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‘Wedge’ politics and Maori . . . | Morgan Godfrey
(Gisborne Herald) WITH press releases like this one, Shane Jones is driving a wedge between Labour and iwi (read the Maori Party):
Iwi leaders should spend less time dreaming of ways to profit from sales of state-owned assets, and more time on salvaging the children of their tribes, says Labour’s Economic Development (Maori) spokesman Shane Jones.
“What we need are short, sharp solutions. In the absence of leadership from Dr Sharples, iwi leaders must focus on salvaging the children of their tribes instead of sucking at the teat of asset sales that won’t solve anything long term for Maori,” he said.
“In times gone by issues concerning our children were often seen as a respon-sibility for the state. Well, the state can’t solve everything. Our iwi leaders must stand up, if Dr Sharples won’t.”
As far as wedge politics goes, this is good stuff. The divide between the iwi elite, which increasingly includes the growing Maori middle class, and the Maori underclass is a source of tension in Maori politics. And Jones is siding with majority opinion on this issue. Many Maori (read the Maori underclass) resent the fact that wealth from Treaty settlements has not “trickled down”.
I’ve said before, many iwi take a top-down approach to distributing income. For example, tribal executives are paid handsomely, a tribe’s tertiary students receive decent financial support and kaumatua and kuia often receive financial support too. However, those on the bottom of Maori society — for example, single parents — receive no support. This approach serves to perpetuate the privileged position of the Maori elite.
The largest source of tension is, in my opinion, the priorities of those Maori elite. Some iwi leaders are enthusiastically pursuing asset sales. However, Maori overwhelmingly oppose asset sales.
Many in the Maori elite also seem more concerned about maintaining their power and pay cheques than serving their people.
The prevailing feeling is that iwi should be looking at investing more heavily in their people rather than fretting about their bottom lines. This is an idea I sympathise with, but do not agree with. Social services are the responsibility of government. Iwi have a social obligation, no doubt about that, but iwi do not have the means to offer social services.
Firstly, iwi do not have the economy of scales, but most importantly, iwi are not self sufficient. In other words, iwi cannot fund social services out of their pockets unless, of course, they pay more attention to growing their bottom line.
It’s a bit of a paradox. Sure, if Maori were paying taxes to iwi, then iwi have a social and moral imperative to fund and deliver social services. This, however, is not and never will be the case.
Anyway, back to the politics of this issue. Jones is siding with the Maori underclass here and painting the Maori Party into a corner . . . a corner with the Maori elite. It will be interesting to see how Jones plays this. I would expect to see him cultivate tensions further.
With any luck, this will lead Maori to have a debate during which they can ask questions like “Do iwi have their priorities right?” “What is the role of iwi in contemporary Maori society?” And “are Treaty settlements creating a Maori elite?”
To be honest, I don’t like the use of wedge politics in Maori politics, but this is a debate Maori need to have.
Morgan Godfrey is a Wellington-based law student and regular commentator for the Gisborne Herald on Maori politics.