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Te Ururoa and Shark Week on Māori TV

Te Ururoa and Shark Week on Māori TV

Right. Disclosures. First up, I voted Māori Party in the last election and have personal relationships with one or more people connected to this story. Make of that what you will.

What do we make of the allegations of interference in MTS programming by Te Ururoa Flavell or his staff? If you haven’t caught up on the emails here they are. In them, Māori TV approaches Te Ururoa’s office to ask for his participation in a panel to discuss Whānau Ora in a forthcoming episode of Native Affairs. The mail trail alone is not particularly spectacular, or rendolent of scandal. David Farrar is of the opinion that these are ‘absolutely routine’; there can indeed be quite intense negotiations between MP staffers and media people about the nature of appearances made by those MPs on TV programmes. And then there is the added pungence of a meeting scheduled with MTS executives and Te Ururoa, after which the decision was made to cancel that particular show. To summarise:

  • MTS asks for Te Ururoa to appear on the show.
  • Te Ururoa’s press secretary says (effectively)  “Minister happy to come on, but I’m not sure of the format. Why speak to a whole bunch of politicians, including from New Zealand First? Have you considered talking to Whānau Ora practitioners instead? Would you like some phone numbers?”
  • For their part MTS says “Please can the Minister come on? Yep, we are considering those perspectives, it’s important to get this kaupapa aired.” “Really glad he can come on.”
  • [meeting between Te Ururoa and MTS executives]
  • MTS: “Oops, hang on, show has been cancelled, our apologies.”
  • Press secretary: “Oky-doke, thanks for the update.”

So. Just as DF says, right? No drama, just a polite negotiation. But of course, Te Ururoa is not just an MP, he’s a Minister. He’s one of THE Ministers responsible for MTS. This doesn’t change my own opinion that there was no political interference whatsoever, but I can see why this exchange might warrant a second glance. So, here is my second glance. The first port of call is to go the the legislation: the Māori Television Service (Te Aratuku Whakaata Irirangi Māori) Act 2003

10     Independence of Service

  • (1)The responsible Ministers, or any other Minister, or any person acting by or on behalf of or at the direction of any Minister, or Te Pūtahi Paoho, or a member of Te Pūtahi Paoho, or a director acting without the authority of the board, must not direct the Service, or any subsidiary of the Service, or any director, officer, or employee of the Service in respect of—

    • (a) a particular programme:

    • (b) a particular allegation or complaint relating to a particular programme:

    • (c) the gathering or presentation of news or the preparation or presentation of current affairs programmes:

    • (d) programme standards.

I’ve bolded the relevant words where issues might be said to arise in this case. This is where the tyre hits the tarmac for Clare Curran, and Andrew Little who is rapidly sniffing large rodents as they both trumpet that Te Ururoa “broke the law”. The key word here is “direct”. The Minister must not direct the Service, for example, in respect of ‘a particular programme’ or the gathering or presentation of news or current affairs. The most basic rules of statutory interpretation mean we have to take the natural and ordinary meaning of words, and we also need to see how the word is used elsewhere in the statute and not just to impose a convenient meaning that best fits our desires. So, according to the Concise Oxford ‘direct’ means to ‘control the operations of’..something, and ‘to give orders to’ someone. The Act doesn’t define the word ‘direct’. But it does use it elsewhere. And the word gets used gives us clues as to what Parliament meant by its use. What do the responsible ministers direct? Did you know the responsible Ministers and the chair of Te Putahi Paoho may ‘direct the board to amend its statement of intent’ under s16(1)(d)? Neither did I. Even more fascinating:

under s24B(1)(a)  responsible Ministers must— (a) direct the Secretary for Radiocommunications to, and the Secretary must, transfer from the Crown to Te Pūtahi Paoho management rights to two 8 MHz ultra high frequency ranges, within the limits of 502 to 694 MHz, for the period from 1 December 2013 to 30 November 2033

and back to that ol’ statement of intent thing, under s34(1)(a) [and (3)]

the responsible Ministers and the chairperson of Te Pūtahi Paoho jointly direct an amendment to the statement of intent…

It looks to me very like the word ‘direct’ has been chosen by Parliament to reflect a notion that the Minister has very limited powers to direct certain things to happen, and then, ‘direct’ is restricted to the sense of  “give  orders” to inferiors in the decision-making process. Directing, in the context of this Act clearly means to order an inferior. This is what the Ministers MUST NOT DO in s10, as set out above.  I don’t think the word’s relevant meaning in the context of legislation is intended to stretch to include statements of opinion, or advice or suggestion. Simply put, the Ministers must not give orders to MTS about any of its programmes, or about the gathering and presentation of its news and current affairs.

