Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Clark snub sound of a party standing its ground

Helen Clark discovered she had the support of everybody except the Maori Party.
Helen Clark discovered she had the support of everybody except the Maori Party.

There has been a slight irony in developments around the race to be UN Secretary-General this week. Over the Tasman, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd discovered he did not have support from anybody except indigenous groups thanks to his apology to the "Stolen Generation".

Here, Helen Clark discovered she had the support of everybody except the Maori Party (and the Right-to-Lifers but let's not go there.)

Maori Party co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox have been hung, drawn and quartered for saying they did not support Helen Clark's bid to be Secretary-General. Labour described it as "political hysteria", Dover Samuels said it was utu, NZ First leader Winston Peters proclaimed it was "treacherous in the extreme".

It seems the Maori Party missed out in the nationwide distribution of rose-tinted glasses since Prime Minister John Key and Helen Clark announced her bid.

Anyone who is surprised at the Maori Party's position has forgotten where the Maori Party came from. It was born from protest against the very actions of Helen Clark's former Labour Government.

This week's debate has prodded old scabs - Clark meeting Shrek instead of the foreshore and seabed hui of "haters and wreckers", Clark referring to the Maori Party as "last cab off the rank". It was a reminder that the Maori Party owed Clark nothing.

Flavell has argued Clark's actions on the Foreshore and Seabed Act were driven by politics rather than principle. In return, the Maori Party decided its stance on Clark based on principle rather than "populism".

But there is also a political driver. The Maori Party was not seeking widespread sanction of its stance. After eight years of being described as National's lapdog, it was trying to remind the Maori people it did exist and why it existed. It was trying to remind them that the Labour Party they had given most of the Maori seats to did not have a blemish-free history.

It was trying to remind them it was the Maori Party which persuaded National to sign the Declaration on Indigenous Peoples' Rights and to replace the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

At first, it seemed the Maori Party was guilty of petty politics partly because it had spoken out just days before the second straw poll on the candidates in the Security Council. But the Maori Party was as surprised as anybody when its decision popped up out of nowhere this week. The party's council had met back in May and decided they could not support Clark.

Fox spelled that out in an interview with Te Karere soon after. She said Clark could do the job and New Zealand would be proud to have her in it. However, the Maori Party's view was that until she apologised or at least acknowledged the "mistakes" she had made, the party could not support her bid.

That was not picked up more widely until this week when a reporter rang Fox after she tweeted about Tina Ngata's similar criticism of Clark to a UN forum on indigenous issues. It is not a good look for Clark, but nor will it erode her chances.

Clark is at least in a better position than Rudd. At the same time the Maori Party was bucking John Key's campaign to promote Helen Clark, Australian media had pieced together a possible link between Key being caught with his fly down last Friday and Turnbull's decision to reject Rudd's request to be nominated for Secretary-General.

In explaining why his fly was down, Key had explained to More FM he was in the gents when Malcolm Turnbull rang him to talk about Helen Clark.

Two days later, Key was in the media sledging Rudd. Three days later, Turnbull delivered the casting vote to reject Rudd.

Australian Labor MP Penny Wong accused Turnbull of "outsourc[ing] his dirty work to the Prime Minister of New Zealand." If that was the case, it shows Key has learned a bit from Turnbull's predecessor Tony Abbott. Scuppering Rudd was an A+ shirt-front by Key.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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