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

Claire Trevett: Maori Party senses good things coming its way

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / Stephen Parker
Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / Stephen Parker

Back in 2014, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said her training for Parliament had come in the form of bringing up nine kids. It was taken as a joke, but the past fortnight has shown just how true it was.

Exhibit A came over the weekend. Mana leader Hone Harawira decided he did not like the Maori land reforms Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell was ushering through the house.

Harawira predicted it would result in the loss of all Maori land, and said if Flavell did not pull the bill he would instruct his Mana Party voters not to vote for the Maori Party.

This came just a couple of months after the much-vaunted agreement between Mana and the Maori Party not to stand against each other in the seven Maori electorates - Harawira would get a clear run to win back Te Tai Tokerau in return for giving the Maori Party a run in the other six.

The land reforms showdown was a rather predictable rupture in that entente cordiale.
While Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell made noises about talking to Harawira to set his mind at ease, Fox had a much simpler solution: eye for an eye.

She said if Harawira told his voters not to vote for the Maori Party, the Maori Party would tell their voters not to vote for the Mana Party. Na-na-na-na-na.

It was a blunt reminder Harawira might need the Maori Party more than they needed him despite the imbalance in the electorate seat deal.

The Maori Party is a cock-a-hoop at the moment on the back of a One News Colmar Brunton poll putting them at 4 per cent support, up from around 1 per cent.

It would normally be seen as a rogue result - but there had been a lot happening in Maori politics to give it some credence.

As well as the Mana-Maori deal, the Maori King had endorsed the Maori Party and its proposed Waikato Tainui candidate Rahui Papa over Labour's Nanaia Mahuta.

They also came under sustained attack from Labour leader Andrew Little, who repeated his view of the Maori Party as a mere tuktuk falling off the back of his "cab rank" in any post-election coalition talks.

He then announced the Maori Party were not a kaupapa Maori party because of their links with National.

Maori politics can be dynamic, but it does not take a Maori kaupapa expert like Little to judge who Maori voters are more likely to side with between a Maori and a Pakeha politician.

It is possible Little's declaration did more good than bad for the Maori Party.
With all of that going on, it seems likely there was some boost in support for the Maori Party.

It coincided with the decision by Labour's Maori MPs not to stand on the list. Those MPs may well be a tad nervous about that decision if subsequent polls show the Maori Party is indeed enjoying something of a political resurrection.

Fox's job is to make the poll boost last.

She was helped when Labour pulled its support for a measure to allow Ngati Paoa to buy back a little-used portion of Pt England Reserve for a housing development and a marae under its Treaty settlement.

That provided Fox with an example of the Maori Party's argument that Labour's Maori MPs had to toe the party line even where that went against Maori interests. The Maori Party did not.

The Resource Management Act reforms unexpectedly provided a further opportunity - courtesy of Act and NZ First.

The Maori Party gave the National Party its votes in return for changes including new iwi participation agreements and preventing ministers over-riding councils' decisions on GE crops.

Act and NZ First seized on the iwi participation agreements, building them up into the boogie man hiding under the bed. NZ First leader Winston Peters described it as "separatism" and the Government caving into "brownmail". Fox called that out as hyperbolic scaremongering.

She began her speech to Parliament with feigned horror: "Oh my goodness! Lock up your children cos here come the Maoris and we should all be very scared."

But she probably didn't mind at all. The more National is accused of "caving in" to the Maori Party and giving up too much to iwi, the happier the Maori Party is because it makes it look very powerful indeed to its voters, Maori voters.

One of Peters' regular sledges of Fox in Parliament is a supposed Maori proverb "when the hen starts crowing, wring its neck". It is a rather sexist way of saying she is getting too big for her boots.

Fox would prefer another fowl-related proverb: something about a fox in the henhouse.

- 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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