While the Maori Party does at times consciously project an image of guilelessness, they have been highly successful – more so say, than the Greens – at concealing their major party preference in this election. Currently, the Maori Party is a good bet to take all seven Maori electorates, and is also asking its supporters not to give their list vote to Labour, to the Greens or to anyone else. Their role in the election outcome may be decisive, especially if New Zealand First do not make it back into Parliament – and the Maori Party have been engaged on that front as well in recent days.
Under MMP though, one can box cleverly for just so long. Ironically, it was New Zealand First in the 1990s who showed how dangerous it can be for a Maori political champion to become the junior player in a government led by non-Maori – and in that case, by National.
For a party whose electoral strength has relied on its ability to keep a virtuous distance, any meaningful links with either major party are bound to put that reputation at risk. Arguably, the Maori middle class – – let alone the elite – is not yet large enough for the Maori Party to wear a close partnership with National with any aplomb. Brown Tories are still a bit too thin on the ground.
Moreover, the Maori Party has not been created to be a one term flash in the pan. Whatever the short term advantages on offer this year, any partner the Maori Party chooses at this election has to be able to enhance its long term prospects. For that reason, it has been saying of late that it wants a Treaty partner at this election, not a coalition partner. Even so that merely re-defines the core problem – since the Maori Party cannot simply be the Treaty coach, trying to affect the run of play from the sidelines.
Labour and its limitations are a relatively known quantity. National promises to be a circuit breaker. The more that National depends on the Maori Party to govern, the greater the policy opportunities – and the greater the risk of being held responsible for centre right policy positions likely to be seen by their support base as damaging to Maori workers and families, even before they get to the law and order policies.
So are the Maori Party playing a game of bluff on a grand scale – or are they truly prepared to risk everything on National, in a union of apparent opposites ? In some ways, it may be as blessing in disguise for the Maori Party if the election outcome does not land it directly in the hot seat.
Yesterday, Scoop political editor Gordon Campbell talked to Hone Harawira, the Maori Party’s main election campaign strategist.
Campbell : Your aim is to take all seven Maori electorate seats and you have an 8% list vote level as your aspirational target. Is that correct?
Harawira : Yep.
Campbell : For a Maori worker, or a Maori family on a benefit, do you think that they have more to fear from a Labour – led government or from a National –led government ?
Harawira : Talking about Maori workers ? Gee, that’s a difficult question. They have a lot to fear from continued dependency on benefits – you know what I mean? That’s the downside of being on the bloody benefit. You end up thinking that’s your fate. You’re not encouraged to do anything for yourself. The downside of National of course, is that they reckon they’re going to scrap them all.
Campbell : So which is the lesser evil for Maori ? A Labour – led governnent or a National – led one?
Harawira : The lesser evil is…John Tamihere actually raised it when he was in Labour ,and got smacked on the hand for knocking Labour’s welfarism. He proposed community control of benefits. And we believe that, too. Tariana has been strong for a long time on unbundling and putting those kind of funds back into the community and let the communities lift themselves out of that situation. In the first instance you’ve got to maintain those benefits. But you’ve got to enable communities to grow themselves off living on a benefit.
Campbell : OK. So, when you look at the desired direction of welfare policy for Maori, and you look at the desired direction of industrial relations policy for Maori – which of the two major parties offers you the better framework to work under?
Harawira : For our people, because they’re primarily in the lower socio-economic bracket ? Labour. For the simple reason that Labour has always maintained a clear view of consistently raising the basic minimum wage.
Campbell : Right. In the past, a lot of Maori voters so I’m told, have said : ‘Well, we’ve give the Maori Party the vote in the electorates and we’ll give the party vote to Labour on the list. And that way, we’ll get two for one.’ What’s the flaw in that kind of thinking ?
Harawira : Well, the flaw for us is obvious. We want everybody to vote for the Maori Party. For the simple reason – and I think the last three years have proved it – we are the truly independent voice of Maoridom in this Parliament. No one else gets to speak as often as we do. I, for example, am number four in a party of four and I’ve spoken probably….160 times. As opposed to the Minister of Maori Affairs, who’s the top Maori in government, who has only spoken about 30 times.
