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Chris Ford: Has the Maori Party finally cooked its goose?

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 Has the Maori Party finally cooked its goose by deciding to chuck in its support (on confidence and supply) to National again?

While their "Relationship Accord" support agreement with National has an agree to disagree clause, the agreement by Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples to sit as Cabinet ministers in a John Key-led government clearly aligns the party once again with the Nats. 

At the November 26 election, though, the Maori Party received a rude wake up call. Their party vote fell by 1 percent and the seat majorities of all the surviving Maori Party MPs Turia, Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell were all dramatically slashed. The voters of Te Tai Tonga preferred Labour's Rino Tirikatane over the Maori Party's Rahui Katene. Therefore, despite Pakeha voters going for the centre-right in a big way, Maori voters opted for left parties such as Te Mana, the Greens and Labour in increased numbers. 

Clearly, the message of November 26 for the Maori Party was don't get into bed with the Nats whatever you do. Otherwise, it will be tears before bedtime all over again as it was in the last term for them. However, in a Treaty-style attempt to get more gains for Maori and given that Sharples and Turia are planning to retire at the end of this term, they have opted for another political relationship with the Nats.

This term will be detrimental for Maoridom as National gets ready to introduce welfare reforms, sell more state assets and introduce charter schools, all moves which will disadvantage Maori significantly. I think that Turia should have been advised not to have stated about a fortnight ago her view that many struggling Maori families didn't see state asset sales as an important issue. I would beg to differ given that many Maori (alongside other New Zealanders) have just endured another three years of power price rises and more are in store following the Nats plans to partially privatise the three remaining state owned power companies. Also, the Nats throwing the Maori Party a Cabinet committee on poverty was just meaningless as all it will do is just discuss endless reports and do nothing (which is what National and ACT will want it to do). After all, the solutions to poverty are already out there in terms of policies to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, extend Working for Families payments to beneficiary households and take GST off food, amongst other things. While the Maori Party does have the $15 an hour minimum wage and taking GST off food as part of its policy, the weakness of the party compared to National will not see any real policy gains delivered around poverty reduction during this term.

And then there's the leadership succession issue. While I saw some excellent young Maori Party talent displayed on their pre-election political broadcasts, the party has really become identified with Sharples and Turia. Te Ururoa Flavell could struggle to fill their shoes and if Maori voters further drift towards the left, then the party's days in the House could be well and truly numbered. In fact, I think that they already are at this early stage.

What the Maori Party should have done was go into opposition. During this term, I predict that the centre-left (following today's Labour leadership election) will begin to revive. By not doing so, the Maori Party has cost itself any chance of carrying any influence with a future Labour-led government should it be lucky enough to survive the next election. Irrespective of this, I don't think that Maori voters will look kindly on the Maori Party come 2014 for all the above reasons.

That is why Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples are about to take the Maori Party with them into retirement. Going with the Nats - bad choice!

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