Gordon Campbell on how Tariana Turia is facing a Katie Holmes moment

The Maori Party’s relationship with National is looking more and more like that of a battered spouse, a pitiable creature who will swallow any indignity in return for the few crumbs of what the relationships once promised to offer. Of course, the Maori Party will say that it’s staying in this dysfunctional coalition for the sake of the children. Which, in the context of this analogy, is the Whanau Ora programme. No matter how sickly and malnourished it may be, Whanau Ora is still Tariana Turia’s baby.

It is a train wreck. Yet come their meeting on Monday, you can bet that the Maori Party and National will have patched things up again. No doubt, they’ll utter token words of mutual respect that will enable them to stumble on until it happens all over again. On Monday, there will even be – through gritted teeth on John Key’s part – a few humbled words of respect for those meddling aunts and uncles at the Waitangi Tribunal. The political strategy is already clicking into place:

(a) Delay things until Monday to take the heat out of the issue

(b) Downplay the offence by redefining it. Come Monday, expect something along these lines from Key: “What I did was merely to state the obvious, that Parliament is sovereign. And within that Parliament, the Maori Party is a capable and valued partner in this government. They’re capable; I value and respect their advice, etc etc.” Respect. Got it?

(c) Praise the Tribunal, honour the Treaty partner, slag the critics as opportunists. Key again, come Monday: “I think we should all take a deep breath, and await the findings of the Tribunal. When we have those findings I will be giving them the level of consideration they deserve. I don’t think we should rush to judgment and frankly I’m disappointed – but not surprised – that the opposition has chosen to play politics with this issue. It’s far too important for that etc etc…” End of story. Pita Sharples climbs into his ministerial limousine and drives off.

The basic problem will remain: that John Key has other suitors to please. To the prospective investors in the state assets being put on the auction block, Key has to appear in command, as if there are no undue impediments or uncertainties when it comes to the process of profit taking from those investments. The ownership status of water is a crucial factor in the functioning of these assets – we’re talking about hydro power, right? How hard was it to see this problem coming down the tracks? (Peter Dunne could see the potential for trouble, pre-election last year.) Over at The Standard website, James Henderson has a good example of how tricky some of the related decisions can be, even for non-Maori:

Taupo Council wants Mighty River’s consent for raising the level of Lake Taupo to be reduced or mitigated because its eroding the lakeshore – but an extra metre of lake level is, by my calculation, half a billion extra kilowatt/hours of gravitational potential energy sitting there, worth over $50 million dollars to Mighty River, and it’s ready to be sent down the dams for even greater profits when the spot price spikes. If that gets curtailed, there goes a big chunk of Mighty River’s profits.

When it come to the asset sales, National clearly thought it could flannel its way through any of the potential Treaty problems to do with water rights, which says a lot about how captive it feels the Maori Party is to the coalition, and to whatever National chooses to do. That’s the tactical mistake Turia has made by putting all of the Maori Party’s eggs in the Whanau Ora basket. She’s a captive now of John Key – much more visibly now, than she ever was to Helen Clark. (Second marriages do tend to break down for the same old reasons.)

Rignt now, independence looks politically more rewarding for the Maori Party than staying on in this undignified position. The break has to come sooner or later, because – surely – the Maori Party cannot be planning to go into the next election side by side with National. If things seem bad now, wait until the full fallout is registering among the Maori Party’s constituents from asset sales, and from welfare reform. As Katie Holmes has shown, it all comes down to picking the right moment and the right excuse to leave. That’s what makes all the difference between escape and desertion. (They were going to make my baby into a Scientologist!)

Right now, the government is making it clear just what kind of conclusions it wants to get from the Waitangi Tribunal – or else. As a consequence, Turia is facing her Katie Moment – does she accept whatever her boyishly grinning partner is forcing on her and totally surrender to the alien sect with which she’s got somehow got herself entangled? Or does she pick up what’s dearest to her, and head for the exit? A dignified separation now is going to look much better than a rat-leaving-ship moment later in this parliamentary term.

Why…in the course of time, Whanau Ora could even grow up in a healthier household, within a centre left government.