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Panel discussion: Maori Party heading for oblivion or balance-of-power?

Sun, 30 Oct 2016

RAW DATA: Lisa Owen interviews Maiki Sherman, Ella Henry, and Chris Wikaira on The Nation

Lisa Owen: The Maori seats could be crucial in next year’s election. If the Maori Party comes out on top, John Key could find it easier to form a government with them, but without Winston Peters. But if Labour retain their advantage, it could help them into power. So it’s prediction time. I’m joined now by AUT senior lecturer Ella Henry, PR consultant Chris Wikaira and NewsHub political reporter Maiki Sherman. Good morning to you all. Maiki, can I come to you first? Are these seats, or could these seats decide the election? If so, how?

Maiki Sherman: Absolutely. I think that the Maori seats will be crucial when it comes to next year’s election. I mean, John Key will be doing everything that he can not to have to rely on Winston Peters if it comes down to it to form the next government, and he’s had a good working relationship with the Maori Party. So if, for example, the Maori Party could claw back one or two extra seats on top of Waiariki held by Te Ururoa Flavell, then that could give John Key some options, and when we heard the Maori King back the Maori Party, it was sort of coined then that perhaps the Maori King could save John Key from Winston, the kingmaker.

Chris, do you agree? Because these are going to be hotly contested, and Labour wants to hang on to them. How many do you think they can realistically walk away with?

Chris Wikaira: I think the first thing we need to look at is what’s going to happen in terms of the Maori vote overall. Are we going to see a protest vote because Maori voters are not happy with Maori Party being with National? We saw that in 1999. Remember New Zealand First. There’s the Winston factor again. Clean-swept those seats in ’96, but the party vote went overwhelmingly to Labour, and Maori voters expected that to be a New-Zealand-First-Labour coalition when it wasn’t. Those Maori MPs, the former Tight Five guys, effectively admitted afterwards, ‘Well, you know, we signed our death warrants right then.’ What is the mood of our Maori voters going to be? Are they going to protest-vote Maori Party into oblivion, or with what Tuku Morgan and what the Maori Party are doing now, bringing some big names in, some personalities, is that going to be what changes the game?

Let’s bring Ella in on the conversation. You’re talking there about the mood of Maori voters - What do you think it is, Ella? Can you tell that yet?

Ella Henry: I think what’s interesting about this whole situation is that we’re a year out and some very big names are being touted, some very well-known people, who at the end of the day have got a brand reputation, whether they choose to go with Labour or Maori Party, and truth be told, some of those people could go in either direction. So we’re not talking about a huge political variation. It’s which party are you going to affiliate with. What I think is probably one of the scariest things about this is that the next election may well be won in the Maori seats because of the calibre of your social-media status. You know, the person with the biggest number of Twitter followers and Facebook followers might become the criteria for selection as opposed to, you know, going to every meeting party and kissing every baby to get selected. So it’s going to be much more a social-media-driven campaign, which of course, doesn’t require as much money, which is great for the smaller parties, the less-moneyed ones, but it’s going to mean a lot more scrutiny from a wider audience, because we are all social-media attuned, so any slip-ups between now and next year could be catastrophic for any of these potential candidates.

I want to look at specific seats now. Let’s look at Hauraki-Waikato. If I can come to you, Maiki. Longer-serving incumbent Maori MP Nanaia Mahuta in that seat. There’s been endless speculation about whether she’ll even stand this time round. Why wouldn’t she?

Sherman: Well, actually, I think now that— You know, following the Maori King’s speech and his backing of the Maori Party and then the strong move by Tuku Morgan to bring in some high-profile candidates, Nanaia Mahuta was essentially backed into a corner and is now coming out fighting and will definitely, I’d say, contest the next election. She was considering standing down previous to that, which she always does when it comes around at the elections, but I think now she’s really got her back up against the wall, and she’s coming out fighting. The question is whether it’s too late. She has been in there for 20 years. People do sort of question what she has produced over those 20 years as a member of parliament for Hauraki-Waikato, so it will be very interesting to see. I mean, we’ve got Rahui Papa who’s been touted as a potential candidate for the Maori Party. He’s also a key figure in the tribal politics of that area, and so it would be very interesting to see if these two go head-to-head which way the voters will, you know, support.

