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On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Marama Fox

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Marama Fox


Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox says her party’s agreement with the Mana Party might be weakened if Hone Harawira won’t support Maori Party candidates. Harawira has threatened not to direct his members to vote for Maori Party candidates who support the Ture Whenua Maori Land Bill.

Mrs Fox says Harawira is being irrational in not supporting the bill, saying he probably hasn’t had the opportunity to go through the latest changes.

After the Maori Party polled 4% in one recent political poll, Mrs Fox says she was approached by "two very senior Labour people" who asked if the Maori Party would go with Labour after the election.

Lisa Owen: Well, with the Maori seats shaping up to be some of the fiercely contested in this year’s election, the Maori and Mana parties have made a pact to work together, not standing against each other in any seats. But the cracks are already showing in their renewed relationship, with Hone Harawira calling the Maori Party’s Ture Whenua Bill ‘a poisonous cancer’ and saying he won’t support any candidate who supports the law. So can they work it out? Well, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox joins me now. Kia ora.

Marama Fox: Kia ora.

So, Hone Harawira puts out a press release this week saying, and I’m quoting him when I say this, he says, ‘Give me a call, bro, before it’s too late.’ So when are you all getting together to talk about the Maori electorates?

Te Ururoa’s given him a call, and we’re arranging a meeting when our schedules can fit it. And he’s keen to sit down and have a briefing with us. I tried to talk to him about it a wee while back, and we knew he didn’t support the RMA or the Ture Whenua prior to signing the agreement. Our agreement is about not scrapping with each other, but over points of difference of issue, then he can go for his life. But to pen people into a determined course by saying, ‘Don’t support this candidate or don’t support that candidate,’ you’re right. That might weaken that agreement, because if they’re not going to support our candidates in our areas, then, obviously, that goes for Hone; I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want that.

Well, the thing is there, because he has made it clear. How do you work through it? Because he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want a bar of the bill as it is. He wants it gone. So what can you possibly concede over that piece of legislation that will satisfy him?

What, actually, I think we concede is that the Ture Whenua is a good bill. What people are coming out still and criticising about was the first exposure draft, the first reading. We’ve had substantial changes to that bill since. We’ve got a whole list of professors who sent out a letter prior to reading those changes. I’ve spoken to one of them who said, ‘Oh, look, I’ll go back and read those changes and see if that doesn’t change my mind.’ People are jumping on the critical and political rather than actually reading the bill and understanding what it’s going to do for our people. So we’ll take Hone for a briefing.

Mrs Fox, that sounds like you’re standing your ground and Hone hasn’t changed his mind. So where does that leave you?

No, no, no, no. Mā te kōrero ka whakatika. It is through our conversations and coming together that we can find a pathway forward. The thing that is different now with our relationship with Hone and the Mana Party is we can ring him up and say, ‘All right, let’s get together and let’s talk about that and see what happens.’ And that’s what we’re going to do.

If you can ring him, surely he can pick up the phone and ring you too.

Oh, he did.

So I’m wondering why, though, he’s communicating with you in a press release.

Oh, no. Come on, that’s for the politics of it all. He has to stand up in front of the nation and put a stake in the sand, and then he’ll give us a call and said, ‘Oh, this is the press release that’s gone out today,’ and so I text him back, and eventually now we’re going to get a meeting together.

So he used the phrase in that press release. He said, ‘Give me a call,’ and he said ‘before it’s too late’.

Too late is third reading. Nothing’s too late. We haven’t even got to the committee stage. There’s a long way to go yet in the passage of this bill.

I suppose that language sounds kind of… well, it sounds threatening, doesn’t it? ‘Do this now or else.’ Or, ‘Call me now before it’s too late.’

Oh, come on. Don’t we all know Hone?

How did you interpret it?

I interpreted it as, ‘I’ll give you a call, mate.’ Like, seriously, the thing I love about the relationship agreement that we’ve got with Mana at the moment is that these people stand together and they’re smiling, joking, they can talk face to face and put the issues in front of each other. We could not do that a year ago. They wouldn’t even get in the same room. They’re in the same room now, so give us a chance to talk with Hone, and let’s see where the cards fall after that.

But while you might be in the same room and able to have that conversation, as you’ve just said yourself, this could weaken your relationship.

If we don’t have the opportunity to talk it through. If we don’t have the opportunity to sit down face to face and go, ‘All right, we’ve got to try and work this out somehow so that we have a mutual benefit.’ And you can oppose any policy that you like. You’re not in the same party. That’s the way we oppose the National Party when we don’t agree with them.

