Government resting on soft Maori Party cushion
Mr Key signed the deal yesterday afternoon with Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples in the old Maori Affairs committee room at Parliament.
The agreement followed 40 Maori Party hui last week, which Dr Sharples said had been attended by 1000 people and had unanimously backed a second support deal with National.
The post-election consultation process with meetings of the branch membership is one of the most novel aspects of the Maori Party (in comparison with the other Pakeha-based parties) and is probably one of the best - most idealistic - systems for grass-roots participation in the NZ political system. I attended one of Pita Sharples' hui last time in 2008 (chaired by John Tamihere who had lost the Tamaki Makaurau seat to Sharples in 2005) and there was a positive atmosphere of optimism and potential at what joining a government would bring. There was a tacit acknowledgment that National having invited the Maori Party in ought to reciprocate with an affirmative response - that would both align with tikanga and provide opportunities to advance the Maori Party policies. The hui - and I'm sure all of them - strongly backed a move into government.
This time around the same mechanics of consultation are there and the same dynamic - a National+Act+United Future government - is still there, but things have changed radically (or rather conservatively) within the Maori Party that renders their consensus decision to join the government problematic. Maybe irreconcilably so.
The PM may be displaying a business-as-usual attitude, but the situation has changed. The PM himself signalled it had changed when he came out immediately after specials had been declared and said he already had Banks and Dunne in the bag and didn't need anyone else to go to the Governor-General - that the Maori Party would join later. This was a bit of hard ball from Key. His margin is only one and someone (probably one of his own rather than Banks or Dunne) packing a sad and crossing the floor would bring the show to a close, so although he doesn't need them, he really, really, really, wants them in to give the Nats a cushion.
The Maori Party members consulted with are the rump left over from when Hone Harawira was forced out; those members are more elderly and more conservative than the many who had joined the Mana movement. The feedback the Maori Party got from this group of people - devoid of radical elements and youth voices - would prefer to stay with National despite their pushing through policies that disadvantage the Maori constituency. And yet the Party's top brass at least have enough remaining grasp of reality to address the issues to which people rallied to Hone and which saw Mana cut the Maori Party's vote in half. As a way of under-cutting Mana and promoting the Maori Party as the champions of the poor, I doubt many will be fooled, but having an out (as Tariana was explaining on the radio this morning) so they won't vote for the SOE privatisation legislation is a visible distancing they see as necessary to remain viable at the next election. The focus on poverty, housing and employment were all central to Mana's policies and they feature in the deal:
* Develop a stand-alone commissioning agency for whanau ora in the next 12 months.
* Ministerial committee on poverty chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, and deputy-chaired by Tariana Turia.
* Doubling of the rheumatic fever programme from $12m to $24m.
* Insulate 20,000 low-income homes.
* Progress iwi as housing providers through the Social Housing Unit.
* Provide places to reflect Maori youth unemployment rate (about 25 per cent) in new jobs and training programmes.
* Refocus Te Puni Kokiri on Maori employment, training, housing and education outcomes.
* Work on plain packaging for cigarettes.
What the article doesn't mention is the ructions Te Ururoa's ambition for co-leadership has caused. He gave some evasive answers yesterday and ended with "no comment" on how compatible his being a co-leader is if Pita remains a minister. Something's got to give here, 3 into 2 doesn't go:
Mrs Turia said it was "highly likely" she and Dr Sharples would remain in Parliament for the full term. "I'm starting to think after doing all of the hui that I might stay here 'til I'm 80 actually. I have had such a huge amount of people begging me to stay."
The deal: Relationship Accord and Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Māori Party at National.org.nz
While the great achievement - the silent victory - of the Maori Party (and also of the National Party) has been the diffusing of Maori-Pakeha racial angst by virtue of just being in a government with National, the cruch points that Hone brought to the table at the election: poverty, employment, housing and the tax mix will remain unachievable goals for the Maori Party.
The Nats, although outwardly moderated with Maori and United Future window-dressing, are just too right wing to put any emphasis on what Tariana or Pita want to do. How much will Whanau Ora recieve and what will the outcomes be? Will the poverty committee of ministers demonstrate anything more than a poverty of thinking?
The Committee will publicly release update reports no later than every six months, with the first update report being released mid-2012.
Six months to report? Does that sound urgent? How will a multi-agency approach work when Welfare cut-backs and punitive beneficiary-bashing is set to increase. They limit the "urgent" matters to a few points:
3. Initial initiatives to urgently address the effects of poverty
To support efforts to urgently address the effects of poverty in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Government and the Māori Party agree to implement the following initiatives:
Double the funding of the Government’s rheumatic fever programme to $24m, to be spread over four years.
Within the Warm Up NZ: Heat Smart programme, and together with other government grants, target 20,000 low-income homes for home insulation.
Ensure every State house built before 1978 which can be practically insulated, will be insulated.
Of course, better than nothing, but one wonders whether National (possibly letting the Greens in for some tangible wins) would have made these commitments anyway.
There are two items in the deal which may provide concrete and meaningful social dividends, especially to Maori:
The Government agrees to consider recognising the unique status of kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori, kura-a-iwi, wānanga and Māori medium initiatives through their own statutory legislation.
The Government will work with the Māori Party to progress establishment of skills- and trades-based academies.
Raising Te Reo Maori to the same status as the English language in schools is a long-term mission that will probably have an incremental progression this term and a trades type academies idea will probably mean the continuing survival of some marginal outfits facing WINZ/TEC cuts introduced with the reduced funding/availability Paula Bennett has inflicted last year. There will be some good news stories here, but is that enough to get into bed with National?
How will Assoc. Education Ministers John Banks and Pita Sharples work out? There is plenty of room for conflict.
I note that Te Ururoa has got his languishing private members bill to regulate pokies into the light of day:
14. Private Members Bills and Government Bills
The National Party agrees to support the following Māori Party-sponsored Private Members Bills through to select committee:
The Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill,
A cultural heritage bill to recognise Matariki/Puanga, and to honour the peace-making heritage established at Parihaka.
But that is to select committee only - not all the way through. Paul East, former National Attorney-General is the chief lobbyist for the pokies industry so that may explain the blind eye turned to their rorting and outright corruption - made possible by the fundamental conflicts of interest in the dodgy relationships between private charities, the owners of the machines and the owners of the venue. I'm not sure the Nats will want to overturn the ripp-offs that put a lot of money into their mates' pockets.
As for the cultural heritage bill, that looks interesting. Rahui Katene in the last parliament (she was voted out at this election) put up the Matariki Day bill to have the Maori New Year made a public holiday, but National shot it down. It was actually Hone who read out the remainder of Katene's speech on the bill after she faultered and sounded as though she would pass out! Once again I'm not confident that the Nats will want to give people a day off work, but a non-statutory holiday may make it through (although it is a half measure that may disappoint and a compromise they won't make).