OK I realise context means something, and that the person receiving advice or suggestions might perceive an order in there somewhere. That’s why I don’t object to the questions being asked, I just can’t see very legitimate grounds for finding that there is any kind of ‘directing’ going on in the email exchange. It’s a pretty long bow to draw to claim the following statement even begins to emulate where a Minister’s proxy/employee might be considered to ‘direct’ MTS in respect of a particular programme or in the gathering of news ect:

I’m just not convinced that you’ll enlighten your viewers by having a panel of politicians talking about Whānau Ora. Have you considered interviewing whānau, providers or the commissioning agencies as well? Or iwi/other Ministers on the Whānau Ora Partnership Group. Happy to help with contacts if you want them.

Not only is this not ‘directing’ as the Act seems to use that word for what the Ministers do, I don’t even see how this reaches a threshold for political interference. The programme was being planned, the talent was prepared to go on, regardless of the presence of other MPs. I’m really struggling to see political interference. What I see are common sense suggestions. Why not have fewer pollies and more practitioners on a show like this? The emails alone are bolstered by the temporal coincidence of the planned meeting between Te Ururoa and the MTS executive. It was after this meeting that the show was canned. I can’t speak for the meeting from any kind of direct knowledge, but Te Ururoa stated in Parliament:

I met with the chief executive officer of Māori Television once in May 2015. The meeting itself had been confirmed in my diary since February 2015, when I believe I had my first meeting with him. I did not discuss, and do not discuss, planned news items or editorial decisions, as those are matters for the staff of Māori Television to consider.

Sorry to be unfashionable but there is nothing here to persuade me to think this meeting was anything other than the two participants said it was. Because Clare Curran has helpfully provided evidence to confirm this statement in releasing the memo from Pāora Maxwell to staff setting out what was discussed:

On Wednesday I met with the Minister of Māori Development the Hon Te Ururoa Flavell. It was an opportunity to outline our plans for the coming year. We talked about our strategic pillars, partnerships and alliances, people, communications/brand content and multi-platform. The minister was very interested in our progress and supportive of our direction of travel. He has very clear objectives around Māori language speakers and he wants Māori TV to be part of that journey.

[Actually, of far more concern was Paora’s observation a couple of paragraphs down that Find Me a Māori Bride “might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s important that Māori TV caters for everyone’s tastes”. If that’s not damning with faint praise I don’t know what is!]

So we have a meeting with a clear ‘reporting’ agenda and a series of emails about setting up an interview, and a provision is an Act whereby a responsible Minister may not direct MTS about a programme. These puzzle pieces don’t fit. Not unless you force them and slather them in Krazy Glue. You want want puzzle pieces that do fit? The long parade of resignations of high profile journalists at MTS and the chopping and changing of current affairs/news programme content by MTS executives. There’s a common denominator there, his name is Paora. Now there’s a story. Not that anyone at Māori TV can tell it.

Deploying to Iraq: NZ & the nouveau (Facebook) isolationism

OK, so declarations straight up. I agree with our deployment to Iraq. There is a massive humanitarian crisis that has been created by Islamic State, known in the Arab world, and France as DAISH, with the internal displacement of up to two million people, including the rapid depopulation of Iraqi minorities.  While I don’t think the ultimate solution to DAISH is Western military intervention, we have an opportunity to answer an Iraqi request to help Iraqis try and protect their own populations and, perhaps, in undermining the territorial gains of DAISH. We are contributing the barest minimum we can decently do to maintain our international standing among the other participating nations that comprise most of our major security and trading partners. I make no pretensions at being an international relations expert, or particularly knowledgeable about New Zealand politics, let alone the quagmire known as Iraq. I have read as widely as I can, and try and make sure i am reasonably informed.