Chris, Maiki raises there Nanaia’s track record in the electorate. It raises the question, the bigger question – what’s Labour done for Maori lately?

Wikaira: Oh, that’s a question that is on a lot of people’s lips, I think. Lately, they haven’t been able to do a lot, because they’ve not been in government, and the Maori Party is there. The thing that still looms large in people’s memories is, even though it’s a while ago now, the foreshore and seabed. The Maori voters are very volatile, and we’ve seen that since MMP first came in. You know, Maori were the first to really split their vote, with that New-Zealand-First-Labour split that I mentioned before. Then when the Maori Party came in, overwhelmingly, the party vote was still for Labour, and that was keeping one foot in the conservative past and what was known and what was considered to be a bit safe. It’s up for grabs. It’s really up for grabs. National has been making some inroads into the party vote since MMP started, where it used to get absolutely no support whatsoever, so it is dynamic, and it is changing.

Well, let’s look at Te Tai Tokerau. Hone Harawira lost the seat, Ella, in 2014 because he made the wrong alliance, basically. Will he sign up with a partnership this time round, or will he go it alone? Because there’s talk that he and the Maori Party will cut some kind of arrangement.

Henry: One thing I do know about Hone is that he understands realpolitik, and the last election, I think, was a sobering experience for all of those associated with the Mana Party, so they’ve had to take stock. I think he’s been very circumspect in the last year. He hasn’t been as loud and brash as he has been in the past. So that suggests to me that he is taking a more statesman-like approach, and obviously, strategic alliances are going to be a lot better for a tiny party like that than trying to go it alone or, you know, ill-advised relationships with odd political partners.

Maiki, if you look at the numbers, the raw numbers in a number of these electorates, if the Maori Party and Mana had come to some kind of arrangement, they would’ve won those seats. Do you see something like that happening next time round, next election?

Sherman: I think if you look at adding up those two numbers, that’d be too simplistic. I don’t think it would work like that, even if they did sort of strike up a deal. I don’t think, actually— There was obviously discussion around potential deals to be had between Mana and Maori, but actually, now that we’re getting a— you know, along the alliance here, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think maybe the closest they’ll get to a deal is that they don’t publicly attack each other in those electorates, but in terms of any sort of, you know, deals like, ‘You stand here; we won’t stand there,’ I don’t actually know any longer that that could be the case.

What about not standing a candidate? Would it go that far, do you think, Maiki? Just saying, ‘Okay, Te Tai Tokerau — we just won’t stand a candidate there so that Hone can get in’?

Sherman: Yeah, no, that’s what I mean. I don’t think, actually, they’re going to go down that path. I actually don’t think that’ll come off in the end. I mean, there obviously was a discussion, but I don’t think so, and I think that Hone Harawira, in terms of Te Tai Tokerau, is going to have a tough job of getting that seat back off Kelvin, because Kelvin’s done a stellar job in the electorate. He has been solid; he has raised national issues. The only thing he’ll need to do now in the year leading up to the election is to buckle down on local messages, because we’ve heard him talk about police and talk about, you know, sexual abuse and those sorts of things. Now he needs to sort of get messages like that out to the media and to the public but about his own electorate, and I think that’ll seal the deal for him.

The thing is, Ella, — do the Maori Party need Mana? Because, obviously, Te Ururoa Flavell won Waiariki, but it was their only seat last time round. They were hangin’ fingers on the edge of the cliff.

Henry: They’re going to need, certainly, I think, some high-profile names on the ballot ticket next time. So I do think that that’s going to be a critical pathway forward for them. The reality is Hone has a huge following in the north, but as Maiki said, you know, Kelvin’s been stellar. I was in Kaitaia just last week, and he was everywhere. So that’s going to be very hotly contested, but I think at this stage looks like it’s going to stay with Labour, but I think the Maori Party’s just got to raise its profile; it’s got to keep promoting what it believes it’s doing, and, you know, you see Ururoa everywhere, but at the end of the day, he doesn’t necessarily always attract the kind of media attention which shows people that he’s— you know, what they’re doing.

