By RAWIRI TAONUI – Last month, the descendants of the Maori prophet Wiremu Tahupotiki Ratana gave their blessing to the one-year-old National-Maori Party partnership.
Prime Minister John Key’s no-baggage, no-nonsense, straight talking “let’s work together” style is a race-relations revelation. He knows what matters and what doesn’t (flying two flags is not a drama), and where the boundaries lie – “let the Maori Party deal with Hone Harawira, he is their member”.
The twin pillars of the Maori Party leadership, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, have also been important. Dignified, thoughtful and strong, they are the best Maori political leaders since Princess Te Puea and Sir Apirana Ngata. This triumvirate knows that working together is about trust, keeping things simple and the freedom to disagree.
The win over Labour at Ratana belies deeper waters ahead.
Waitangi Day looms large, with several in Ngapuhi set to fly the St George Cross of the Confederation ensign, instead of the newly chosen rangatiratanga flag. There is room for embarrassment as the debate plays out on “Hone Heke” Harawira’s home turf.
Budget 2010 signals the introduction of the Maori Party’s Whanau Ora policy, with some estimating up to $1 billion in resources will be devolved to Maori social service providers.
Modelled on successful initiatives in health, where the increase of Maori providers from 0 to 275 in 25 years has had real impact – they understand issues better, know the communities, and don’t suffer the ingrained prejudices built up over generations in mainstream institutions. This quiet revolution will be the most effective policy initiative for Maori since World War II.
Changes to the foreshore and seabed legislation fall due mid-year. Most Pakeha now accept that the 2005 act was a paranoid, pre-emptive strike against Maori human rights.
Important components will include guaranteed public access to the beaches, continuing and building on Labour’s negotiations with iwi for settlements (which were good) but broadening provisions for joint ownership and management regimes between the Crown and Maori (with appropriate checks and balances) as successfully applies for the Rotorua lakes and Waikato River – both Labour initiatives.
There is also a need to allow for the investigation and/or negotiation and settlement of other residual claims – which Labour excluded – in line with the Sealords deal of 1994, including ditching the “proof of a continuous connection” clause that denies the separation colonisation caused, and payment of a centralised settlement component, perhaps to a national authority.
In another real victory for the Maori Party, 20 years after the Bill of Rights, a constitutional review, including consideration of the status of the Treaty of Waitangi, is on the agenda, something Maori have advocated for four decades.
Fundamental questions are at stake. Did the Treaty cede sovereignty in 1840 or was sovereignty acquired over time through the marginalisation of Maori society? Do we enshrine the treaty in legislation, as the international community via the UN Periodic Review of Human Rights in New Zealand recommends, or continue to apply the principles of the Treaty and, if so, who says what they mean?
Labour will have ample opportunities to strike at the National- Maori Party alliance. However, it needs to change tack.
Suffering the self-inflicted anguish of rejected lovers, leader Phil Goff’s cross-cultural skills aren’t convincing; his race relations speech and Shane Jones’ deliberate negativity have driven more Maori toward the Maori Party than away from it.
The relationship that was no longer exists. It is not lost; it has evolved, changed and matured.
Labour are no longer the only place for Maori to be. Maori are no longer the 40,000 desperate destitute of the 1930s that had just escaped annihilation by colonisation and needed a hand up. They are 800,000 dynamic descendants of a people who have fought to earn the right to be equals with all Pakeha, working as partners with this National Government and with the next Labour government.
Labour must focus on policy, not rhetoric. There is traction in the arguments that the Maori Party is delivering small kumara, such as the twin flags, but not the big ones, such as seats on the Auckland supercity and polytech councils.
There are questions about the impact on Maori of the 90-day rule letting workers be sacked without appeal, cutbacks in ACC, pay rates not keeping up with the cost of living, a pathetic minimum wage increase, and tax cuts that favour the wealthy.
The Maori Party partnership must also defend against the National-ACT partnership as it gathers momentum on policies such as the one-year review of beneficiaries and three-strikes policies.
The full impact of the recession is not over. The OECD suggests just 1.8 to 2.2. per cent growth for New Zealand in 2010. Just 23 per cent of firms are optimistic. The IMF says two million more people worldwide will become unemployed this year. Maori unemployment, at 10 per cent last May, is now probably double the national rate of 6.5 per cent.
Maori suffered worse than non- Maori under Rogernomics and Ruthansia, their incomes not returning to early-1980s levels until 2005.
The real strength of the groundbreaking relationship between Maori and National will be how much they deliver to Maori. The relationship, a stream of Treaty settlements, a larger, smarter and better educated Maori workforce and leadership, as well as stronger relationships with all Pakeha are the main hopes.
Associate Professor Rawiri Taonui is head of the Maori and indigenous studies school at Canterbury University.