However, some academics believe the Maori Party has more to lose as both parties defend the situation as mutually beneficial.
Whanau Ora’s implementation remains the cornerstone of both parties’ Maori policy, and language sector revision plans also feature.
National’s Maori affairs spokeswoman, Hekia Parata, would not say what needs to change in the latter but papers from National’s three-year partner proposes the adoption of Sir Tamati Reedy’s Te Paepae Motuhake research recommendations, which advocate a major shake-up of the sector, including scrapping the Maori Language Commission.
Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples said he was delighted to discover National’s policy on Whanau Ora mirrored his own party’s election material.
“I think it’s a very good thing. We’re in there to get wins for our people and we have to fight a lot of their policy because our philosophical base is quite different.”
It makes the party “fair game”, for criticism that the party is National “lite”, Dr Sharples said. But it is a cost he is willing to bear to be close to government power. “I look at it as a win in terms of our influence on the National Party.”
Victoria University political scientist Dr Maria Bargh said if the Maori Party did work with National again it had to drive a much harder bargain by ticking off more of its wishlist in any agreement.
She mooted a radical idea for the party – to sit in opposition – which she believed needed to strengthen its brand after Hone Harawira’s departure and Mana’s arrival.
“In terms of their survivability I don’t think it will actually hurt them. I know they’re running the line that we’re at the cabinet table, etc, but if you look at the history of small parties that go into government, they get wiped out. [Opposition] would allow them to strengthen over the next term,” Dr Bargh said.
Ms Parata said her party was not along for the free ride by allowing the Maori Party to essentially develop all Maori policy.
“I think that’s the nature of coalition. You can be criticised by other parts of the political spectrum for being too close and then criticised for not being close enough. The whole benefit of a coalition relationship is to get the value of good ideas and get them funded and implemented.”
Academic Rawiri Taonui praised the Green Party, which had been successful in pushing three big-picture policies: clean rivers, “greening” the economy and lifting children out of poverty.
During candidate debates on Maori Television’s Native Affairs, Green Party members have hardly mentioned their specific Maori policies but have pushed its broader position.
“The Greens have done a good job on unemployment and poverty by linking those to environmental issues. They’re saying ‘hey we’re cleaning up rivers but we’ll also get more jobs’ and I think that’s resonating with younger Maori voters.”
Although Labour has a more extensive list of election promises it lacks the same coherence, he said.”It lacks coherence because it looks like it’s been thought up on the spot. The other thing is people will have in the back of their minds is John Key’s criticism that all Labour is doing is talking about spending money.
“Everyone knows that poverty is a major issue in this election but also there is a limited budget. Labour is not answering both questions: they’re saying (a), ‘we’re going to do all these things’ but (b), they’re not very convincing about where the money is going to come from.”
Mana is alone on its proposals in the Treaty sector – all three outlined would have far-reaching impacts and are unlikely to be politically workable for either National or Labour.