Is Hone Harawira the saviour of Maori politics?

SIMON DAY
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2013
Hone Harawira
David White/Fairfax NZ

RADICAL: Hone Harawira doesn’t care that he doesn’t ‘‘fit what people think a politician should be’’.

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Hone Harawira is an activist first, then a politician. But after seven years in office, he has begun to channel his radical roots and now he and his Mana Party are poised on the edge of something potentially greater than he has previously been able to achieve.

"I've watched good people enter Parliament and have their hopes and dreams crushed by boring party politics and even more boring parliamentary procedure. That's not me and that's not Mana," Harawira says.

The Maori Party may be on its last legs. Leadership spats and by-election failures mean Te Ururoa Flavell is the only one of its three current MPs who will stand in the 2014 general election.

Labour's Meka Whaitiri won the Ikaroa-Rawhiti seat left vacant by the death of Parekura Horomia and the party is mounting a renewed bid to win back all the Maori seats next year, prompting Harawira to call for the Maori Party to consider a union with Mana to prevent a Labour clean-sweep. Such a union is seen by many as the only way to preserve a pan Maori party, but the chances of Harawira and Flavell being able to work together are slim.

There is no love lost between the pair. And, while Flavell is seen as a moderate, Harawira remains very much true to his activist roots.

"Mana is what the Maori Party was supposed to be - the independent voice for Maori, the fighter for te pani me te rawakore [the poor and the dispossessed]," Harawira says of the party he helped found.

Harawira wants Mana to win at least three Maori electorate seats next year, including Flavell's.

"It is definitely Te Tai Tokerau, it is definitely Wairakei, and it is clearly Ikaroa-Rawhiti. If Te Ururoa ends up being the only one left in the Maori Party then we have a very good chance of taking the seat," he says.

And Mana candidate Annette Sykes does have a good chance of finding the 1800 votes needed in Wairakei to push the Maori Party into political irrelevancy, according to one political commentator.

"Their main task now is to kill off Flavell's chances in that seat, and that is their way of monopolising the Maori vote. And from what I hear, the Mana Party is throwing everything into that seat," says Otago University politics professor, Bryce Edwards.

Harawira was raised as a radical, sometimes aggressive, advocate for Maori. His mother, Titewhai Harawira, organised the 1975 land march to Wellington, led by Dame Whina Cooper. She fought for the preservation of the Maori language at the Privy Council. She did landmark work in Maori health.

Hone Harawira took quickly to activism. He was part of the 506-day occupation of Bastion Point. He led the Patu Squad against the 1981 Springbok tour. He attacked Auckland University students for mocking the haka.

Then, in 2004, he led the hikoi to Parliament to protest the foreshore and seabed legislation, which led to the birth of the Maori Party and moved Harawira's activism into the political mainstream.

But Harawira has never been able to leave his activist past at the doors of Parliament. Last year, at a protest over relocation of state housing in Auckland, he became the first politician to be arrested for political action since 1951.

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"I don't really care that I don't fit what people think a politician should be and I don't ever want Mana to be like any other political party," Harawira says.

Yet at times that activism has threatened to descend into thuggery. His mother's achievements have been overshadowed by scandal, including a nine-month prison sentence in 1988 for beating a psychiatric patient, and her annual interruptions at Waitangi.

Hone Harawira's radical statements - such as his 2009 description of Pakeha as "white motherf...ers", and his 2010 declaration that he would not be comfortable with his daughter dating a Pakeha - attract more attention than his community work in Kaitaia.

He endorsed his nephews' aggressive Waitangi Day challenges to the prime minister that resulted in an assault conviction. And then the Harawira family was back in court last week, where four of his nephews were convicted in two separate incidents of violent crime.

Harawira says he condemns his nephews' crimes. "Thuggery is thuggery. It has nothing to do with a deeply held political belief. I don't consider that to be an extension of activism."

And yet, while he has grown more thoughtful about the political process, Harawira says he does not intend to bend too much to its will.

"I haven't changed one iota. If my daughter ends up marrying a Pakeha, I will ultimately embrace that as part of my family; if she was to walk in with one, I would still feel uncomfortable."

His uncompromising stance has undoubtedly allowed Mana to reach disaffected Maori voters and to bleed support from the Maori Party, whose coalition with the National Government has never sat well with many of its members.

Harawira says the Maori Party, which he once disparagingly labelled John Key's "house niggers", has acquiesced to government policies that have dislocated Maori families, increased Maori unemployment, cut welfare and forced Maori migration to Australia.

"The Maori Party not only sits alongside National during all of that destruction, they have voted to finance that agenda every single year," Harawira says.

For its part, the Maori Party rationalises that it is better to be making a difference in government than doing nothing in opposition. But its departing president, Pem Bird, has admitted the tie-up with National has cost it votes.

Since the expulsion of Harawira in 2011, the Maori Party has struggled to find an identity and failed to unite Maori under one political brand, instead dividing voters down class and political lines.

"Hone Harawira represented, and still does, the lower socio-economic voter and Sharples and Turia have come to represent the growing Maori middle class, and the more establishment parts of Maoridom," says Bryce Edwards.

Harawira believes his commitment to the needs of the poorest, most vulnerable parts of New Zealand makes the political goals of Mana clear and accessible.

"The focus on Mana is the simple stuff of life, feeding the kids, getting the parents a job, putting everyone in a decent home, building a world where the Treaty is central, and justice for all."

And yet race-based representation could be losing momentum. New voters joining the Maori roll are predicted to be down this year, and turnout at the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election last month was low.

"There does seem to be a lot less interest and enthusiasm in separate Maori political representation now," Edwards says. "I would say that Maori nationalism and Maori radicalism and this idea of a separate political representation does seem to be on the wane."

Mana remains a personality party based around the divisive Harawira. It won just 1.08 per cent of the party vote in 2011.

"They haven't been able to go beyond the main branding point of the party which was a Hone Harawira party. He still overshadows everything in the party and I think that has been to the detriment of its growth," says Edwards.

The big question for the larger-than-life Harawira is whether he can transcend his activist background to become a political leader capable of uniting Maori.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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