National woo Maori while Labour sulk

A while back I suggested the National Party has an opportunity to provide some leadership in terms of cultural identity for Pakeha.

In choosing a partnership arrangement with the Maori Party based on the principles of the Treaty, John Key is positioning himself and his party in cultural terms, not just economic ones.  The relationship recognises Maori as tangata whenua, and implicitly adopts for the National Party at least, but also non-Maori in general, the role of tangata tiriti.  People who are living in Aotearoa New Zealand on the strength of the Treaty of Waitangi.

There have already been significant shifts in the relationship between Maori and non-Maori in cultural terms since the election.  The National Party have left Maori to decide which flag, representing Maori, will fly not only on Auckland Harbour Bridge, but on government flag-poles around the country on Waitangi Day.  The Labour-led government had previously refused to get involved, leaving it up to Harbour Bridge landlords Transit New Zealand who refused to fly the flag.

Emily Bailey has less optimism on this issue as a symbol of change – seeing it more as an appropriation and commodification of Maori resistance.

National’s planned rewrite of the Resource Management Act will now, post input from the Maori Party, not remove references to the Treaty of Waitangi or consultation with local iwi as stepping stones to development. 

And when the Ngati Porou Treaty settlement made panic-stricken headlines about access to the beach – the settlement includes Ngati Porou having the power to restrict access to sacred sites, and ensure such sites are protected – not only did the debate not reach the fever pitch we saw in 2004, but it was shut down by new Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson:

Public access is not an issue. Both the [deal] and Foreshore and Seabed Act preserve public access to the beach but provision is made for wahi tapu sites.

It’s not going to happen. My real concern, is when these sorts of allegations are ventilated and public concern is whipped up over nothing.

Mr Finlayson’s response begs the question – did Labour need to introduce the Foreshore and Seabed Act in 2004, losing Tariana Turia in the process as well as 4 other Maori seats last election?  Or could they too, have shut down Pakeha fears of losing the beach on the weekend by telling New Zealanders the truth – that iwi were highly unlikely to stop any New Zealander using our sea and land for recreational purposes.

There is an element here of the media giving the new Government as easy ride.  I’m not sure Mr Finlayson’s response would have been swallowed quite so swiftly back in 2004 – but it is also true that post Dr Brash’s Orewa speech, Labour back-slid on every issue important to Maori.

They did not sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.  They wrote the Foreshore and Seabed Act.  Their progress on Treaty settlements, until Dr Cullen rushed several through immediately pre-election, was woefully slow.

And the Labour Party’s response to John Key shifting the relationship with Maori quite considerably has been poor.  They – even the Maori MPs bewilderingly – appear to be having trouble understanding that cultural identity is critical to Maori sense of self.  Check this out from Shane Jones:

The flag issue is being turned into a circus and if it continues then the rangatiratanga flag will simply become a red rag to a bull for all Auckland motorists.

and this:

Agreement was unlikely to be reached among Maori over the existing flags, he said. “The flag carriers will be walking under a new tunnel beneath Auckland Harbour before agreement on that will ever be reached.”

For Maori tino rangatiratanga activists, the idea of the National Party as an ally in shifting the cultural relationships between Pakeha and Maori might be a little difficult to swallow, and I expect them to keep the heat turned up on National. 

Te Ata Tino Toa, the group seeking to fly the tino rangatiratanga flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, immediately offered John Key a teeshirt to wear on Waitangi Day.  He has declined – which has caused them to doubt his commitment.

If I was a Labour Party member, I’d be trying to reposition the Party on this.  Not just because their previous responses to these kinds of issues lacked integrity – but because if they don’t National will leave them in the dust – unless they are prepared to pander to the redneck Pakeha vote in the hope it will get them re-elected.


4 thoughts on “National woo Maori while Labour sulk

  1. Finlayson’s response is ironic, given that in 2004 National was doing its utmost to stoke the very fears it is now shutting down, in an effort to use them as a political weapon against the government. As for Labour, it tried to tell the truth, that public access was not under threat, for all of a day or two, before it was screamed down by the mob and decided to give up. So in a sense, we have National’s stoking of racial tension to blame for the F&S Act (not that that excuses Labour’s cowardice).

    • I could not agree more, both about National stoking racial tension and Labour cowardice.

      Maori bashing is a favourite for opposition parties – all the more reason why it would be good to see Labour acknowledging National’s shift as a positive thing and moving the acceptable norm further towards respect for Maori aspirations.

  2. Maori bashing is a favourite for opposition parties – all the more reason why it would be good to see Labour acknowledging National’s shift as a positive thing and moving the acceptable norm further towards respect for Maori aspirations.

    My inner cynic says they’d rather keep that card to play themselves against the Maori Party. Which is really quite depressing.

    • Agreed there’s no reason to assume Labour either understand Maori world-views or care too much – or for that matter, that the National Party’s committment to this is anything other than political gain. But sometimes social change gets a momentum of it’s own I reckon. Live in hope anyway.

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