Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: July 19

Prime Minister John Key greeting Maori Party co-leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia before their coalition talks at the Beehive, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key greeting Maori Party co-leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia before their coalition talks at the Beehive, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Promises have been made, explanations given and accepted, and everyone is still on speaking terms. Certainly the tension and sense of crisis in the National-Maori Party relationship has eased but, of course, the underlying issue is far from being resolved. The promise not to legislate over any rights won in court is the major win for Turia and Sharples - see Adam Bennett's Maori Party leaders 'really pleased' with PM's meeting pledge. This had to be a bottom line for the relationship of a party forged in anger over Labour's overruling legislation on the foreshore and seabed. TVNZ's Corin Dann sees it as a positive outcome, at least in the meantime - see: Win-win for PM and Maori Party.

If National's commitment not to legislate is an absolute guarantee then it is a significant concession by National. It means that a negotiated settlement will be the only way forward if a court rules that Maori interests in water have to be formally recognised.

But if the promise not to negotiate is only good for however long the coalition relationship lasts, then the practical effect is much more limited. The Maori Party would always have had have to walk away from the coalition if special legislation was used, so in this context the promise would really only be a statement of political reality - much like the PM's comments about the Waitangi Tribunal. Normally a messy coalition break-up would be damaging to both parties, but the brutal truth is that National could easily turn it to electoral advantage, even if accused (and being guilty) of bad faith. Gordon Campbell thinks a break is inevitable, particularly as welfare reforms and asset sales fallout takes a further toll on Maori party support - see: Water issue strains political ties.

For National, the statement by the Maori Party that they 'did not consider the debate to be one about ownership - "it is about protecting the rights and interests of hapu and iwi with respect to water"' is politically useful, but will have little impact on the legal and commercial realities during negotiations. Instead the Government will be attempting to make a deal (mainly) with the large iwi corporate bodies. It is difficult to see iwi being content with a consultative role and assurances that their current water use will be protected. Instead, shares, commercial exploitation rights and/or cold hard cash will almost certainly be in mix.

A tribunal ruling and court decisions favourable to Maori interests seem very possible according Mai Chen in a useful article looking at the legal precedents that the government will have to face up to: 'The unenviable position for the Crown to navigate is that there have been acknowledgments by the Government, and a legal history that recognises various forms of property rights and interests held by Maori in water. Any recommendations the tribunal makes, even if non-binding, will likely force the Crown to deal with the existing legal precedent' - see: Govt faced with uncomfortable water precedents.

The real reason for Why the Maori Party won't walk out is revealed by Patrick Leyland, with this quote from Pita Sharples in 2010: 'Actually, I got so used to the increase in salary I told the Prime Minister you'd better be good because if the other guys get in, I'll go sell myself over there to keep my ministerial salary. I just got a new house, man - I can't afford it on a backbencher salary so I'm up for grabs'. Obviously very much a tongue-in-cheek comment from Sharples - but unlikely to raise many laughs in 2012.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* An ex-MP is given a top job in the Labour Party - see: Labour appoints Tim Barnett general secretary. The same Labour leadership voting rules that will make David Shearer's position safer may well have prevented him getting the job if they had been in place last year writes Claire Trevett in New rule to keep long knives at bay. For a (very) detailed look at Labour's other rule changes see Patrick Leyland's Labour's Organisational Review - Electorates and Branches.

* Tensions between the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens have seen National trying to draw parallels with their New Zealand counterparts. Vernon Small writes that the Greens voting support in well-off central city suburbs is common on both sides of the Tasman, but the hostility with Labour is not the same. He also says that National's relationship seems 'torn between hugging and mugging the Greens', but that it is likely to lean towards the latter in the future - see: Key's game is ripping into Greens.

* The Westie feud between the Social Development Minister and a caravan park owner continues - see John Hartevelt's Bennett not backing down in fight.

* Councils are right to resist central governments attempts to limit their activities, argues today's Herald editorial: Let councils decide the work they do (http://bit.ly/Q6ozcp).

* Our police have been accused of being the willing puppets of the US and British governments, but now it seems they are protecting Fiji's military ruler - see Matthew Backhouse and Claire Trevett's SIS quizzes man over Fiji death plot.

* Activities that would see most of us disciplined or even fired from our jobs are legitimate political tactics says the Clerk of the House (see Audrey Young's Wrong to ask MPs to work efficiently, panel told), while No Right Turn wants the rules on valuable gifts for our politicians enforced - see: Key's unauthorised gifts.

* The generational war is a myth says Cathy Odgers in The Fallacy of "Housing Affordability", saying that ''the sorts shouting the loudest about "housing affordability" and "intergenerational theft" tend to be white and middle class which is why they are getting some traction in the media'. David Chaplin looks lightheartedly at what might happen if the Intergenerational war gets serious.

* The departure of our most famous soldier from the SAS was handled with anything but military precision says Patrick Gower - see: Apiata disgraced by Defence Force top brass.

* No-one else seems to be doing it, so Peters stands up for Maori smokers.

* It seems Andrew Little can't wait to get to court to defend Judith Collins' defamation action - see Jane Clifton's Court slip-ups keep MPs amused.

* The Government is looking to limit just how strong your drinks can be, reports Isaac Davison, but Liquor bosses battle alcopop ban.

* Finally, Toby Manhire reinforces the view that your social media presence might not always reflect the public image you are after - see: John Key's three greatest social media photographs and 15 top John Key twitpics.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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