Tom O'Connor: Māori Party's loss cuts deep
OPINION: It might not take very long for Māoridom to rue the departure of the Māori Party from Parliament.
In an election marked more than most others in the past by underhand tactics and accusations that at least one party deliberately spread carefully crafted and orchestrated lies about the policies of another, the fate of the Māori Party should be cause for regret.
Co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox lost their seats when all seven Māori electorates returned to their traditional home with Labour. Inexplicably Flavell lost by 1321 votes to an inexperienced former TV weather presenter Tamati Coffey and Fox lost by a huge 3796 votes to Meka Whaitiri. After nine years in government with National and, less than the required 5 per cent of the party vote, they were gone. With them goes a wealth of experience and mana which will not be easily or quickly replaced.
The candidates who defeated them will be obliged to follow party rules while Flavell and Fox were truly independent voices for Māoridom. Their voices will no longer be heard and Māoridom as a whole should be saddened by that.
Their disappointment and bitterness is understandable and even forgivable as it would be hard to find two members of Parliament who were more dedicated to working for their people. Between them they brought a greater official and public recognition of the New Zealand Land Wars, brought about a pardon for the prophet Rua Kenana and signed New Zealand up to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They also drove significant progress with the Whānau Ora programme, speeded up Treaty of Waitangi settlements and progressed the repeal of the foreshore and seabed legislation. While these matters may not be important to the general electorate they are very significant to Māori.
Most importantly they gave Māoridom a reasoned and powerful voice in government for Māori education, housing and health. They were pragmatic enough to know that the only way to make any gains for Māoridom was to be part of the government rather than sitting on the opposition benches. That pragmatism, however, came at cost and they are not the only ones to be punished by the electorate for getting into bed with National. In a previous hung Parliament in 1996, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters agreed to a coalition agreement with National to form a government. While such arrangements are the very nature of an MMP system, he was castigated by party members as a traitor. Some have yet to forgive him.
That appears to be one of the reasons why so many Māori voters turned against the Māori Party in favour of Labour. No matter what the Māori Party gained in government it was never going to be enough for some voters who clearly had unreasonable expectations of what two members could achieve. That they achieved anything at all as part of a right-wing government is remarkable. That they achieved so much and were thrown out by a majority of their people is hard to fathom and suggests that the majority of Māori voters no longer values a separate Māori voice in Parliament.
Māori have stood as candidates for, and won general seats, and perhaps that is where they should be.
If that is the case it brings into question the future of the Māori electorates. They were introduced in 1867 when only men with title to land could vote. Owners of communal Māori land without title were excluded from voting and, to give them a voice in Parliament, four Māori electorates were established. Initially they were little more than a token gesture but the political ability of Māori members soon had them making a valuable contribution to early New Zealand.
With the extension of voting rights to women in 1893 and eventually to all adult New Zealanders, the original purpose of the Māori electorates disappeared but Māoridom was loath to part with them. Certainly without them Māori would have been much worse off than they are today and there is still some way to go for our political system to address many uniquely Māori issues in health, education, housing and employment.
If a separate Māori voice in Parliament is no longer seen by Māoridom as a way of dealing with those matters perhaps the incoming government should conduct a poll, of the Māori electoral roll alone, and let them make the final decision.