Towards the end of a full week of policy announcements and campaigning, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ walk around the Ōtara markets on Saturday was cut short by protesters.
They include Brian Tamaki supporters who have moved on from holding rallies over Covid measures to express more general anti-government, conspiracy-fuelled views in a disruptive way.
Protests can be expected as the campaign heats up heading to October 14 and are part of the tradition of political expression. But a level of respect for others and self-control is important to ensure things don’t get ugly and out of hand.
The Parliament siege, marches, and country-to-town rallies showed a heightened level of division during the main period of the pandemic. Social media and foreign influences have made openness about controversial and negative opinions more common.
While the fringe element remains small, some stirred-up tension and divisiveness have become more mainstream through the election campaign.
There has been a focus on co-governance, Māori language on signs, and derision about “wokeness”. Both National and NZ First’s slogans - “get the country back on track” and “let’s take back our country” - echo “make America great again” as calls to return to an earlier time.
Act leader David Seymour joked about blowing up the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, saying he would like to send (the famously unsuccessful) Guy Fawkes in to do the job. The party wants to disband the ministry.
A large section of New Zealand’s society has become comfortable and supportive of the country’s increasing diversity and the visibility it has, but others are less on board.
Previous governments of the centre left and right have been part of a long effort to make progress on Treaty settlements, historical disadvantages, and finding better solutions to entrenched problems.
Both Hipkins and Tamaki were among political leaders and party officials at the korononeihana of Kiingi Tūheitia at Tūrangawaewae Marae in Ngāruawahia on Sunday. National Party leader Christopher Luxon attended. Act was the only current Parliamentary party not at the gathering.
Former Te Pāti Māori president Che Wilson told politicians not to treat Māori as a “political football”. Kiingitanga spokesman Rahui Papa said: “Make it clear it is not your political manifesto to belittle te iwi Māori”.
Hipkins said he agreed with speakers that there were “some sort of elevated levels of race-baiting at the moment”.
Luxon said he didn’t believe National had used Māori as a political football and said his aim was “making sure I can build the economy, rebuild the economy, so that actually Māori and non-Māori can get ahead”.
National’s newly released party list has attracted attention for being dominated by Pākehā males.
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said debates about co-governance were missing the point, as they were advocating for mana motuhake, or true self-determination.
General goals are different from the projects aiming to achieve them, which need to be assessed for effectiveness. Governments should aim to improve the lot of everyone but there’s also a role for targeted help to groups trying to assist their communities.
To bring people who may be hesitant about change along with progress, plans need to be clearly explained - the reasons for them, what benefits they could bring, the costs of action versus the costs of doing nothing.
However, it’s hard for some politicians to resist politicking for votes - signalling to a part of the electorate by stirring up fears.