Maori Party needed as National's coalition partner

DION TUUTA
Last updated 08:29 14/07/2014

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OPINION: Kia ora koutou

I have been following quite a few political polls recently with an eye to the general election in September. A recent poll has predicted that the Maori Party faces the real possibility of exiting Parliament at the next election.

This should be of concern to everyone who cares about an independent Maori voice in Parliament.

It's generally accepted that the Maori Party was formed in 2004 when Tariana Turia resigned as a Labour MP to join forces with Pita Sharples to fight against the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

What is sometimes forgotten is that the genesis of the party really began months earlier in a modest hall in the wealthy retirement and holiday village of Orewa. In February 2004 then National Party leader Don Brash hit a rich political vein by railing against "Maori privilege" in his now famous Orewa speech. A month before the speech National were languishing at 28 per cent in the polls, this jumped to 45 per cent two weeks after it: 10 points ahead of Labour.

Brash's speech sparked a bidding war among the major political parties wanting to be seen to end "Maori privilege". Labour responded by promising to remove references to the Treaty of Waitangi in legislation and passing the Seabed and Foreshore legislation while National, ACT and Winston Peters all demanded an end to the Maori seats.

The Foreshore and Seabed hikoi was the response from Maori of all walks of life to say - enough is enough. We will no longer stand by and continue to be the political football for many of the nation's politicians. The march was the ultimate demonstration and demand for an independent voice to counter the harsh and unfair criticism being directed at Maori sparked by the Orewa speech.

It was this environment which galvanised Maori into forming a coherent independent political force which has been at the forefront of advocating policy on behalf of Maori and New Zealand as a whole - the Maori Party.

The party has its critics - me included on some issues - but its contribution has changed the fabric of New Zealand politics.

Without doubt one of its greatest challenges is coming to terms with being a minor party trying to match the larger party's infrastructure and resources. The party has also grappled with the difficulty meeting the expectations of the varied wants and needs of a divergent Maoridom.

Unfortunately there is no magic political wand to address negative Maori statistics across health, education, crime and unemployment. There is only the reality of incremental change and improvement - the long game.

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The demise of the Maori Party would be a devastating blow for Maori aspirations - one which would likely signal the end of Maori independent political representation in Aotearoa.

It is the only independent Maori political party in Parliament. While some might point to the Mana Party as taking up that role - it lost the right to claim that space when it cut its deal with Kim Dotcom and transformed itself into Internet-Mana.

In every other political party - be it Labour, National or the Greens - the Maori perspective is part of a wider party philosophy - almost like an add on. In these parties if Maori interests are ever at odds with party interests then the party interests prevail - eg - Labour's original Foreshore and Seabed policy.

The Maori Party has copped its share of criticism for working with National on confidence and supply but it has never altered from its fundamental premise of seeking to advance the interests of Maori in Aotearoa on the basis that what is good for Maori is good for all New Zealanders.

My fear is what faces us if there is no Maori Party to form a coalition with National following the next election - because it will be a National government after the next election. The main question is who will be governing with them?

Under the present polling statistics it is likely to be ACT and the Conservatives and this prospect should be one that raises concern among all Maori voters. Neither ACT nor the Conservatives are known for their embracing of the Maori perspective - which is why the Maori Party coalition with National has been important. It served as a moderating influence on groups which have not been seen as traditional Maori allies.

If the Maori Party does not make it back into Parliament and become a coalition partner - Maori will once again be dependent on the Labour Party, Greens and now Internet-Mana to advocate the Maori position like we were in 2003. And we all know how that worked out.

Under a National-ACT- Conservatives scenario the tempering hand of Tariana Turia, Te Ururoa Flavell and Pita Sharples will be replaced by the conservative grasp of Colin Craig and Jamie Whyte. Despite the lack of fireworks to date this looks set to be one of the most important elections for Maori for many years. Mauriora

- Taranaki Daily News

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