Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: July 12

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia speaking to media while attending the Waitangi Tribunal urgent hearing into state asset sales at the Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia speaking to media while attending the Waitangi Tribunal urgent hearing into state asset sales at the Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The current pressure on the Maori Party over water rights is symptomatic of wider tensions within Maori society. The party's 'will they or won't they leave' dramatics are characterised by Gordon Campbell as 'that of a battered spouse, a pitiable creature who will swallow any indignity in return for the few crumbs of what the relationships once promised to offer' (see Tariana Turia is facing a Katie Holmes moment) but the issues go beyond parliamentary fortunes.

The fundamental question of who represents Maori interests and can negotiate with the Crown is at stake. This has been an issue ever since Europeans arrived and continues to be a major source of conflict that can takes years to resolve, even with smaller treaty claims. John Key doesn't have that sort of time to spare (although he should have seen this coming some time ago). The Government has shown a clear preference for dealing with the Iwi Leaders Group, but that strategy is being openly challenged, not just by the Maori Council, but by individual Hapu leaders like Pouakani chairman Tamati Cairns, who says he was recently turned away from a meeting discussing water rights: '"Now I'm not against iwi leadership, don't get me wrong, nor am I against the Iwi Leaders Group, but it's the issues that start pulling us apart." Mr Cairns says when one group decides one thing, and another group decides another, Maori are in trouble' - see Radio NZ's Maori 'pulled apart' by Crown's approach.

The claims to Maori leadership have grown more complex recently. Politically the Maori Party, Mana and Labour all claim to represent Maori interests in Parliament while the Maori Council's statutory role as a nationwide representative body is under threat from the Iwi Leaders Group. Morgan Godfrey looked at the overlapping roles in a recent post, advocating a merger between the Council and the Leaders' Group - see: Merging the Maori Council.

Joshua Hitchcock at his M?ori Law and Politics blog takes a pragmatic view. He says the Maori Council's claim is a mistake as it openly threatens a core government policy which will make a settlement harder. He advocates settlement by negotiation with the Iwi Leader's group. Hitchcock also has a very clear explanation of the legal issues behind the claim - particularly the difference between Tikanga M?ori and British Common Law - see: Q&A: Maori Council Water Claim and Asset Sales.

Not giving the Crown a chance to divide and rule is a big motivation to speak with one voice but it assumes that all Maori have the same interests, an assumption that might not survive this process.

Labour has been quick to seize upon the coalition wobbles but has been clear that its position on water ownership is the same as Nationals. Cameron Slater quotes then Labour Minister Paul Swain responding to the oil and gas claim before the tribunal in 2000: 'Mr Swain said the claimants were entitled to express their view to the tribunal, but they already knew the Government's position on ownership of oil' - see: Labour vs Key vs Waitangi. Basically the same sentiments as expressed by John Key, only slightly more diplomatically phrased.

Of course a similarly hardline approach to the Foreshore and Seabed a few years later cost Labour dearly, but National has less to lose (an already struggling coalition partner rather than its own seats). In fact, according to Mark Blackham it could be a huge political opportunity: 'National has the option of turning the sale of Mighty River Power into a vote-winning symbolic nose-thumbing at Maori interests. But it's not John Key's style. In which case, he may well lose public confidence over water rights and asset sales together' - see: Taking opportunities: asset sales example. Key will take the opportunity says Patrick Gower: 'He will likely go through with ignoring the ruling, call the Maori Party's bluff (if he hasn't already) and continue to pick up the dog whistle benefits out in voter-land. And the Maori Party will back down' - see: Why Key will benefit from the Tribunal debacle.

On the other hand 'Treaty politics may cut across the usual race-relations boundaries and into the class-politics of wealth and property, and so under-cut the ability of the Key government to claim the 'balanced' middle-ground in this particular debate' says Massey University's Grant Duncan in Water rights case gives Key no easy way out.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* Those fabled 'mum and dad' investors may be able to buy shares - on the Australian stock exchange (see Hamish Rutherford's Dual listing may hit Kiwi investors (http://bit.ly/Mjjhsx) and your tax dollars are being used to build vital infrastructure - it's just that it may not be where you would expect - see RNZ's Super Fund commits $100 million to China fund.

* Further targeting of social services risks stigmatising a small group of children writes Simon Collins in Agencies fear Govt will chop vital child services. The other risk of targeted benefits is that the middle class, excluded from the benefits, becomes increasingly resentful and reluctant to pay taxes for services they receive no direct return from.

* Winston Peters finally has a real immigration story to get his teeth into. He says, of course, there is more to it than the Government is admitting - see TVNZ's Immigration scam 'just the tip of the iceberg' - NZ First.

* Praise indeed for proposed changes to Labour's leadership and selection processes from David Farrar (see Labour leadership voting). Farrar even hopes that National will copy Labour in allowing members a say in choosing leaders.

* Speak now or 'suffer what the conglomerates and corporates' want of our copyright laws Judge tells Kiwis to speak up on copyright.

* Watering down the emissions trading scheme will cost the taxpayer $328 million over the next four years writes Brian Fallow in a detailed examination of how the Emission Trading Scheme is working Costly side-effect from delaying ETS provision.

* The lack of any policy advice paperwork on the idea of banning child abusers from having more children proves to No Right Turn that Confirmed: Bennett made it up.

* There is something in Northland that breeds dominating political characters says Claire Trevett in MP 'alpha males' battle for power.

- 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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