Well, Chris, Ella’s raising the point about high-profile candidates there, which bring us to Labour’s Tamati Coffey, who is going to run in Waiariki this time round. Does he really have a chance there in what is, I’m told, a pretty traditional conservative Maori seat?

Wikaira: Oh, Te Arawa, the area of Te Arawa — very conservative. Te Ururoa had a fight to, you know, be accepted as a politician. For a start, he’s a long-standing member; he’s Ngati Rangiwewehi. Okay, Tamati’s from there as well, but he’s seen as the young fella well and truly, and Te Ururoa’s worked very very hard in the electorate. He has his detractors, as do all the Maori candidates in all seats. You know, it can be a bit ‘love and hate’. It’s going to be a very very tall order for Tamati to beat Te Ururoa.

Sherman: I don’t think that Tamati Coffey has what it takes to beat Te Ururoa Flavell. That seat is tied up for the Maori Party. The thing with Waiariki is that that seat is won and lost on the marae, and so when Tamati Coffey doesn’t have te reo Maori, he can’t stand on the marae, and many people in the back rooms and in the kitchen will be wondering if they’ve seen him out the back doing the dishes or peeling the spuds lately, and so I think Te Ururoa will be fine in that seat.

Maiki, you mentioned earlier the Kingitanga. What kind of role do you think that’s going to play in the election this time round? And also, Tuku Morgan.

Sherman: Yeah, Tuku Morgan — obviously, I’ve said it before — is a game changer, and I think we’ve seen that leading into this election. Prior to his appointment as the president, it was looking quite grim for the Maori Party, but he’s managed to spark a fire now in the belly of the Maori Party. They’re excited. You know, I talked to members within their party, and they’re excited, and they’re actually getting, you know, national attention in terms of the types of potential candidates that they’re being able to pull, so that’s very interesting. It’s also interesting, as well, that they managed to secure the support of the Maori King. Obviously, that remains to be seen whether or not that will have a direct impact in Hauraki-Waikato with Nanaia Mahuta, but it is still interesting to note that, you know, someone of that calibre, of that standing has actually come out and said politically, ‘This is who we should be backing, and this is why,’ you know. We didn’t really see that in the past so vocally and so upfront from the Kingitanga, although people say that they have always been a political movement. So it’s going to be very interesting. Te Tai Tonga and Te Tai Hauauru are the electorates to watch, in my opinion, because from Labour’s point of view, the candidates there have been the most lacking in terms of their performance over the last term. They just haven’t been as visible as other candidates in the other electorates. So it will be interesting to see whether the Maori Party can stump up strong candidates to take a real challenge to them there.

Ella, I’m wondering—

Wikaira: And they’ve got a really interesting selection process even into Te Hauauru with high-profile people. You know, Howie Tamati is in there, and he’s got a high profile — more with the Pakeha community than the Maori community, some people might argue, to the south end of the—

And that’s a point of contention, isn’t it?

Wikaira: Oh, yes, it is. If you look at— You’ve got Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who’s the CEO of Ngati Ruanui iwi — got a very high profile in her patch at the moment fighting again trans-Tasman resources and ironsands mining. Adrian Rurawhe for Labour has had a very very low profile, but we know he’s out on the ground; he’s got a very strong following within the Ratana church and also in Whanganui, and remember, that seat is not just won and lost in Taranaki; it goes Whanganui, comes all the way down to Porirua.

Mm. We’re almost out of time, but I just want to give the last word to Ella. Strategically, is it a bad thing if Labour were to lose these seats and the Maori Party were to get them? Because wouldn’t it give them another option for a coalition partner?

Henry: And I think too the Labour Party understands that. It is still rebuilding its relationship; as Chris mentioned, the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. It’s still rebuilding a relationship with its Maori constituency, who— what we’ve got to remember too is Maori are a youthful population, and we don’t know how our young voters are going to respond. They traditionally haven’t voted, but if they do come out, they’re going to be looking for people who have a high profile in the youth community.


Henry: And that’s going to, I think, be a confounding variable that none of us can judge.

All right, great to talk to you all this morning.


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Panel discussion: Maori Party heading for oblivion or balance-of-power?