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Derek Fox Hui Taumata Speech

Speech Notes

Derek Fox
Political Commentator

Hui Taumata

Waipatu Marae 1.30 pm
Karamu Road North Saturday 11 November 2000
Hawke’s Bay

I speak to you today as a Maori political commentator and editor of Mana Magazine. The proposition I put to you is that where Maori go New Zealand goes. We have enormous political power in this country. As far back as 1946, we held the balance of power between National and Labour. In 1996, through the New Zealand First Party, we again held the balance of power. The issue is not whether Maori have political power. It is how we choose to use it.

The Maori seats were first established by the Maori Representation Act in 1867. They were established out of political expediency and were meant to be temporary. They have endured. In the first election, in 1868, only two of the seats were contested – Eastern and Southern Maori – and the former was decided by a show of hands at a hui here in the Hawke’s Bay.

A slow start, but, by 1872, there was fierce competition for all four seats. By the 1887 election, interest in the seats meant over 200 polling booths were needed, some in the remote King Country and Urewera. In 1897, of course, the Te Aute Students Association was established and that led to the distinguished careers by leaders such as Apirana Ngata, Maui Pomare and Peter Buck. They rose to national prominence and sought to work with Pakeha politicians to improve the lot of Maori.

Then, in 1916 the New Zealand Labour Party was established. With the National Party that was later formed to oppose it, together they came to dominate New Zealand politics. Twenty years later, in 1936, Michael Joseph Savage and Tahupotiki Ratana sealed an electoral alliance. That is seen as the beginning of the close political relationship between Maori and Labour. Since then, Labour has dominated the Maori seats.

I want to look at what has happened to that relationship since 1972 – the year Norman Kirk became Prime Minister. Back in 1972, over 80 percent of people on the Maori roll voted Labour. That was the year Norman Kirk led his party to victory after more than a decade in Opposition.

Maori support for Labour in the Maori electorates dipped a bit in 1975 – the year Muldoon led National back to power. You can see the impact of the Mana Motuhake Party in 1981 when Labour’s support dipped to below two thirds. That was the year Muldoon won the election with fewer votes than Labour.

Maori returned to Labour in 1984, the year David Lange won the election. Since then, more and more Maori have turned away. By 1990, support for Labour had fallen significantly, and National returned to power. Maori support for Labour continued to fall, fall, fall. Labour did not return to office until it picked up again in 1999.

The message is clear. When Maori in the Maori electorates vote Labour, it tends to win. When we turn away from Labour, it tends to lose. I’m not sure Labour understands that. If they do, it makes the Government’s comments – that John Upton has shared with us – politically reckless.

Maori have been becoming more and more important politically. The 1971 census recorded just 227,000 New Zealanders who identified as Maori. From 1991, the census has asked people for iwi affiliation. You can see in this graph the strength of iwi. When people had an opportunity to affiliate with an iwi, the number of people identifying as Maori jumped. By 1996, nearly 580,000 New Zealanders identified as having Maori descent.

And the Maori population continues to grow. By 2010, there will be 680,000 people identifying as Maori. In percentage terms, Maori made up fewer than 8 percent of the New Zealand population in 1971. By 2010, we’ll be nearly 16 and a half percent. Around one in six New Zealanders will identify as Maori. Politically, we will be more powerful than ever before.

That makes the Maori seats more important than ever before. Going back to 1972, only about 55,000 Maori were on the Maori roll. There was a big jump for 1978 to 110,000. And, in general, the trend has been for a steadily increasing Maori roll. Last election there were 160,000 Maori on the roll.

Our growing population – and the growing numbers on the Maori roll – makes the Maori seats more important than ever before. Back in 1972, just three and a half percent of all New Zealand voters were on the Maori roll. Last election, it was nearly six and a half percent. Most importantly, we’re becoming ever more important to Labour.

In 1972, when Norman Kirk became Prime Minister, less than five percent – one in twenty – of his vote came from the Maori seats. Last year, over seven percent of Helen Clark’s vote came from the Maori seats. That’s about one in 14 of the votes she got. Some politicians may say – so what? – what’s seven percent of my vote? I bet you George Bush or Al Gore would have wanted that seven percent of their vote. Muldoon in 1981. Jim Bolger in 1993. I bet you they wouldn’t have sneezed at seven percent of their support either.

With Helen Clark’s problems with the business community and other groups, she would be wise to take this seven percent of her support seriously too. Seven percent of a party’s support base changes Governments. Again, as a political commentator, I find some of the comments John Upton has shared with us very telling.

Let’s see what the polls are saying. We are lucky to have data from UMR Insight, New Zealand’s leading polling organisation, with a client list that includes the National Business Review and the Labour Party.

In the six months before last year’s election, Labour had just 47 percent of the Maori vote – across all electorates, Maori and General. Helen Clark’s campaign appears to have worked – support leapt to 58 percent in the following six months. We know that must be pretty close to 100 percent accurate, because it is so close to the actual election night data. But, since May, Maori support has started to drop away back towards the 50 percent mark. I predict these numbers will get worse for Labour over the next few months.

There is a lot of talk about “gaps”. When it comes to the polls, the gaps aren’t too great. Maori, like the rest of New Zealand, are becoming increasingly worried about where the country is headed.

In September, 44 percent of Maori said they believed the country was heading in the wrong direction. That compares with just 40 percent who believe it is heading in the right direction, and 15 percent who were unsure. It’s a turnaround from when the Government was elected. Then, more than half of Maori believed the country was heading in the right direction.

With the economy, 45 percent of us expect the economy to get worse in the next 12 months. Only 38 percent of us believe the economy will improve, with 12 percent expecting it to stay the same. Six months ago, 58 percent of us believed the economy was going to improve, and only 21 percent thought it would get worse. The change suggests we feel let down.

The underlying reasons for the drop off in Maori confidence in the future? 77 percent of us expect interest rates to rise – the highest since the poll began. We’re worried about unemployment. Nearly half of us expect it to rise – a big jump from six months ago. There has also been a jump in the number of Maori who expect their standard of living to get worse. Nearly one in three of us worry it will get worse over the next 12 months, significantly more than around the time of the election.

Finally, I want to look at three key opinions. More than half of us believe the Government is not doing enough to address Maori social problems. We haven’t been convinced by the “closing the gaps” campaign. At the same time, a similar number of us believe race relations are getting worse. It’s a sharp jump. And it is the first time that UMR Insight polling has shown Maori to be as concerned about race relations as Pakeha. In the past, Maori have been much more optimistic about race relations. And finally, 71 percent of Maori believe the Treaty should be “very” or “fairly” important to Government decision making.

The polls are clear. We are worried about the future. We are worried about the economy. We do not believe the Government is addressing our people’s needs. We believe race relations are getting worse. And we believe in the Treaty. My assessment, as a political commentator, is that there is an opportunity for Maori to assert our political power. There is an opportunity to harness the concern the polls show.

Collectively, Maori need to decide whether to do that through an existing political party. We appear to be turning away from Labour. We need to assess whether that is wise. We need to assess whether another one of the parties might better meet our needs. We need to assess whether another political vehicle may be necessary to channel our growing political power and our growing concerns into real social and economic change for our people. Today, these are matters for discussion.


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