Fran O'Sullivan: Sidelined for having guts to speak out

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Hone Harawira wants his party leaders to respond to his valid concerns. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Hone Harawira wants his party leaders to respond to his valid concerns. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Hone Harawira is staying true to the principles that drove him into national politics, rather than falling into the simple trap of becoming just another parliamentary brown-noser.

Harawira's constituency - Maori who are not on the lucrative Treaty of Waitangi gravy train or have failed to get any of the benefits from multimillion-dollar settlements, or simply are stuck in dead-end jobs, on benefits or are unemployed - will be rooting for him.

Today's Parliament fundamentally lacks MPs who have the guts to speak their own truth to power. Particularly to their own side.

But Harawira stands alone in this Parliament as the only MP (apart from former Labour MP Chris Carter, who stuffed up his opportunity) who has the cojones to make his dissatisfactions public in a credible manner.

And the smarts to remind Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples that their caucus shouldn't be a pushover for the National-led Government on issues which their own party stands for.

Typically, his internal opponents have seized on his Sunday newspaper column, "Crunch time for Maori grumbles", as grounds for instant dismissal from the Maori Party. The party's president has brought in Wellington lawyer Mai Chen to, in effect, set up the ousting.

But what's the rush to squash a politician who is just speaking his mind in a considered fashion?

It has become accepted as a fait accompli that Harawira must go. Why? As he brilliantly reminded his colleagues through the column, he did lead the hikoi which gave birth to the Maori Party.

Rumblings of discontent had to be dealt with or the party would have lost out at the next election. Pretty obvious, I would have thought, and something that happens to the support base of junior coalition partners unless the leadership is particularly adept at staking out the points of difference between their party and the top dog.

He staked out the party's successes in its mere six years of life: first Maori party in Parliament, first Maori party in government, first ministers appointed to the Cabinet from a party voted in by Maori.

And chalked up the political successes: review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act; recognition of the Maori flag; qualified approval of the United Nations Declaration of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Tobacco Inquiry, two tobacco bills and Whanau Ora.

So he said that the downside of being in government with National involved having to put up with the anti-worker, anti-beneficiary and anti-environment legislation that comes as a natural consequence of having a right-wing government.

It is, after all, his point of view.

And, let's face it, we do have enormous social problems that are being swept under the carpet. Not just for Maori. Though clearly they are over-represented.

But the growing numbers of the "lost generation" of Kiwi youth - those who can't find work - is a scandal.

Backbench MPs are not subject to Cabinet collective responsibility. They should be able to articulate their views on major issues and challenge the powers that be. Trouble is, far too many of today's crop leave any pretence to owning an independent brain outside the door when they enter Parliament.

It wasn't always so. National MPs thrilled when newbies Ruth Richardson and Simon Upton took to then prime minister Sir Robert Muldoon, telling the old tusker himself he was leading his party away from its private enterprise principles. They were dubbed "Hansel and Gretel" by older colleagues who applauded them for sticking up for National's ethos.

No one called for them to be dumped.

But you would struggle to find anyone on National's back bench who would test today's leadership.

Even Maggie Barry, an astute player, has fallen quickly into the obsequiousness trap. Barry gushed on about National's "outstanding leadership" as she staked out why she wanted the Botany seat.

Harawira is made of sterner stuff. But there has also been a sea change, which I put down to the journalistic tendency to quickly put any backbench MP on to the "must be dumped from caucus' slipway" when they call their own party to account.

Instead of greasing the ramp, why don't journalists simply challenge the leadership to respond to the valid points Harawira has made?

The real scandal is the outrageous foreshore and seabed deal that National is trying to forge with the Maori Party. Unfortunately, there is no one on National's backbench with the guts to articulate what its support base is saying about a deal that gives Maori rights others won't have.

- NZ Herald

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