But in order to move forward from this, you need to break the stalemate. He’s been very clear about his dislike for this, for this piece of legislation. And you’ve been very clear in saying, ‘We’ve made amendments, we’ve done this, we’ve done that.’ So it kind of feels like an impasse.

No, it’s not an impasse. We haven’t even had the conversation yet. Let’s sit down around a breakfast and some scrambled eggs and work it out. I mean, that’s the beauty of agree to disagree. So we’ll come together, we’ll work it out, we’ll find out what’s the best pathway for both of us. And the best part about this is we can do that. So it’s not an impasse until it is. We keep moving.

He described it as a poisonous cancer. Is he being irrational?


Is that a personal insult?

No. ‘Course not. You ask me if he’s being irrational. I’m saying… If we have the opportunity to sit down together, I’ll say, ‘Hone, let’s talk about it first, and if you continue to think that way afterwards, then carry on.’

Why do you think it’s irrational - his attitude towards it?

Because I’m not sure that everybody has read the changes - because they’ve only been out one week - and how they apply to the bill. And I think those people who are openly criticising at the moment, I think they’re still criticising the first reading bill. There are 130 changes-

So, what, he just doesn’t understand it and he’s not up to date?

No, no. I didn’t say he didn’t understand it; I just think that people have not had the opportunity to go through those changes and see the benefits that are really in there. They’re scared that this bill will alienate land. They’re scared that it will corporatize land. But anyone who has a look at it will know that it absolutely strengthens the place and hold of Maori whenua.

But he has looked at it, and he doesn’t like it.

Well, you can keep going down that line of questioning if you like, but I’m all I’m going to say to you is that when we sit round the table and have the conversation, if he still feels that way afterwards, then carry on, disagree.

Are you 100% committed to it the way it is now? You personally.

I personally said to Te Ururoa right at the beginning, you know, ‘If this isn’t right, then I’m not sure I can vote for it.’ So I have read it line by line, clause by clause. We’ve gone over it with the officials. In fact, all the recommendations that were made in the Maori Affairs Select Committee were agreed to by every opposition member. They did not object to any of them.

So you’re 100% on board with it?

I am.

Okay. Well, why not send it back? Because this is an option. You could send it back to the Maori Affairs Select Committee. A bunch of MPs want that. I know you say they didn’t stick their hands up before, but a bunch of MPs want it sent back to that committee. You could buy yourself some time with Hone before the election. And I’m wondering- is that what’s going to happen?

I mean, look, that’s an option and that’s a pathway. I can’t tell you that that’s what’s going to happen. But those-

Do you support that, though?

Hang on. But those MPs that are asking for that to happen, as you said, did not object to any of the recommendations. They’ve been through them all themselves. So what time are they asking to buy? For what purpose?

No, but for you. It’s a cooling-down period for the Maori Party and Mana. That could be a way out for you guys. Would it be something you support - going back to the Maori Affairs Select Committee?

Well, I think the bill’s in a good place. I think Te Ururoa Flavell’s done a remarkable job at bringing it to that place. He has responded to every submission.

So are you ruling it out, then, as an option?

No, I’m not ruling it out. What I’m saying is I feel good about where it is. The pathway that goes forward from this point is second reading, third reading and anything in between. So let’s have a look at what that looks like. Let’s get round the country so that we are sure that our people understand it.

So you’re not closing off more changes? You’re open to more changes?

Well, that’s what committee stage is. It’s about the changes. It’s about SOPs. They might come from the opposition; they might come from the minister.

But to suit Hone, I’m talking about. To get him on board.

Look, let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. Let’s have the conversation and see what Hone objects to, because that’s what I clearly have asked everybody who’s objected. ‘Tell me what clause. Tell me which part.’

‘The whole thing,’ is what he would say. He objects to the whole thing.

And that’s what everybody says.

Because from the outside, people watching this play out will probably think that you’re at odds with each other. They’ll be wondering if the bad blood between Te Ururoa and Hone still exists. So are you actually friends, are you actually mates, or are you just uneasy allies?

No, I think we are actually friends and mates. Last time I was on The Hui last week with him, we went out and had lunch, talked about a whole number of things. Look, the beauty of sitting round the table with Tuku and Hone and Te Ururoa and everybody else, with whaea Hilda and whanau, it feels like whanau. You know, and whanau disagree about things, so we’re going to sit down together, and we’re going to work that out. And if they still want to disagree, that is up to them.

