On the martyrdom of Hone Harawira

hone harawiraThe notion of a Maori Party suffering patiently for five years with an untrustworthy and disruptive Hone Harawira requires a rewrite of history that isn’t credible. Let’s get it straight. The Maori Party wanted a genuine radical on the team. It recruited one in Hone Harawira. His mana helped make them look like the real deal – and while he certainly benefitted from the arrangement, he also helped significantly in getting his Maori Party colleagues into Parliament.

Since then, the Maori Party has actively used Harawira’s independence as a badge of credibility for its various compromises with National. (ie, if Hone was grumbling but still inside the tent, then those compromises must be OK.) Yet now Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia want to depict this mutual exploitation process as a burden they can no longer bear to endure? Hone as the party’s tame radical was very much their creation.

Let’s leave aside the farcical process whereby the party’s consideration of the complaint made by Te Ururoa Flavell over Harawira’s recent magazine article has been hijacked – two days before the hearing – by the parliamentary caucus that has decided to suspend Harawira indefinitely. Not for any fresh sin on his part, but allegedly because of his behaviour over the past five years! Surely, any alleged sins of disloyalty and indiscipline should have been addressed at the time, rather than put into a pot and served out when it suits the party leadership. That’s not due process. In effect, Harawira has been blindsided with sweeping general allegations on the eve of a party disciplinary hearing into a very specific complaint. One can only conclude the party leadership felt it would lose the complaint, unless it sent the hearing a clear signal about what its decision should be.

For all the abuse hurled at Harawira, how many people have gone back to read the article that got him into hot water?

The article seems quite generous, and balanced :

We’ve worked hard and a lot of the things we’ve achieved simply wouldn’t have happened without the Maori Party: the review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act (albeit with the possibility that it will be replaced by an equally anti-Maori one); recognition of the Maori flag; qualified approval of the UN Declaration of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Tobacco Inquiry and the two tobacco bills; and Whanau Ora.
The downside of being in government with National is having to put up with all the anti-worker, anti-beneficiary and anti-environment (and therefore anti-Maori) legislation that comes as a natural consequence of having a right-wing government.

The Maori Party is a coalition partner of that government and our co-leaders are ministers in that government, so unless we take a very strong position against some of the government’s legislative agenda we will be seen as supporting that agenda.

The article then offers this sensible and positive plan of action as a response :

Be clear about who our constituency is and define our policies and positions on that basis. Stop pretending that we are a mainstream party – we’re not. The Maori Party operates on the basis that what is good for Maori is good for the nation so we should highlight policies that benefit Maori but also help the rest of the country. Tobacco was an excellent start. Simple and positive health and education initiatives and programmes to assist the poor are obvious starters as well.

Be bold in our positions. When governments say “Maori need to be realistic” what they’re really saying is “no”. But that shouldn’t make us afraid to say what it is our people want, and commit ourselves to doing our best to achieving it….

Speak out strongly against National’s anti-social initiatives. No more of the polite press releases that say nothing. If we can’t stop them through persuasion at party leader or at cabinet level, then we need to signal that we will oppose them vigorously in the house, at select committee, at public meetings and on the streets if necessary.

Oppose National’s Marine and Coastal Areas bill. Just because we were consulted on it doesn’t mean we have to support it. The bill is National’s. It does not reflect the hopes and dreams of either the Maori people or the Maori Party, and was opposed by most Maori during the select committee hearings. If we support this bill, we’re effectively saying that our coalition with National is more important than our commitment to Maori – surely not?
Develop strategic relationships with the Greens and with Labour. In one of his more magnanimous moments during the flush of his 2008 election victory, John Key told us that “the Maori Party shouldn’t just aim to be a coalition partner for National, but a party that can work with anyone”. Now’s the time to take him up on his offer. Make it clear that in the interests of advancing the status of Maori we will be meeting with other parties to consider our options.

Above all, have the courage to speak out, and to tolerate healthy dissent :

Stop trying to make us all be the same. When some of us say one thing and others take another view, learn to celebrate the difference rather than try to crush the dissent. Maori are a vibrant and diverse people – our strength as a party is in reflecting that diversity and appealing to all sectors of our society. And remember, the kaupapa is always more important than the coalition.

How can such uncontroversial statements trigger such a damaging exercise of repression? The reality is that it once suited the Maori Party down to the ground to let Hone be Hone. Now, in election year, it doesn’t suit them, and they want him overboard. Party discipline is one thing. Yet Harawira’s reputation was built on years of activism before he entered Parliament, and the issues he has been raising – about the adequacy of the foreshore and seabed rewrite, and the level of collusion with National’s anti-social agenda – are not imaginary, or the mere by-products of his ambition. They are hot topics among the people he represents. Silence is not an option. Party discipline cannot demand from MPs that they listen to the concerns of their constituents, and then ignore them.

The option Harawira has chosen today is to stay with the Maori Party – at least until the complaints process plays out tomorrow, and/or until the leadership kicks him out. Another option would to leave with reluctance, while claiming his position has been made intolerable by the actions of others – and then spend the rest of this year as a true independent, focused on representing Maori around the country and expressing their concerns about the sellouts in Cabinet. One difficulty with that course would be how to advise the people of Te Tai Tokerau to use their party vote. If the outcome of this meltdown is that Te Tai Tokerau votes for Harawira in the electorate and for the Maori Party on the list…well, the conflict will have been about very little.

As a genuine independent, Harawira would be free to decide – issue by issue, on behalf of his constituents – whether he is closer to Labour and the Greens, or to National’s fellow travellers, If he’s forced to go there, there are worse destinations.


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