Campbell : One of the things that’s going to be part of the campaign atmosphere is the privileges committee scrap we’ve had this week. Won’t a chunk of your support base see that as the Maori Party joining in with the Establishment in beating up on a Maori MP ?
Harawira : One can hardly call it the Establishment. I mean, very rarely do the Greens buddy up with National on anything. Yet they were part of this. United Future are part of the Labour/NZFirst coalition government, yet they chose not to stand with Winston on this.
There was clearly an across the board decision that the privileges committee should [recommend to] censure Winston Peters. Now, in terms of the Maori perception of this. I think Maori wanted us – and we did – to stand by Winston when all the flak was going down. We’re not into dissing people. But that commitment was to him as an individual. Because he was a Maori. It wasn’t at any time a declared statement of support for Winston’s position. That’s the difference.
Campbell : Even though there were other players on the majority team who felt likewise, do you expect some fallout from Maori because you chose to join in with the majority decision ?
Harawira : Yes, I think so. You will always get that happen when you take a stand on principle. Not everybody’s going to go along with it. But I think one of the reasons most Maori have warmed to us is because we are strong. We are independent and we have integrity. Our decisions are n ot being based on us being National focused or Labour focused. And when we did an analysis of our voting records I think it came out 25 % with National, and 75% against them. Kind of 50/50 with Labour. And 80 % with the Greens.
Campbell : Having said that, and given we haven’t seen all of National’s policy hand yet – can you imagine anything they might propose that would count as a bridge too far in preventing you from going into government with National ?
Harawira : Getting rid of the Maori seats. That’d be a bridge too far. A refusal to allow us to be a player at the table.
Campbell : Have you had any communications from National that the abolition of the Maori seats – or anything else – would be off the table ?
Harawira : We’re hearing that sort of thing informally all the time. And we understand that’s on the basis of political analysis that if all the Maori seats were to flow back into the general seats they would all vote Labour – in sufficient numbers and in sufficient seats that National wouldn’t rule again for another 30 years.
Campbell : Faced with a backlash from Maori for victimising Winston, haven’t the Maori Party deliberately re-defined the issue this week as you being monstered by Labour ?
Harawira : Oh no, not at all. If we hadn’t been approached it wouldn’t have been an issue. But when it became an issue, and people strated to say the Maori Party was this or that, we decided well..we might as well put this out on the table.
Campbell : And don’t those kind of communications go on all the time around Parliament – as a management strategy by people trying to work out where each other may stand ?
Harawira. Yes, that sort of lobbying goes on all the time in terms of general legislation. Very rarely over issues of privilege. Our view is that in terms of issues of privilege, it shouldn’t happen at all.
Campbell : On the Agenda program last week, you mentioned the Maori Party had a plan A and a Plan B with respect to the position you’d prefer, post election. Is Plan A a formal coalition, and is that the desired outcome?
Harawira : No, no. Plan A is that we are THE player. Know what I mean ? National can’t govern, Labour can’t govern, unless they get us. Plan B is where we are a player, one of a number of players invited to form a relationship.
I’ll get onto your next point, about coalition. Clearly, there are a number of coalition arrangements that are possible. There’s the Jim Anderton ‘lock me in I’ll never complain’ kind of arrangement. There’s the Winston Peters “ I want to be a Minister but I want to be outside Cabinet “ kind of arrangement. There’s the Greens special arrangement that they had. And we have our own idea about what we’d like to see as well. Because there are bound to be other scenarios.
Campbell : Lets look at Plan A where you are the necessary ingredient. Would your preference thereafter to be in formal coalition with your needy partner ?
Harawira : No. There’s no guarantee we will go into formal coalition with anyone. That’s why I said there are a number of those kind of arrangements…in fact Jim Anderton is Labour’s only formal coalition partner.
Campbell : That’s right. And I’m trying to work out – once we get past the gate on Plan A – what your favoured scenario would be.
Harawira : Oh, we’re a LONG way from that. A long way from that.
Campbell : You mean, you haven’t got a preference – or you’re wanting to hold your cards close ?