This is a political arrangement, right, so if you look at Mana’s numbers from the last election, they’re next to useless for you guys. In terms of Maori seats, they were beaten by National in the party vote; in two of the Maori seats, they came sixth. So what exactly is in it for you?

We don’t split the vote. I mean, you only have to look across a number of the electorates to see that had Mana and Maori not split the vote and had voted as one, we would’ve had three or four seats this election, this term.

But that brings us right back to where we started, doesn’t it? Because at the moment, he’s not going to tell his people to vote for you. So the vote is still split right at this second.

No, I was there when he said it.

Mrs Fox.

No, no, I was there when he said it. I was sitting next to him when he said that.

He said he’s not going to tell his people to vote for you. If the Ture Whenua bill is like it is, he’s not going to advise people to vote for you.

Look, as I’ve said, and I’ll say it one more time-

So that’s your problem, isn’t it?

No, it’s not a problem. The problem is when we stop talking. We’ve not stopped talking. We’ve got an arrangement to come together and meet and sit around the table. If at the end of that time, he still doesn’t believe that he can support the Ture Whenua, then that will be up to him. What we will then discuss is what does that mean for the arrangement?

And if it comes to that, he’s stated very clearly on the public record if he can’t support the bill, then he won’t be telling people to support you guys with votes.

Well, let’s see what he says after we have a conversation. That’ll be good.

Do you think he’s going to back down, or are you going to back down?

I think that we’re going to go through the bill; we’re going to talk about the things that are good in there; we’re going to talk about the changes.

Somebody’s going to have to give.

Well, let’s have an opportunity to speak about it, because you’re jumping the gun. You’re anticipating what’s going to happen before we’ve even had the conversation. So I’ll come back happily and have a whole other interview with you once we’ve had that conversation, tell you all about it.

Okay, we’re running out of time. I want to ask you about some other relationships. So, National - let’s talk about them. You’ve said it could be National or Labour, doesn’t really matter; you just want to be at the table. But have you limited your options by being with the Nats for so long?

I guess that’s what the rhetoric that people buy into around ‘a vote for Maori is a vote for National’. That’s just ridiculous. I tell people that it’s not a vote for me, it’s not a vote for Te Ururoa; a vote for the Maori Party is a vote of faith in yourself that as Maori we can be the change-makers in this country. Well, we have for years-

Hang on. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but you use that phrase ‘change-makers’, and you talk a lot about being at the table to have the conversation to make change. But is National even listening to you? Because you’ve got not inquiry yet into the abuse of mainly Maori people in state care, Oranga Tamariki, the Kermadecs. You say you’re at the table-

Tell me what happened with the Kermadecs.

You say you’re at the table. But are you actually locked out of the room altogether? Are they listening to you?

You know, a lot of the time it’s ministers who have a set pathway, and they might agree or disagree about which way to go. And sometimes we’ll win those battles, and sometimes we won’t. And that is the point. Because we’re two people, we’ve been able to hold up the Kermadecs until they sort out the treaty issues. With two people, we’ve been able to get changes in the RMA that nobody ever thought we’d be able to get. With two people, we’ve been able to secure over this term alone about $2 billion worth of funding for Maori both in- vote health, vote education, vote MSD.

But as you will be acutely aware, Maori stats are still horrendous, aren’t they? So are they listening to you enough? Are you getting enough done?

I think that we are doing the absolute best that we can do with two people. In fact, I think we punch above our weight. You know what I absolutely believe in? That if we come out of the election this time round with five, six, seven or more seats, then we will have a real influence over the government.

If you manage to sort your things out with Mana.

Don’t you worry about that. We’ll sort it out with Mana. You know what? Can I say one more thing - I try to be a foxy mama, and I’m really bad at that, but I can be a mama fox. Those skills of being a mother and negotiating with nine children on a basis is going to be what helps us talk this out with Hone.

You’ve got Hone’s number.

That’s right.

Hey, just before we go - Labour. Have you had a yarn with the guy who thinks that you’re not a kaupapa Maori party, Andrew Little?

Isn’t that hilarious?

Have you had a chat to him?

On the day before Matatini, where we powhiri 2000 people onto our whenua?

Have you had a chat about post-election relationships?

Do you know what? After the 4% poll came out, two very senior Labour people sidled up to me just casually and said, ‘So, would you really go with Labour if you had the numbers?’ I’m thinking, oh, if they need the numbers to get through, of course they’ll knock on our door. Of course they will.

All right. Great to talk with you. Thanks very much Marama Fox.

Transcript provided by Able.

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