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Turia: Parliamentary Seminar - MMP at Work

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Parliamentary Seminar : MMP at Work

Tēnā koutou katoa.

I am glad to be able to speak with you today about the role of political parties in the MMP environment in parliament.

It is, indeed, a subject dear to my heart as I approach the end of my sixth term in Parliament, and a particular milestone in my political career as I transition from the drama and challenge of the debating chamber, to the adventures of going home to the great world of my whānau.

I am part of the Class of 96 – those MPs who entered parliament on 12 October 1996; a significant date in that it marks the first election held under the new MMP electoral system.

My peers at that time, all first time MPs included:

Labour MPs Tim Barnett, Marian Hobbs, Joe Hawke; Dover Samuels and Vui Mark Gosche; Nanaia Mahuta

NZ First MPs Peter Brown, Ron Mark, Doug Woolerton (whom I had a great relationship with) and the late Brian Donnelly;

National MPs John Carter, Arthur Anae, Georgina te Heuheu, Gerry Brownlee; Pansy Wong and Dr Wayne Mapp;

ACT MP Rodney Hide (who would spend question-time telling me the most hilarious stories), Muriel Newman; Donna Awatere-Huata

Alliance MPs Rod Donald, Phillida Bunkle, Pam Corkery, Laila Harre, Jeanette Fitzsimons and the late Alamein Koopu.

As I think back over those 25 names – and there were more – who made up the roll call on that first day of the 45thParliament, there is a distinctive difference in that first MMP Parliament compared to the former First-Past-the-Post regimes.

The 44th Parliament had opened with a mere four seats being held by minor parties - in the 45th Parliament minor parties held 39 seats.

Within the term of the 1996 team other minor parties would emerge – Alamein Koopu became an independent MP and then leader of Mana Wahine Te Ira Tangata. In 1997 the Greens decided they would stand alone at the next election leaving Mana Motuhake and the Democrats as distinct components of the Alliance brand.

And of course another distinctive aspect of the 1996 elections was that under MMP for the first time the number of Māori seats was determined by the number of Māori choosing to be on the Māori electoral roll - rather than the general roll. The number of Māori seats rose to five in 1996, six in 1999 and seven in 2002 and it remains at seven today. In addition, other Māori were elected to general electorate or party list seats.

It is this area in particular – the impact of Māori politicians and political parties – that I want to focus on today.

I am somewhat uniquely placed in having sampled the full spectrum of political roles under MMP:

• first as a List MP in 1996 with Labour;

• an electorate MP and Cabinet Minister for Labour from 1999 to 2004;

• an independent MP from 30 April 2004 to 27 July of that year when I became the first Māori Party MP to enter the House;

• a co-leader of the Māori Party from 2004; a position I have remained in ever since;

• and completing the circle with ministerial roles as a coalition partner since 2008 with the National Government.

Another important context to note is that in the first six MMP elections no single party won more than half the seats in Parliament. All the governments formed under MMP during the period from 1996 to 2011 have been coalition governments – more often than not, minority governments with less than 50% of the seats in the House.

MMP therefore, is ripe with opportunity. It is like the well-loved story of the little tugboat that could. You might remember the tale of Scuffy – the little tugboat that wished for bigger things.

His journey took him firstly into a meandering brook which grew into a bustling stream which turned into a small river and finally a larger river.

And I can tell that story because I am a river person!

The Māori Party has that same attitude – we do because we can.

Not for us the sidelines of opposition; the reserve bench from which we are faced with limited options – throwing stones, calling names, dreaming the impossible dream.

Our founding president, Matua Whatarangi Winiata always cautioned us against wasting the opportunity that New Zealanders had elected us to take up. His sage advice was to get in, boots and all, and do everything possible to create change for the better.

This year is our tenth year of this strategy – the strategy to take the call, to step up to the challenge, to make MMP work. We have disregarded the mechanism of megaphone politics – that is, the type of politicians who like to prioritise the value of media engagements over and above the hard grind of preparing policy proposals, submitting budget applications, amending legislation, and drafting new bills.

In fitting then with our ten year strategy, I want to share ten ideas about how the Māori Party has made the best of MMP in our mahi.

The first approach is ‘transformation of thinking’. This is a strategy in which we have given emphasis to the importance of attitudes and behaviours as the platform for social change. In the disability sector I have advocated for an approach called ‘enabling good lives’. The basic premise is that disabled persons should determine the shape of what they need to have a greater life – whether it be in individualised funding; in encouraging our society to think differently about disability; or an idea called circle of friends in which we value the natural supports.

Other examples of the transformational strategy are seen in Tataiako- guidelines for cultural competency in schools; or the constitutional review. And of course most important of all has been Whānau Ora – which I believe to be the most significant change we have brought to this place – essentially it is about believing in the capacity of our people to do for themselves; appreciating the potential of the family to determine what is best for them and successive generations.

The second concept is that the Māori Party has championed innovation. We look to the amazing ideas that are found in local solutions. We promoted Computers in Homes and Computer Clubhouse to provide opportunities for every day New Zealanders to enjoy the liberation of their own learning.

We have recently negotiated a new investment in establishing a Centre of Māori Research Excellence; and in a Māori innovation fund in economic development – embracing the idea that innovation is a springboard for self-determination; controlling your own future.

The third value that the Māori Party has demonstrated in our application of MMP is to think collectively. In literacy terms, we have introduced reading together in decile one to five schools; knowing that the learning of our children is intimately associated to the learning of their family.

