John Roughan: Maori inclusion may be the making of us

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A week ago, when the votes were in and National didn't need the Maori Party, a deal didn't seem to me to be worth doing. How wrong I was.

If this deal can be done it will be the better because neither side needs to do it. The voters have allowed National and Act to govern alone if they wish, and relieved the Maori of the need to explain to their people why they are not going with Labour.

The Maori's choice this week was National or nothing, which are both serious options. If National is offering next to nothing Maori might do better to wait. What's another three years after 168? I bet that was said at all the hui held these past few days.

And I'll bet something else: if National's offer is accepted , the reasons that persuaded the hui will have little to do with the positions and portfolios agreed with John Key. The decisive reason will be the Maori leaders' reading of National's new attitude.

It will have to be a radically new attitude for the National Party. Key, I suspect, has got it. English, maybe. The rest may be getting it now, probably helped by the arrival in their caucus of Hekia Parata to join the respected Georgina te Heu Heu.

Add Maori All Black Paul Quinn, new Tauranga MP Simon Bridges and returnees Tau Henare and Paula Bennett and National has had quite an infusion of Maori blood.

But Key is the key. If he wants a deal for the right reasons it will work.

It can't be the sort of deal he did in business, a trade of mutual self-interest. This one is more like a family commitment.

It is likely to be tense, embarrassing or exasperating at times for both parties but the underlying importance of the relationship has to able to transcend almost anything. If Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples and the others are going to give National their confidence votes in Parliament, they must be confident of John Key's enthusiasm for a relationship. They were probably satisfied on that score before they started the rapid round of hui.

My guess is they will have made it very clear they are not content with a relationship in which they are given a couple of self-contained responsibilities in Maori Affairs and Social Welfare and left alone with them.

They are more likely to want an assurance of being treated as an equal partner in all major decisions the Government will make.

That does not mean a right of veto but it does mean they are brought into the discussion, their viewpoints are taken seriously, disagreements respected, and each side makes genuine and strenuous efforts to reach decisions that satisfy both.

No agreed formula of words is sufficient to make that sort of arrangement secure. Its success will depend completely on the heart of the more powerful partner. Key and his Cabinet will have to genuinely want this partnership and even be excited by it.

They should be excited. They have on their table a historical opportunity such as no incoming government has been given. They could be the authors of a constitutional precedent that will do more for the social wellbeing and national identity of New Zealand than they can yet imagine.

The original Treaty partners, subtribal chiefs and the British Crown, made the deal because both sides wanted it, not because either vitally needed it. Chiefly power was not threatened by the British presence at that time, and the Crown was not anxious to acquire another colony.

The Crown was persuaded to govern New Zealand for the sake of law and order in the settlements mainly. And the chiefs were persuaded, against the warnings of some at Waitangi, that their people's mana and possessions would be preserved.

It all turned to custard after the Crown gave self-government to the settlers and four generations of their descendants forgot the deal that made this country also theirs. Maori never forgot it and never will.

Someday, when future generations are more comfortable with their dual heritage and Maori no longer suffer a sense of national dispossession, historians could look back on the partnership that may be made tomorrow as a moment more significant than any since February 6, 1840.

I don't think Key has a big sense of history - if he did he would do tomorrow's work at Waitangi - but he strikes me as genuine. His great strength is to focus only on what matters and for him, I think, Maori inclusion matters.

As Tariana Turia put it , "He is a nice man." If all remain reasonably nice about it, this partnership could be the making of us.

- NZ Herald

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