Making gains for Maori, but party needs to win electorate seats
Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox has been able to produce a commendable list of gains for Maori from the 2016 Budget, showing the practical worth of being in government. But the party, and Maori as a voting bloc, face some challenges.
All the issues the party lobbied successfully for, such as increased funding for Whanau Ora and Maori and Pasifika training schemes, strengthening te reo and $41 million for emergency housing, show the value of having a voice at the table.
The problem for the Maori Party is that to continue to have any voice in Parliament, it has to win electorate seats.
The foreshore and seabed legislation of the then Labour government was the catalyst for the party’s formation in 2004 and the next year it won all seven Maori seats in the 2005 election.
Since then its numbers have dwindled progressively, down to three in 2011 and just two MPs in 2014, Te Ururoa Flavell and Fox — the party’s first ever list MP.
The party was not helped by the retirement of its two charismatic founders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples in 2014. It is now languishing at about 1 percent in opinion polls.
That lack of support is somewhat surprising in light of what the party has achieved for Maori, such as Turia’s fight against tobacco and the formation of Whanau Ora — a cornerstone of the coalition formed with National after the 2008 election.
A key problem is that many Maori still retain an affiliation with Labour that goes all the way back to the Ratana agreement with that party after the 1935 election. Ratana was the first independent Maori political party to have representatives in Parliament.
Many Maori would like to see another strong, independent voice able to take advantage of the increased opportunities for proportional representation that MMP offers. A bloc Maori vote could be a powerful force in New Zealand politics, but so far it has not really emerged. The Maori Party would love to be that force but in the meantime it will have to be content with having the Government’s ear.