim. Similar claims were made about the listening audience for the 22 iwi radio stations but when Massey University conducted a door-to-door survey, it was found that each day iwi radio has a listening audience of some 200,000. NZ has two news services: mainstream media giving one version, and iwi radio and Maori TV giving another. The two news broadcasts are so different they could be describing different nations. The items that lead the general news are often not even reported in the Maori news and vice versa. 30 years ago when Dame Whina was making her land march it was very difficult for Maori to communicate. Co-ordinating marches that are starting in different places, and at different times, so they all arrive together, is only possible because there are 22 iwi stations all networked from news. As Herald columnist Ruth Berry observed on the weekend, Labour may now be regretting that Maori TV is broadcasting.


NZ in the 21st century is going to be much more difficult to govern. Interestingly, Dame Whina’s Maori land march had no effect on Labour's Maori electorate vote. In Labour's 1975 smashing defeat the Labour vote in some Maori electorates increased. The public's concern over the sight of Maori protesters crossing the Auckland Harbour Bridge caused electoral damage in the general seats.


Maori and pakeha have two completely different views on the foreshore legislation. To Maori it is a denial of their right under the Treaty of Waitangi to have Crown protection of their property: a denial of their right to be able to go to court; another Maori land grab. To non-Maori the bill is racial preferment. The bill’s creation of a new legal concept – ancestral connection – will enable Maori to claim ancestral connection to the nation’s entire foreshore. In the Maori Land Court hearings on the claim there will be no right for non-Maori to be heard. Once ancestral connection status is awarded it is forever, and those who have that status will have a virtual veto power over all foreshore development. Ancestral connection is not the same as a common law ownership, which requires continuous occupation. Under the bill the requirements for ancestral connection will be whatever the activist Maori Land Court says they are and there will be no right of appeal. The foreshore legislation gives Maori far more rights than anything they won in the Marlborough court case.


Over 88% of The Letter readers favour a free trade agreement with China in last week’s poll. This week, a survey: “Have you in the last week watched Maori TV?” Visit to answer and we will send the result to Maori TV.


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