But I am fascinated as to why so many New Zealanders are opposed to deployment in Iraq to assist Iraqi forces to fight DAISH. Actually, at one level I’m not surprised by some of the opposition. So much death, misery and suffering has happened in the Middle East for so long, that I can understand a level of ‘give-a-damn’ fatigue. I can also understand those who oppose deployment on the grounds that we shouldn’t be aiming to help the weak Iraqi government; we should be helping some other proxy like the Kurds. After all, lots of other Western fighters are heading to help them.

I also have a certain level of sympathy for those who ask about other conflicts closer to home. What about West Papua, and the  massacres and abuses being carried out by Indonesian troops? What about poverty in our own country? We need to look after our own people. I could probably agree with all those statements. There is a pretty good argument, for example, to be made that New Zealand is not doing all it can to assist the appalling abuses in West Papua. But these statements don’t constitute an argument not to go.

But these are arguments for other things, but not against deployment in Iraq. We can build really good arguments off the back of those statements. But they are just not effective as arguments against deployment.  And they can set up false dilemmas: by saying ‘there is poverty in NZ therefore we should not deploy in Iraq’ the speaker is suggesting ‘if you choose to deploy in Iraq you reject helping the poor in NZ’. This is not self-evident.

Then there are other arguments that are similarly uncompelling…Iraq is a basket case. This is 2003 all over again. We are just going in as US lapdogs to protect the US’s oil interests. We can argue endlessly about the efficacy or otherwise of the US’s intervention in Iraq, and much of the time the US won’t look particularly great. But I just fail to see how arguments against the US and US foreign policy make any fundamental difference to our decision to go in this particular situation. And merely saying “We are the lap dog of the oil-hungry US” doesn’t cut it as an argument. Not only is this an over-simplifications, it is a deflection. A straw man. I might get sucked into debating whether or not Iraq really is a basket-case, or whether we really are the lapdog of the oil-maniacal US. I am not, however, any clearer as to whether we should deploy or not. Then what about the argument that says ‘We didn’t intervene in [name appalling tragedy, for example Rwanda, West Papua] so why should we intervene here? To borrow the words of Terry Nardin:

It makes little sense to argue that because a state has failed to rescue the victims of violence in one situation it should refrain from doing so in another

Perhaps the most useful area in the debate I’ve seen has been about the importance of our international relationships. Of course, the relationship with the US before and after deployment is an important factor to consider in deciding to go. John Key said engaging in the campaign against DAISH was (as he charmingly put it) ‘the price of the club’, namely, the Five Eyes agreement. The nature of our relationship with the member countries in that agreement is at the core of the decision to go.

So I have  been interested to see a degree of nouveau isolationism, in several Facebook posts I’ve seen. Many people seem to think our international relationships are like jumpers we can strip off on a hot day; there is no cost for dropping the jumper back on the woolly pile and presumably we can just put them back on when the cold wind starts to bite. It is impossible to tell how widespread this attitude is. One response to my own posts on this issue passionately and eloquently sums up a degree of this thinking:

This is not our circus, and most definitely not our monkeys! If Key, and anyone else wants to go play soldier, then go yourselves, and pay for it yourselves! We have enough problems here that need fixing, and the middle east needs to put on it’s big boy pants and sort it’s own shit out, or this will happen over and over for the rest of time. We’ve got involved in too many foreign wars that have had nothing to do with us, and gained nothing from the experience, except a lot of dead soldiers. But go on with your jolly-ho warmongering, and try not to vomit when the coffins come back.

Isolationism and self-interest has also been reflected by some influential Māori commentators, as was demonstrated on Waitangi Day. The Army, of course, is in the eye of many Māori, something of a Māori institution, with 22% of its members being Māori.

Mr Key, speaking off the cuff, had addressed the issue of Iraq after earlier speakers criticised him for considering sending New Zealand personnel to help with training against Isis (Islamic State). They included Maori Council head Maanu Paul, who said he was concerned Mr Key was putting Maori at risk “as you participate in the global problems and want to be a ‘family’ with the United States and England”.