We have taken up the challenge of trade training for Māori and Pasefika young people in which a consortium of training providers, iwi, Pasifika churches and wider community come together, with the goal to create work and meaningful employment.

One of our distinctive legacies in the MMP environment has been in applying indigenous models. Before our relationship we government we had introduced private members bills to raise the debate around Matariki and Puanga – the Māori new year. We have taken up petitions to bring our histories alive – the global model that Parihaka provides of passive resistance. In the family violence space I have been excited by the momentum of Ngā Vaka o Kaiga Tapu – seven specific Pacific models for addressing violence within their own cultural contexts.

A fifth key value we have brought to the table is the importance of building resilience. It was the Māori Party that negotiated to set up a Ministerial Committee on Poverty – from which means we have seen investment in home insulation; warrant of fitness for rental housing; micro-financing to reduce the impact of loan sharks; and of course the recent $90m extension to enable children under 13 free access to GPs and prescriptions.

My sixth strategy for utilising MMP has been in championing mana whenua. We often ask, who do we bring with us, when we are talking about any particular issue. When the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority was set up we negotiated a pivotal role for Ngāi Tahu to be at the table in future design and development decisions. We are vigilant about te mana o te wai – knowing that tangata whenua take seriously our responsibilities to protect the environment for future generations.

The seventh strategy is what I call rectifying the wrong. In some cases it is remedying the errors of previous administration – we repealed the foreshore and seabed bill; and addressed the fatal blunder that the Labour government had created in 2007 by failing to sign up to the International Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples.

Dr Sharples went to New York in 2010 and proudly signed on the dotted line for New Zealand.

In other cases it may be actions the current government has taken – a very recent example is that of enviro-schools which had been cut from the government’s agenda. Representatives from the movement came to parliament yesterday especially to thank the Māori Party for an amazing initiative that is now thriving in some 950 schools in our country - 30% of the school network; 40% of the kura.

The eighth wonder is a focus on access and inclusion. The Māori Party has taken up every opportunity to open the doors to parliament in the widest sense, to allow the people in. Every year we have the Coalition Convention who report and monitor the progress against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons from the views of Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission and disabled persons directly.

We have also enabled iwi leaders the chance to have direct access to Ministers.

We have negotiated with Internal Affairs to promote marae accessibility to ensure all people have access to our tribal spaces. In the Māori electoral participation area we have worked with other parties across the House to increase the profile of encouraging enrolment and participation in voting.

The ninth strategy is around leveraging on our role as a coalition partner to make sure the hard issues are tackled. My particular passion has been for tobacco reform - to address the hard edge reality that 5000 New Zealanders a year are dying from tobacco overuse.

We have challenged the parliament to consider the impact of institutional racism; as Associate Minister of Health I made sure that the third world condition of rheumatic fever was brought out into the open; we have made family violence a priority; suicide prevention; disparities and deprivation.

Finally, one of the unique differences we have brought to parliament in our first ten years is to promote and protect te reo Māori. My colleague Te Ururoa Flavell worked illustriously to introduce in 2010 the means by which te reo Māori into English was made available in the House and galleries, and on Parliament TV.

Dr Pita Sharples’ last key announcement will be around the Māori Language Strategy; our recent budget gave priority to sustaining iwi radio as a means of keeping our language alive.

Our view is that language is absolutely tied to iwi – to your dialect – to the essence of who you are. No other iwi can teach an iwi their own dialect.

This quick gallop of ten immediate differences that we have brought to Parliament doesn’t do justice to the huge range of ways in which the Māori Party has been able to have influence as an MMP Party. In fact, on 9 June – ten years to the day after which we had first lodged our registration papers to form a party – we launched our #100gainsin100days initiative – which shares 100 different ways in which we have been able to positively make a difference. I figured however, that there probably wasn’t long enough on the programme for me to talk about the other ninety gains - I’ll leave that for you to google!

Coalition MMP Parliaments requires a new type of politics – the politics of engagement and respect as opposed to the politics of attack and negativity.

We have relied heavily in our Government role on the opportunity provided by the ‘agree to disagree’ clause in the Relationship Accord. I firmly believe that diversity and unity are compatible as long as there is a level of respect in the relationship. I think that has been incredibly important in our relationship.

Finally, I want to just note that in the 2011 review of MMP, the greatest support to keep MMP came from Māori voters. A breakdown of the electorates showed the seats where MMP was most popular by percentage support were the seven Māori electorates.

And I think the reason for that is partly explained through the evidence many whānau have seen demonstrated of a strong and independent voice for Māori being influential in policy, budgetary and legislative change.

We have a whakatauki which the colours of the Māori Party logo derives our strength from :

Kotahi te kohao o te ngira e kuhuna ai te miro mā, te miro pango, te miro whero.

In essence, the wisdom of the then Māori King, Potatau te Wherowhero, can be interpreted to mean: ‘Through the eyes of the needle pass the white threads, the black threads and the red threads. Afterwards, looking to the past as you progress, hold firmly to those things that are important to you, your love, the law and your faith.’

It is a message of MMP – a reminder to be proud of our distinctive identities while still coming together for a common goal.

It instils in us all the inspiration and the challenge to be proactive; to be prepared to negotiate; to argue; to stand up for what we know to be right. We have the greatest chance in this place to be true representatives of the people who elected us into our roles.

We must always honour that trust they have placed in us to speak up for them; to be bold; to be brave and fearless in doing all that we can to make politics count for the people.

ENDS


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