Harawira : The message we got when we went on the road after the last election was – when we went out and asked our people what do you think we should be doing, who should we be hanging with – a lot of them said ‘Go with Labour.’ Hardly any of them said ‘Go with National.’ In fact, most of them said – This is your first time in, don’t get into bed with anyone.’
Campbell : Yeah, but if you don’t jump into bed, you can’t make policy babies.
Harawira : But it depends on whether it is policy babies you want, or whether it is action you want. We’re not JUST interested in changing policy. We’re interested in some action. The kind of arrangements are about formal coalition – and the options are the Jim Anderton, the Peter Dunne , the Winston Peters and the Greens.
Campbell : OK, lets start at the bottom. Do you think the Greens experience – with the special side deals on policy in return for support on confidence and supply – has been a happy precedent, and one you would want to emulate?
Harawira : I’ve got to say we’re still studying the success – or otherwise – of all those kinds of arrangements. And we’re not settled on any one of them. And it is unlikely we will settle on one, before the election.
Campbell : One could argue that the advantage for the Maori Party of going with National is that it is the only scenario where Plan A would play out. You would be the only prospect – if they needed it – where you could deliver them seven seats. So, you could hope to win more from National than if you were sitting alongside the Greens and everyone else, with Labour. Is that going to be a factor in deciding – presuming you get the chance to decide – which way to jump ?
Harawira. No. We have no formal preference at this stage, one way or the other. I do know that Tariana and Pita have met on a number of occasions with John Key – and have also had a number of meetings with Helen Clark.
Campbell : So are you saying that the extent of your leverage wouldn’t be a decisive factor in your choice ?
Harawira : Ummm, the extent of leverage WOULD be a decisive factor.
Campbell : Right. And I’m arguing that logically, your leverage would be more extensive under National.
Harawira : Ahhh, that could be true. In the short term environment. But were we to go that way, what might be the kickback from our people ? Know what I mean ? Whereas, if we were one of a number of players in an arrangement with Labour but with a long term strategy for achieving what we wanted to achieve, that might in fact be better.
Its still very much…being discussed. The other thing of course is that MMP is still so new to us. Governing arrangements are still yet to be developed. And I suspect the ideas that we are currently thinking of – no, I don’t suspect – I KNOW, they are not being proposed by anyone else. We have ideas about what we want to put on the table.
Campbell : I’m not sure how to ask this next question in a polite way but –
Harawira : ( laughs) I’m not the most polite person in the world, anyway. Just ask it.
Campbell : Its about your role. You are being put forward as the spokesperson on strategy for the campaign and yet – presumably – when it comes to the post election period it will be Mrs Turia and Pita Sharples who will be managing the sharp end of the negotiations.
Harawira : Absolutely. They are the leaders.
Campbell : So is this arrangement intended to mean that whatever you say during the campaign can be deniable by them later ?
Harawira : Oh, no no, not at all. In fact, this is something that I’ve been pushing for, for quite some time. It happens to be something that I’m very passionate about. I am more passionate about our strategic direction than I am about my personal position as a member of Parliament.
But that’s a good point. It means they could always say ‘Oh no no, that’s just Hone. (laughs)
Campbell : And when you go around the country what feedback are you getting about what your support base feels are their main concerns ?
Harawira : A lot of them are still scared that we might go with National. And its quite difficult for us to say “ Oh, we’ll never go with National.” Because then they’d naturally think we’re going to go with Labour.
And yet what we’re trying to say to them is look, do you want us to go with the crowd that’s going to get rid of the Maori seats or – would you rather we went with the crowd that just stole our foreshore and seabed ? And that kind of gets them going ‘ Oh shit, forgot about that. “ When we talk to them about it that way, they are very noncommittal. It’s a historical leaning we have had towards Labour that tends to have most of our people think that way.
Campbell : Mindful of that historical framework you’ve just raised – in the long run has Labour done more, or less for Maori people than National ?
Harawira : You’ve been around the political scene for the last nine years, haven’t you? I’ll ask you the question I ask everybody – name me one thing Labour has done for Maori in the last nine years. Just one.
