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Sharples: MMP at Work - The role of parties

NZ Business and Parliament Trust; Legislative Council Chamber

Wednesday 8 November 2006; 3pm

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

“MMP at Work - The role of political parties in the MMP environment in Parliament; effectiveness and limitations”

Over the last three years, I’ve acquired a new area of expertise. Poll analysis.

I can remember when it started to the moment. 24 May 2004. The day before, we had held a hui a iwi at Hoani Waititi marae, to discuss the formation of the Maori Party.

A hui at which myself and Tariana were elected by the people, as co-leaders.

So while I was still reeling from the shock of this dramatic career move, I lapped up the poll results from the Marae digipoll held the next day.

It reported that out of the 1000 or so Maori surveyed, 61.7% of our people would vote for a new Maori Party if it was created. If we added the ‘undecided’ voters (16.4%) and the ‘don’t know’ (8.6%) it produced a stunning 86.7% of voters.

And yet, only three months earlier, the Marae DigiPoll, published February 29 2004, had reported 52% per cent of those on each roll backed Labour.

It was history in the making; and I have had the privilege of being part of it.

It is a history that I am honoured to be able to share with you today, in my focus on “MMP at Work - The role of political parties in the MMP environment in Parliament; effectiveness and limitations”. What I have chosen to do is to refer to the case of the Mighty Maori Party as a classic example of the MMP environment.

What that 2004 poll result showed was that tangata whenua are visionary and forward looking.

In 1993, Maori voted for MMP by a much higher margin than others. Today, ten years after the first MMP Parliament was elected in October 1996, it is an ideal time to be assessing as to whether their faith has been rewarded.

The MMP (mixed member proportional) voting system has been interpreted by Maori, to assist us in the path towards tino rangatiratanga, self-determination, through the means of indigenous political representation.

This is not a new call, that is associated with just the last decade under MMP.

Through the 1850s and 1860s Maori pressed for political representation as a right of British subjects. Four Maori seats were established, three in the North Island and one in the South, in time for the first elections for Maori members in 1868.

The first Maori MP to speak in this House, Tareha Te Moananui, rose on August 4 1868 and urged the government to enact wise laws to promote good, and for Maori and Pakeha to work together.

The opening debate of this leader of Ngati Paarau from the loins of Ngati Kahungunu, included the following:

it has occurred to me to propose to you that when you make a law, you should make it for me as well as for yourselves.

It has been laid down in the Scripture and also by your own law, that there should be one law for both of us."

Ironically, his speech was in te reo Maori, and his words were translated by an interpreter organised at the last minute. And here we are today, 138 years later, and the Maori Party is still fighting for simultaneous translation.

But the intent was clear, the vision to give representation for Maori, alongside that of Pakeha; the key motivation of our people in their desire for a Maori political movement, was to build on the sense of unity, integrity and affirmation of tangata whenua, for the best interests of Aotearoa.

This is a position which emerges from Te Tiriti o Waitangi – the belief that as partners to the Treaty, Maori should be guaranteed representation in the organs of kawanatanga or Government.

But there is the conflicting pressure – evidenced through the basis of the Treaty and international human rights law, that Maori must make the decisions about Maori representation.

At this very moment, after twenty years and more of activity, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is being discussed at the United Nations General Assembly. It states, and I quote:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to participate fully, if they so choose, at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures”.

But as analysts and Maori alike would confirm, our early days in this Parliament, with Maori MPs marginalized within the great Parliament, failed to deliver on the aspirations of the people.

Keith Sorrenson concluded: “the Maori members were little more than a token representation that enabled the pakeha members to salve their consciences while also relieving the Maori of much of their remaining land and autonomy.”

Indeed, the massive land confiscation following the 1860s wars; led the Kotahitanga movement to hold its own Maori Parliament.

The central challenge was how to ensure effective representation would be a guaranteed feature of the constitutional and political landscape – without being constrained by the controls of the mainstream party. Our rangatiratanga can never have true meaning when you are a minority in a mainstream party.

It is not as if there have not been opportunities, for Maori to hold the balance of power.

In 1946 and 1957 the Labour Party won the General Election, but with only four seats more than the National Party.

In 1946 Labour won 42 seats and National 38 seats, so it could be said that the four MPs from the Maori seats held the balance of power, in so far as that if they withdrew their support from Labour then Labour would not have enough seats to govern.

Similarly in 1957 Labour won 41 seats and National 39, so again the four Maori MPs could be said to have held the balance of power in that time.

And here we are today, when again; the Maori MPs could hold the balance of power.

If just one of the ten Maori MPs in Labour were to stand up with the Maori Party, and have the courage to stand up for their people, we could be exerting significant influence on this Parliament.

Because in the past, mainstream politicians have not taken this step in support of their people, in 1931, when Tu Kouru Ratana entered Parliament as the first Ratana independent MP, he was referred to as Ko Weehi Tuatahi – the first wedge in the door.

The pursuit of how best to achieve effective political representation for Maori has been decades in the making. The legitimacy of the representative institution and the electoral system has been the subject of ongoing debate in our parliaments of the marae. Our people have spoken passionately, mai ra ano, since that first wedge in the door – calling for the door to be thrown open.

And with the MMP system, popularly referred to by our iwi radio stations as More Maori in Parliament, the belief of our people was that our time had come.

A key driver for the establishment of the Maori party was the meaningful recognition of Maori political representation. We believe that this can only be achieved when we are working together under the same cultural framework. Our kaupapa, our tikanga was always relegated to being outside the realms of operations for any mainstream party.

