Morgan Godfery: Lack of focus on Maori issues leaves Labour exposed

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Hone Harawira and Jennifer Waitai-Rapana at the Wanganui Mana Movement Hui. Photo / APN
Hone Harawira and Jennifer Waitai-Rapana at the Wanganui Mana Movement Hui. Photo / APN

Maori political discourse isn't hard to influence. Someone should tell the Labour Party. The Maori media are, more often than not, looking for stories rather than receiving them.

So you'd think Labour would make an attempt to water such a dry media environment. However, this isn't the case. Instead the Mana Movement and the Maori Party are left to direct Maori political discourse at their leisure.

With the possibility of Labour's vote collapsing they need to shore up traditional support bases, read Maori voters. The first step would be a Maori policy statement. Mana, the Maori Party and the Greens have comprehensive Maori policy statements, but Labour has left itself in the wilderness without one. A Maori policy statement is a signal to Maori voters and a way to inject Labour into Maori political discourse.

The party has allowed Mana and the Maori Party to frame Maori issues and direct the narrative, often at the expense of Labour. For example, after Labour's move on raising the retirement age to 67, Mana and the Maori Party took the issue to Maori, saying they would lower the retirement age for Maori to 60.

Their logic revolved around the far lower life expectancy for Maori than for non-Maori. This was an issue Labour introduced, but Mana and the Maori Party took it and remoulded it unchallenged. Labour's Maori MPs stood silent while Mana and the Maori Party won significant Maori support for making the call.

Asset sales are another area where Labour has no excuse for not owning the discourse. However, among Maori voters, Mana and the Maori Party are again directing the discourse. Mana is firmly opposed to asset sales because they believe the policy will hurt the poor, read Maori, whereas the Maori Party is partially opposed. Maori Party leadership have said they will support asset sales if iwi are given, in the words of the Treaty, right of pre-emption, (right to first purchase).

Iwi support for the policy is a given, but it's caused vigorous debate among Maori voters with the more conservative element of Maori society giving cautious approval.

At no point has Labour entered the discussion to state their rationale for opposing asset sales to Maori. Labour haven't even pointed out the bleeding obvious - iwi, even as a consortium, don't have sufficient capital to invest in a significant stake in our assets.

If Labour is serious about reclaiming the Maori seats they need to genuinely engage with Maori voters.

Parekura Horomia this week touched on the important issue of reintroducing the Maori trade training scheme during Maori Television's's Ikaroa-Rawhiti debate.

Many Maori see a new scheme as a way to reduce Maori unemployment. But after the debate there was no follow-up from Labour. If they made Maori trade training a live issue they could make a serious play at owning Maori political discourse.

Morgan Godfery is a law student and former Labour staffer. He blogs on Maori issues at mauistreet.blogspot.com

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