|At present, the Maori Party controls five out of the seven dedicated Maori parliamentary seats and is in coalition with the centre-right Key administration. How might we deal with the unique challenges that lobbying it might present in future?
The Maori Party might well be seen as the culmination of the past forty years of intensive Maori protest and institutional reconstruction related to several perceived issues of core indigenous political concerns- linguistic and cultural revival and preservation, return of previously alienated land and stronger constitutional recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi within New Zealand/Aotearoa. For the most part, this has been an inclusive vision, and seen as one that includes takatapui, whakawahine and tangata ira tane. Granted, Maori Party coleader Tariana Turia is a social conservative when it comes to some issues, although perhaps not others. If either Labour or the Greens suggested reformulated adoption law that gave greater recognition to whangai adoption as well as opening it to eligible same-sex couples (including takatapui couples who might want to undertake responsibilities to their whanau for the care and welfare of tamariki and rangatahi), would she then not support such reform if clearly articulated in those terms? What about gender identity inclusion within the Human Rights Act? Given Pita Sharples and Hone Harawira's praiseworthy concern for whakawahine street sex workers in the context of the Manakau antisoliciting bill debate, I think they'd be supportive of such a move.
When it comes to issues beyond LGBT politics, though, the taniwha is in the detail. I would not deny that the Clark administration acted precipitately through its ill-considered seabed and foreshore legislation and that the Maori Party has a legitimate case for renewed recognition of customary title to the seabed and foreshore. This led to the formation of the Maori Party itself and steady electoral progress, which has seen their current coalition partner status within the Key administration.
It's not difficult to assess the motivations, aspirations and strategies of the parties involved. Clearly, the National Party wants to use their coalition partner to carve into the Maori social constituency that has traditionally voted for Labour, so it has embraced the Maori Party for tactical reasons. However, if the 2011 New Zealand General Election results in a situation where they can only govern with the support of the Maori Party, then obviously, they will have to make greater concessions to stay in office. However, to do this will probably lead to a massive explosion of flatulence from the general direction of the Coastal Coalition and other pakeha Treaty recognition negationists, who might even establish an anti-Maori 'wrecker and spoiler' party to attack National. It should be noted that usually, however, such pakeha backlash groups are founded primarily on ignorance, resentment and bizarre conspiracy theories, and usually prove highly transient in existence.
From their perspective, the Maori Party also has a set of perceived goals and objectives. Obviously, one of those key goals is repeal of the Clark administration's seabed and foreshore legislation, while others include the core issues of land ownership, linguistic and cultural maintenance, as well as devolution of social services to Maori service providers. However, beyond that point, things start to become hazy. If I understand him correctly, Hone Harawira appears to be arguing that as colonialism led to economic inequality and poverty amongst Maori, the Maori Party should embrace greater tactical flexibility and speak out more strongly against National when it comes to attacks on workers rights in the context of industrial relations, and beneficiaries in the context of New Right welfare retrenchment and privatisation policies.
Can Mr Harawira be accommodated within this waka? Given current disciplinary hearings, there are two possible outcomes. One is that a pragmatic medium can be reached, and that the Maori Party will start to display greater assertion when it comes to issues of Maori and economic inequality. Otherwise, Mr Harawira will be expelled from his caucus and go on to form an alternative Maori Party that might then go on to claim some of the Maori seats from either Labour or the Maori Party. If that scenario unfolds, I can see the Maori Party calling for strategic unity in the pursuit of Maori political aspirations. Against this, any alternative party might well respond that New Right social and economic policies particularly hit Maori hard and that therefore, Maori should support it because their natural place is on the centre-left.
Fragmentation? Or healthy democratic debate, political engagement and active citizenship? One imagines that our readers, as well as Maori communities, will have divergent views about this. One thing appears certain- Maori political, cultural and social aspirations and interests need and deserve to be taken seriously and respected. Craig Young - 3rd February 2011