Not everyone in the coalition Government is thrilled about its race relations policies.
He was asked six times this week whether he backed the policies or had raised concerns, and every time dodged the question. He let it be known that there are “robust debates”.
If he’s uncomfortable now, he might be in for quite a ride.
This is only week two of the Government and already they’ve faced nationwide protests and a proclamation from King Tūheitia calling a national hui to discuss how to oppose them.
And this is before the new Government has actually done anything much on race relations. Once they actually get started on the long list in the coalition documents, there is room for a lot more protest and a lot more discomfort for the likes of Potaka.
Anyone feeling uncomfortable will almost certainly be quietly wondering whether they’re in for three years of the same.
It’s hard to predict.
There is a chance some of the intense anger and hostility the Government is experiencing burns itself out a bit. Part of what’s causing the high levels of outrage is that there is just so much to be outraged at in the coalition documents.
The agreements are unusually detailed. Previous governments’ documents have been much more vague. The result is that this Government might have front-loaded the criticism. Ministers must be hoping that copping it hard up front means copping it softer later on.
They may also be hoping the protests and outrage aren’t sustainable. There is also only so much tolerance middle-of-the-road voters will have. Unless those voters are on board with the outrage, it’ll get irritating.
Motorists will tolerate one or two crowds disrupting their morning commute, but their patience will wear out. That’s what happened to the Restore Passenger Rail protesters who glued their hands to Wellington’s roads. In the end, even the judiciary had a gutsful and took the unusual step of popping one of them in jail for two weeks.
People will also stop listening. Too much outrage ends up becoming white noise. That’s what happened to the hospitality industry through the Covid lockdowns. There was plenty of sympathy, but listening to the same whingeing got boring.
The real unknown is how much bottle National has for this level of resistance. This is largely not their fight. It is their coalition partners Act and NZ First who asked for most of the race relations changes.
National clearly wanted to avoid protests like this week’s. That’s why they gave a hard no to Act’s Treaty principles referendum.
They don’t really have the option of now pulling the pin on the policies they promised in the coalition agreements. But they can put things on the go-slow so they never happen.
Either way, this Government will need to take control of the narrative rather than leaving it to Labour and Te Pati Māori. There is a platform to mount a good argument if they can be bothered.
Both men taking turns as Deputy Prime Minister are of Māori descent. Of this Cabinet, 35 per cent are Māori. That’s better than the 25 per cent in Jacinda Ardern’s Cabinet. One of their newest MPs, James Meager, gave the maiden speech of the week, telling the left they “do not own Māori” and “no party and no ideology has a right to claim ownership over anything or anyone”.
David Seymour’s argument against critics is the simplest. He accuses them of protesting against equal rights for all. For his opponents to counter that, they would have to go where they haven’t yet and argue that Māori deserve more rights. It’s not an argument that will land well with many middle-of-the-road voters.
The Government has some control over whether the rest of the three years are like the last week.