Yet with a proudly Maori Party, we are able to proudly assert our traditions, our histories, our reo, our analysis – and have done – throughout every aspect of political debate without fear that the ninth floor will disapprove, or try to silence a different point of view.

When we look over the last year in Parliament, our four MPs have delivered 183 speeches on areas as varied as human organ donation; women in the armed forces; insolvency or climate change. Our catchcry is, every issue is a Maori issue.

The way in which we conduct parliamentary business is distinctive and independent, reflecting a world view guided by kaupapa and tikanga, that is Maori philosophy, values and customs. Imbued within those inherited principles are values which we believe to be of benefit to Maori and indeed the nation.

Our effectiveness within Parliament is reflected in the consistent focus on indigenous rights, and on establishing and defending the notion of partnership as being meaningful for both Maori and the Crown.

There are two particular pieces of legislation that I want to touch on which illustrate this.

The Gisborne District Council (Alfred Cox Park) Bill was introduced by Labour at the first reading as “non-controversial”. Indeed, we were condemned for stopping this so called ‘non-controversial’ bill going through the House in one sitting.

But when the Maori Party consulted the mana whenua, Rongowhakaata, we heard stories about how this very park represented the alienation of tupuna land taken from the people under the Public Works Act.

We asked the Parliament, is it really non-controversial to presume that the Rongowhakaata land was idle land, and there would be no great shame in using it as a dumping ground for the town’s rubbish?

We asked the Parliament to consider that it is the birth right of Rongowhakaata to be involved in the debates areas of such significance. We challenged the Parliament to consult with the local people to ensure their tribal histories; their aspirations are also included as relevant to the debate.

The second incident was a mere ‘Notion of Motion’; described as a technical amendment to do with the additional premises associated with parts of Bowen House. One could almost register the sense of annoyance that we would even consider it useful to add our ten minutes worth to Hansard, in speaking to this notice.

We rose to advise the Parliament that Bowen House has a 27b Memorial Title on the full building through the claim before the Tribunal from the Wellington Tenths Trust.

And in doing so, we paid tribute to those ancestors of Te Atiawa, Ngāti Tupaia, Taranaki and Ngāti Tama who were resident around this region in 1840. We rose to the debate, in our commitment that this Parliament must never forget the history and the significance of tangata whenua. The issues associated with land alienation, of properties with a Memorial on their title, the context of Treaty settlements, must not be ignored.

There are other signs, which indicate a different and distinctive style of politics is emerging. There is more reo being spoken in the House – even if some Members are constantly turning to the Standing Orders to see if there can be impediments brought to bear.

We have indeed become our own Masters of those orders, being able to remind the House, that the Speakers rulings declares and I quote “when a Members speaks in Maori, that Member does so of right”.

There are other changes that we are bringing to the Parliament. Our latest initiative is in researching the possibility of co-sponsoring a Bill with another party. We believe that if such an initiative can proceed, unhitched, it would be a true sign of the working demonstration of MMP in action.

It would be remiss, however, of me to suggest that the arrival of the Maori Party signals the success of MMP.

Political analyst Colin James has suggested that the tactical logic of MMP for Maori would be to have a separate Maori Party in the electorate seats, and Maori included on the lists of other parties. The parliamentary logic would be that if a separate Maori Party held all of the Maori electorates, the potential for leverage over government policy is obvious.

But in the current Government, with three of the Maori electorates effectively curtailed by the constraints of Labour rule, the possibilities for effective Maori political representation are held back. Those three Labour MPs must be loyal to the party at any cost –and the Foreshore and Seabed Bill is no greater example for Maori of the price of accepting mainstream candidature.

Our experience in the MMP parliament thus far, gives us little confidence that the ruling parties have had to change much in terms of how they involve and consult with other parties. At the end of the day, the numbers still rule, and the misuse of electoral representation to stifle out minority players can be just as evident in a MMP parliament as a First Past the Post.

Last week was a classic example – the announcement of terms of reference for a rating inquiry – which impacts greatly on Maori land; were relayed to us by the media. In much the same way that both our party and the Greens were stunned by the sudden interest in climate change policy – policy which both our parties have been actively speaking out in this Parliament.

However, I do believe that MMP has provided for a greater presence of small parties within the House.

For example, New Zealand First has no constituent members but its party vote has allowed for seven MPs to be active in the House. Similarly, the Party vote brings six Green Party members to Parliament, making them the fourth largest party.

In turn United Futures’ party vote increases their number from one constituency seat to three MPs; and Act with the Epsom seat as an extra MP from the list.

The presence of these smaller parties together with the Maori Party, adds an extra dimension to the negotiations around bills, and the debates within the chamber. These parties, in turn, hold the balance of power (in a manner of speaking) in that neither major party can pass legislation without the support of two or more of these smaller parties.

This inter-dependence of parties has resulted in greater discussion around bills, with a wide variety of views being presented.

Finally, the Maori Party welcomes the opportunity of MMP for more voices to be heard in this hall of power.

But here’s the crunch – we, the Maori Party, are bringing an independent and authentic Maori voice to this Parliament, that represents the voices of tangata whenua.

Over this last year, we have made three nationwide visits, to marae, to shopping malls, to supermarkets, to halls; feeding back to our constituency the nature of the political debate. We are revived and recharged through this process of intense political negotiation with our own – and we know that the advice we put forward in this place is better as a consequence.

We have the will and the belief; to take the risk to express the independent voice of Maori in an MMP Parliament, and slowly, but surely the door is wedged open, more widely.


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