When Māori party Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell spoke in Parliament against deployment, he used most of the arguments mentioned thus far. According to Flavell, we are making ourselves a target, not only the deployed soldiers, but all of us in NZ: ‘we are raising our heads above the parapet’. He also surmised that ‘all that will happen is that everyone packs up and walls away.’ In addition, we have much to contribute, and a fine reputation, in regard to humanitarian crises, but we should look first closer to home, to West Papua. There was very little by way of graspable argument in this was a series of positions, that were deflections away from actual argument.

So, yes, sometimes the isolationism springs from a sincere belief that we need to act to assist countries closer to home, and more aligned with our sphere of influence. I accept that. And I also accept that we are inconsistent with whom we help whom we don’t. In the case of Iraq we have had a direct request from the democratically legitimate Iraqi government. Iraq is able, under Article 51 of the UN Charter to request assistance in matters of self defence, even collective self defence, without seeking permission from the security council. New Zealand may there provide assistance in the fight against DAISH. If we have the legal opportunities I would absolutely support our ‘getting some guts’  intervention in places closer to home.

In short…if we expect to receive a degree of protection from other countries, we must participate as best we can in world affairs where appropriate and where we have the legal pathway to do so. If we expect to benefit from, and contribute to, trade it is also a good idea to sustain good international relationships. If we expect to be able to challenge other countries on their human rights record or climate action record or whatever else, we have to participate in international affairs.

It surprises me how the debate I have been part of in social media seems to ignore how important our international relations are and how difficult they are to create and sustain. We learned harsh lessons from our last chairing of the UN security council when we failed to convince the permanent members to intervene to prevent the Rwandan genocide in 1994. We learned how others paid the price of our international failure to act.  Pablo at KiwiPolitico say it best:

After the Rwandan genocide an international doctrine known as the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) was agreed by UN convention to prevent future horrors of that sort. It basically states that if a defenceless population is being subject to the depredations of its own government, or if the home government cannot defend the population from the depredations of others, then the international community is compelled to use whatever means, including armed force, to prevent ongoing atrocities from occurring. There can be no doubt that is the situation in parts of Iraq and Syria at the moment. Neither the Assad regime or the Iraqi government can defend minority communities such as Kurds or Yazidis, or even non-compliant Sunnis, from the wrath of IS. That, more than any other reason, is why NZ must join the fight. As an international good citizen that has signed up to the R2P, NZ is committed in principle to the defense of vulnerable others.

Now is not the time for isolationism. I wonder if there ever is such a time.

The unfortunate necessity of the ‘Ordinary Voter’

10 days ago I nearly voted Labour. David Cunliffe’s automated phone call the night before the election nearly got me. Nearly. In the end I gave my two ticks to the Māori Party. I figured it would need them to stay alive, and to have any kind of role in continuing the development of Whānau Ora. In a way I was disappointed in the Māori Party campaign as I did not get a sense of how they would seek to influence economic direction; they almost never talked about the economy, the single most important thing voters can make a choice on. But I voted for them anyway, not so much on policy but on strategy. So, the thing is, I did not vote to change the government, and I knew it. Even as my blimmin’ kids started chasing each other between and around the voting booths, with the four-year old doing a pretty good impression of someone in the grip of a psychoactive substance, I knew it. And when we scuttled out of the Newlands school hall before anyone could throw us out, I knew it. It came down to a matter of trust for me. While I prefer Labour’s economic policies, I couldn’t trust that the Labour hierarchy I would give my party vote to would be the same Labour hierarchy in following months or years. Nor could I trust their ability to hold together a coalition of the Left.Easy enough to say that now, in hindsight, with yet another Labour primary looming. But lack of trust is what drove my decision not to vote Labour, and therefore the Left as a whole.

So, in outing my voting behaviour, I can now admit it’s been a little depressing in the days since the election. Not so much because of the election result, which was predictable (and I was relieved the Māori Party survived, albeit in depleted form), but because of my Twitter feed and FB status updates that have been spitting rage on upon both non-voters and centre right/right voters. [And impliedly, voters like me, who passed up the opportunity to vote Left]. A few of these give the general impression I have been getting..

