Norman McKenzie: Sure each way bet for Maori parties

The two rival groups won't merge, but there is still a way they can have the best of both worlds in Parliament

The Maori Party's five 2008 MPs, (from left) Hone Harawira, Rahui Katene, Pita Sharples, Tariana Turia and Te Ururoa Flavell.
The Maori Party's five 2008 MPs, (from left) Hone Harawira, Rahui Katene, Pita Sharples, Tariana Turia and Te Ururoa Flavell.

When the celebrated American author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) wrote in the New York Journal in 1897, "The report of my death is an exaggeration", he could well have been speaking also of 2013 predictions of the impending demise of the Maori Party.

As Clemens went on to greater literary fame and achievement, so will the Maori Party continue to play an even more influential role in the political life of Aotearoa. And that is more likely if more urban Maori like me switch to the Maori roll to vote for the Maori Party.

I was one of a small group who, in 1994 after the conversion to MMP had been mandated the previous year, canvassed the possibility of forming a new political entity based on the earlier model of the Young Maori Party, led by Apirana Ngata, Maui Pomare and Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter Buck) early last century.

It was a step too far and too early in those hesitant, pre-MMP days, when even the two main parties, National and Labour, were still struggling to grasp the new realities that would flow from the end of the first-past-the-post election system.

By 2004, with MMP better understood, the catalyst for a unified Maori political force was a panic decision by the then Labour Government to assert Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed as a response to a 2003 Court of Appeal ruling that Maori could seek customary title to specified areas.

In protest at the passing of a Crown ownership Act, Labour Party MP Tariana Turia left and, with Dr Pita Sharples formed the Maori Party in July 2004.

In the 2005 General Election, the Maori Party won four of the seven Maori seats. Coalition talks with Labour came to nothing, and in its first term the Maori Party remained independent on the cross benches.

In 2008, the four seats were retained, and a fifth was won. The Maori Party supported National's minority government, and Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples (Maori Affairs) became ministers outside the Cabinet.

Midway through 2011, differences between Te Tai Tokarau MP Hone Harawira and his colleagues became such that the northern MP was expelled from the party. He immediately formed the Mana Party and won the seat at the general election later that year. The Maori Party lost Te Tai Tonga to Labour, reducing its seats to the present three.

The fact that the Mana candidate ran second to Labour in the recent Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection has raised discussion in the media, although not yet between the parties, of an alliance between the Maori and Mana Parties to counter the risk of splitting the Maori vote to the ultimate electoral benefit of Labour.

As has already been hinted by the presumptive new co-leader of the Maori Party, Te Ururoa Flavell, a Maori-Mana alliance is unlikely. He has not said so, but his thinking would have been based on the difficulty of accommodating an outspokenly opinionated loner like Mr Harawira, virulently anti-National, and whose views are so radical as to worry even Labour.

But there is an alternative solution, and it's one with a precedent - the coalition agreement between National and Act, both of which are on the right of the political centre, but don't agree on everything apart from the vital vote on confidence and supply.

A Maori-Mana coalition, based only on agreement to share a commitment to what each thinks is best for te iwi Maori could absolutely ensure not merely a Maori presence in Parliament, but a Maori influence on government. It could give Maori a sure each-way bet.

The scenario would be: Maori Party stands candidates only in Tamaki Makaurau, Waiariki and Te Tai Hauauru, Mana stands only in Tokerau and Ikaroa-Rawhiti, one or the other party stands in Tainui where Nanaia Mahuta's kinship links with the dominant iwi make it fairly safe for Labour. This would leave the South Island seat of Te Tai Tonga the only seat for serious negotiation, not excluding the possibility of both Maori parties contesting that one seat.

The net result would be at least five Maori seats filled by Maori not aligned to either National or Labour, guaranteeing National at least three seats for a continuing coalition with the Maori Party, enabling Mr Harawira to offer at least two confidence and supply votes to Labour if he so wishes and Labour gets within cooee of having the numbers. That way both Maori and Mana keep their place in Parliament, with the funding and other benefits that go to their leaders.

In time, they might get to understand each other better, to realise that they have more in common than divides them, and that what in Ratana days last century Herald cartoonist Minhinnick came to call the Maori mandate could again become the balance of political power.

Norman McKenzie, Ngatikahu o Whangaroa, is a Maori financial and business management consultant who has worked also in education and health.

- NZ Herald

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