Campbell : I think Maori have gained from the industrial relations changes –
Harawira : No no, not for everyone. For Maori. Just one.
Campbell : Well, the Closing the Gaps policy was targeted to Maori, but that got scrapped. So I’d say I’d say some of the Treaty settlements, like the ones we’re celebrating today.
Harawira : Those are four different tribes. I’m talking about for the whole of Maoridom.
Campbell : That’s a false question. Governing doesn’t happen that way. What do you see as the main ones ?
Harawira : They cancelled Manaaki Tauira– which is the grants for Maori students wanting to go to tertiary education. That protected more Maori students, regardless of what age. And the other thing they did for all Maori was stole our foreshore and seabed. There’s not one thing – not one thing – that this Labour government has done for all Maori.
Campbell : What about if I said to you that they didn’t steal your foreshore and seabed. They stole your right to go to the courts and contest the kind of rights that –
Harawira : Ok, lets call it that then. They stole the right of every Maori to take that claim to court.
Campbell : And if they had been able to take that claim to court, what do you think the outcome would have been ?
Harawira : That’s now sort of hypothetical. Its a sort of ‘ out there’ question. We’d like it to become a real question again, by throwing that fucking Act out.
Campbell : If it did, and if they did – do you think that many Maori would want free-hold rights that they would then want to sell ?
Harawira : That’s a whole different ball game. Are we now moving on from my question, to your new line of questioning ?
Campbell : No. It’s a continuation of the same line of questioning. The argument was that government action was taken in a context of recognizing customary rights – while seeking to ensure customary rights would not be exercised to produce a freehold outcome where –perhaps – anyone – including anyone from offshore – might be able to buy and sell chunks of the foreshore and seabed.
Harawira : As opposed to right now, where government can sell that to someone from overseas? I know, that was the fear that they promoted. But as soon as they got in, they gave mining exploration licenses to Chinese companies to do exploration for offshore mining from New Plymouth all the way up to Kaipara harbour. They’re offering offshore mining licenses all around the Whangaroa harbour. They’re doing this sort of thing all around the country.
Once those people are in – its guaranteed that’s an exclusive use right that those people are going to get. All that the government did was promote the fear that we might [seek freehold title ] The reality is that this government has the control and the ability to either lease, or sell those very lands they have accumulated to themselves. Because they have not once declared that they hold those in public ownership, and will not sell them. Have they said that? Well, its not part of the Act.
Campbell : OK. Let’s go back to the privileges committee stance. Wasn’t the Maori Party in a ‘damned if you do /damned if you don’t’ situation ? If you’d voted with the government you would be seen as a lackey of Labour. When you voted against Winston, you are now being seen as cozying up to National –
Harawira : No. No, we never even – I don’t want us to sound like prima donnas, but we never even contemplated the political fallout. All we did was say to Te Ururoa [Flavell] you’re going to be on there. And he’d talk to us regularly about what was going on. We were comfortable with the process as he described it. We were satisfied with comments from Cullen that Simon Power was running a fair ship. And we were comfortable with the decision that he [Flavell] made. He made that based on what was taking place.
Campbell : You’re saying that it had nothing to do with the political framework ?
Harawira : We never considered that at all. In fact, it probably would have been better for us if we had jumped in bed with Winston. We wouldn’t have Winston blaming us, and all that kind of stuff.
Campbell : But if you’d done that, you would have been burning your bridges with National.
Harawira : Oh, we don’t particularly care about which bridges we burn. We do what we do, because we believe it to be true. And the Labour thing, or the National thing… ( shrugs) In that situation, it didn’t matter. Actually I don’t even think it would have meant any big deal to National whichever way we went.
Campbell. Right. Because they might have made an exception for you on the basis of well, …this is Maoridom.
Harawira : Yeah. That’s right.
Campbell : Finally, if you could arrange a dream concert to raise funds for the Maori Party for this campaign – which musician above all others would you want to invite?
Harawira : Personal one? Tui Teka. Of all Maori entertainers I’ve ever met in my lifetime he, in my view, truly embodies concepts of Maori that any Maori would feel comfortable with.