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Interview: Willie Jackson Talks Pan-Maori Politics

A pan-Maori party: an exciting new vision or a pipe dream?

Interview with Mana Motuhake leader Willie Jackson who’s called for the formation of a new Maori party
By Malcolm Aitken

In the midst of the bitter political wrangle over Maori customary rights and ownership of New Zealand’s foreshores and seabed, former Alliance party deputy leader and leader of Mana Motuhake, Willie Jackson, has called for the formation of a new ‘grand coalition’ Maori political party, claiming that Labour has let Maori down. Mr Jackson told Scoop he intends to meet former Maori Television chief Derek Fox, Waitangi Fisheries Commission chairman Shane Jones and Mana Maori party leader Angelene Greensill soon to discuss options. He says they would have to ‘get their act together’ by early 2004 to be in with a realistic chance of success.

Maori Labour MP and former minister of Maori Affairs Dover Samuels has responded to Jackson’s comments: ‘It's not very effective sitting on the outside. Maori have seen this carrot before but it won't work.’

A spokesman for Prime Minister Helen Clark reportedly played down concerns that voters might desert Labour for a new party. "The people at the hui [in Blenheim last Saturday] who have advocated that position have never supported the Labour Party. The bottom line is that we will not be accepting the Maori sovereignty line that was being pushed.’

Scoop spoke with Jackson, a former MP who’s backing the controversial stance that Maori should be granted foreshore ownership, about the challenge of aggregating Maori political aspirations, and more.

Scoop: You want a separate Maori party. What should be the primary goals of such a party?

Willie Jackson: We want a better health system for our people, much better treaty settlement principles, a better education system. I am not in favour of user pays. It’s a matter of real focus in terms of prioritising Maori issues…we must be very strong on the foreshore and customary rights…we don’t have to compromise on that. Lindsay Perigo asked me recently ‘why don’t you just join the Labour Party?’ Because first and foremost Maori in the Labour Party must answer to the Labour Party…I know this from being in the Alliance…that is why Mana Motuhake was pulled out of the Alliance.

Scoop: Maori, like Pakeha, have diverse opinions on economic policy, on creating more jobs, reducing hospital waiting lists, industrial relations and reducing crime-let alone Tiriti o Waitangi and settlements, the foreshore and seabed issues. How can one party represent such divergent views?

Willie Jackson: Pakeha parties represent diverse ideas. Look at Labour…you have the Maori radical lot, the homophobic lot, the homosexual lot…a Maori party has to be set up along similar lines, we need to embrace the diversity of our people. We can’t contain ourselves to marches to Wellington…we want people who are in the National Party and ACT…I hooked up with Donna Awatere recently and told her she was wasting her time in ACT…she has a very pro-Maori agenda. I don’t agree with some of her philosophies…but…

Scoop: With respect, Mana Motuhake has had its successes, but you haven’t really done very well electorally. Isn’t making the creation of a better future for Maori contingent upon the success of a new political party making it contingent upon an electoral miracle?

Willie Jackson: Politics is all about risk. I think that [a new Maori party] has to be a grand coalition. It’s not just Mana Motuhake and Mana Maori…. we need to amalgamate all the groups.

Scoop: You claim Labour has let Maori down, yet it was under a Labour Government that Waitangi claims were made retrospective, Labour made Maori an official language, Kohanga Reo was brought in by Labour. How can you say Labour has let Maori down?

Willie Jackson: Labour is the best of a bad bunch. Maori MPs with Labour are doing as much as they can. National are on a Pauline Hanson-type crusade…they always have been. New Zealand First would get rid of everything related to the Treaty of Waitangi and I’m not quite sure where the Greens are coming from. I do not completely condemn Labour Maori politicians…you can only do so much. The most effective Maori politicians in Government are John Tamihere and Tariana Turia. I have been disappointed with some things with Labour, but we have come up reasonably well under them [however] Maori spending is still very low… the Maori vote [for] kaupapa…was pathetic in terms of the overall budget.

I was very proud of the Maori MPs when they voted in a block earlier on, but I know they always have the opportunity to stand up against their party…I know this from my own experience.

[But]…if Labour conceded to Maoridom it would not get back in in 2005…if they had of gone down the path some of our people want, they would have committed electoral suicide.

Scoop: Do you think your suggestion of a new Maori party will worry the Government?

Willie Jackson: They don’t seem to be too worried. Since I left parliament I have been working towards getting all Maori parties under one banner. Dover Samuels loves waffling on…he would be in trouble if we stood against him in the north. [But] Labour can dismiss all they want…We have got to [have a party which] embraces all areas of Maoridom…Maori with different philosophies…not just left wing people. We can’t restrict ourselves to being some tino rangatiratanga [Maori independence] party; we can’t be a one-issue party either. [It would be good] if this foreshore issue was the catalyst for some Maori to start walking the talk…I have been surprised by the number of calls from people who have said they would support me. Mana Motuhake could merge into something else. We should form a collective kaupapa…if we had a grand coalition we could win Te Tai Tokerau for example…I think these seats are vulnerable and winnable. Dover Samuels would be worried if one strong candidate stood up against him in the north…I am a realist, I am under no illusion about what it takes to begin a party.

**** Ends ****

Malcolm Aitken is a Wellington freelance journalist. E-mail:

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