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Te Ururoa Flavell fighting the political clutter

Te Ururoa Flavell fighting the political clutter

(Originally published at http://www.themud.co.nz/#!te-ururoa-flavell-fighting-the-clutter/c1hkm)

Te Ururoa Flavell strongly maintains the Maori Party has made real policy gains through its involvement in the National-led Government over the past three years.

The Maori Party co-leader and Waiariki MP met The Mud to discuss Election 2014. Most of the talk focused on the difficulty the Maori Party was having in getting traction in a cluttered political landscape. Some commentators have labelled the Waiariki electorate as the key one to watch in this election.

“The hard part is winning the electorate battle,” he said. “People say we haven’t sold what we have done.”

He says the policy gains the party has made for Maori over the past three years through its influence in government include tax credits for families, parental leave and the extension of free doctor visits to children up to 13 years old.

He says the party’s influence is also apparent in the increased number of trade training places, and in his own gambling bill which, despite having to be amended, did change the rules to reduce harm.

He believes the Maori Party MPs may have focused so much on policy issues and influencing Government that it paid too little attention to both building and maintaining its public profile.

Will the party and Flavell pay the price for that approach at this election?

“The difference I’ve noticed from previous campaigns is that Maori politics [in 2014] is very much about personalities,” said Te Ururoa. “If you are well-known, you are going to be there or thereabouts, no matter if you are a good person or otherwise.

“She (Annette Sykes) is very well known here, she’s got a following and they’ve got a bit of a machine behind them this time, so I would expect her to be formidable.”

But Flavell dismisses Internet Mana as a party with a genuine Maori focus. “Everything we have done is about Maori. We would say Mana is actually a class party.”

He points out that the Maori Party, elected initially in a blaze of indignation about the foreshore and seabed legislation, spent its first three-year term in opposition. Its MPs concentrated on being a strong, independent Maori voice in Parliament with influence on decisions. They learned the ropes but achieved nothing in policy terms.

Re-elected, they found a different situation. “National didn’t need us (to govern),” Flavell said, but they invited the Maori Party to get involved. “The people said yes, you’ve got to be at the table,” he says.

He maintains the party’s agreement with National has delivered gains for Maori, but more recently may have worked against the party. As the co-leader and potentially the most senior MP if he and the party survive the election, Flavell is clear that if a Labour-led government offered the Maori Party a place at the table it would not be rejected out of hand.

“If they support our kaupapa and give us respect, of course we would (participate in a Labour-led government),” he says.

Asked about policy in this election campaign, Flavell illustrates the difficulty the Maori Party faces in “selling” itself to voters. The party has a different approach to policy, he says. Rather than announcing individual items such as free bus travel for schoolchildren, the party promotes whanau-oriented policies, such as improving the education system to work better for whanau with work on such aspects as adult literacy. Similarly, whanau ora is linked with an emphasis on warm houses and safe houses, including a reduction of domestic violence.

In a personality-oriented political world with simple one-line campaign promises, is the Maori Party approach good enough to win? A well-known political commentator (Jane Clifton) wrote how another small party leader, Peter Dunne, was “pathologically reasonable” – and his United Future Party hasn’t exactly gripped the imagination and loyalty of lots of voters.


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