Maori Party faces extinction

DAVE ARMSTRONG
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2013

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Dave Armstrong

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OPINION: Imagine a football team that regularly attracts 23,000 fans to the Cake Tin then, after a run of bad results, can only drag in 600 supporters.

I'm not talking about the Phoenix – they never regularly attracted more than 20,000 fans.

Such dismal results would normally see a team's players and coach fired – unless it was Ricki Herbert, who seems to have such a water-tight contract that even a 7-1 loss is not seen as grounds for dismissal.

This "team" I'm talking about is the Maori Party, though given the recent leadership tensions, I'm not sure "team" is a good word to use.

In 2005, fresh from the Seabed and Foreshore hikoi, the Maori Party could boast more than 20,000 members. Commentators were predicting a sweep of the Maori seats and a list vote in double figures.

A few dissenting voices argued that a race-based party had no long-term future, as Left-Right divisions would eventually paralyse it. These critics were largely ignored, yet they seem to have been proved right.

In 2008, when John Key offered the Maori Party a place in government as support party, it was a brilliant move – for National. It allayed fears that Mr Key would continue the dividing, anti-Maori rhetoric of Don Brash, and National's ratings soared.

Many Right-wing Pakeha didn't trust the Maori Party and worried that they would soon withdraw support for the Government.

This didn't happen. Compared to the ructions in ACT, the Maori Party, with the exception of the skirmish with Ngapuhi renegade Hone Harawira, behaved perfectly well.

Their leaders, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, ably assisted by the competent Te Ururoa Flavell, buckled down and tried to help their people while supporting the Government on confidence and supply.

They believe that policy gains they have made on such major issues as seabed and foreshore and whanau ora greatly outweigh minor irritations for Maori such as an increase in GST, lower wages, high unemployment, increased childcare costs, punitive benefit changes and the sale of state assets, to name just a few.

The Maori Party would rightly argue that they have opposed some government policies and that this government could still rule without their support. True, but that's a bit like saying if you think Don Brash is a redneck, check out what John Ansell has to say.

Since 2005, the Maori Party has lost more members than most iwi did during the musket wars, so there have been mounting calls for young blood. Many want Te Ururoa Flavell to assume the co-leadership.

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I would hardly describe the 57-year-old Mr Flavell as youthful.

The party is meant to represent a people with a very young demographic, yet we get old-style kaumatua and kuia MPs whose entire knowledge of issues for the rangatahi seem to be gained from their mokopuna.

Don't believe me? Try following either of the co-leaders on Twitter.

During the Te Tai Tokerau by-election debates, I worried that if the hall microphone clapped out, Hone Harawira would whack it and blame Pakeha colonialism and Labour's Kelvin Davis would quietly set about trying to check the wiring, and the Maori Party candidate would simply wax lyrical about how better life in the Far North was before electricity.

I don't think the Maori Party has achieved a lot for its people, which is sad. Pita Sharples is, or at least was, a talented politician with a visionary approach to Maori language and education. Before the last election the likeable co-leader destroyed Don Brash in a television debate and convinced many Right-wing Pakeha that he was a politician capable of uniting, not dividing.

Yet what has Dr Sharples achieved as associate minister of education? and Hekia Parata's cock-ups make the front page, the most talented member of this ministerial educational trio seems to be absent.

The native affairs debate on Maori Television, held at the end of last year, showed that New Zealand has some excellent Maori politicians across the parties. But unless the Maori Party revitalises and regenerates, and moves away from its comfortable National Party habitat, it could go the same way as the moa and the huia.

- The Dominion Post

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