I am gutted at the lack of compassion and understanding from all those National and right wing voters. You’ve just given John Key and his mates a mandate to continue with corruption, gutting what’s left of a safety net, signing away New Zealand sovereignty, raising debt… […] Soooo gutted FUCKING FUCKTARDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Should have given the right to vote to your 12 million sheep, they have more intelligence and compassion

Many of the people I know that voted National …have a great lack of understanding on how they will affect the future of this country. It makes me wonder how they made their voting decision. As much as I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and that all opinions are valid, I sometimes wish there was a law that prevents stupid people from voting!

I have no love for my country anymore, I despise the All Blacks for helping Key get re-elected, and I don’t respect the 48% who voted for National because they are heartless and brain-dead. I hope they will feel the pain and suffering already experienced by the disadvantaged, it’s the only way to make them regret their decision.

It’s not so much that electoral democracy is not fit for purpose but rather that a large portion of the voting electorate are no longer fit for purpose.

Wag friend on election results: “Evil will always triumph because Good is dumb.”


Many, but not all of the comments I saw came from predominantly Pākehā well-educated, employed and middle-class commenters. The anger and the disbelief was confronting and disturbing. It was also immediate, and visceral and, for the most part, emotionally honest. What worries me is not the emotionalism per se. What interests me is the contempt expressed for The Ordinary Voters. He and She are stupid, gullible, uneducated, corruptible, greedy, and more.

Perhaps these kinds of comments (and the above examples provide just a tiny smattering)  is the product of what often been called political ‘tribalism”. After all, there is nothing so powerful and unifying between individuals joined by a common political ideology as the sense of being part of a chosen people that have the best answers. That is an ancient narrative as old as social humanity, is it not?  Such thinking is, after all, at the heart of our party-based system of political representation. But that belief creates the inevitable corollary that those who don’t share any given belief are at worst dumb, gullible, and corruptible, and at worst, corrupt, craven to ‘interests’ and, well, just plain evil.

On the other hand, there is another strong theme that has been emerging; the Ordinary Voter as Sensible and Discerning paragon. John Key even told us so, on his Campbell Live interview two nights after the election. ‘The Public’ he reckoned are ‘much smarter than maybe all of us the media and politicians give them credit..[…] They are much smarter than we think. Much smarter.’ [That repetition didn’t make it onto the web edit, but I repeat it here because the emphasis is..well, emphatic.]

I don’t take issue with Key paying tribute, as he saw it, to the electoral intelligence of voters (from his point of view, natch) . It would be extraordinarily ungracious for a prime minister who had just led a third term election victory with increased support to neglect to pay tribute, in some way, to the voting public. A couple of things interest me about this quote, though. One is that Key clearly identifies the ‘elite’ (‘us the media and politicians’) as not quite connecting with, or understanding ‘the Public’. The second point is the necessary implication from this quote is that this identifiable elite (albeit wrongly) considers The Public to be stupid in the first place.

I’m sure his observation reflects a truth. After the leaders’ debate on 10 September the TV3 expert panel (including Bryce Edwards and Josie Pagani and Duncan Garner) was convened to discuss the debate. The panellists were convinced The People watching would have drowned in the policy detail (despite the many thousands of text voters who were highly engaged with the issues being debated). They then enlisted a quaintly-named People’s Panel (comprising amusing Ordinary Voters Who Are Clearly Not Experts) and asked them if they found there was too much policy detail for their little heads. ‘Um…no.’ was the general response, to the surprise of all. I found this aspect of the piece patronising.

The theme of an elite  out of touch with Ordinary Voters has also been picked up consistently by those commentating on the demise of the Left vote, and the internal chaos of the Labour party, as shown here, and here. Morgan Godfrey identified that  political elitism of the Left was to blame for electoral defeat, not policies:

Yet the problem wasn’t that the policies were poorly pitched. The problem seems to be that politics – the process, the institutions and then the policies – isn’t reaching voters at the hard edge. Our New Zealand not only talks past the New Zealand that won last night, our New Zealand also seems to talk past the people we claim to represent. Everyone is entitled to a better life, yet our leaders seem incapable of giving convincing expression to that very simple idea.

I don’t know how the Left can rebuild a relationship with Ordinary Voters, or how deep the disconnect really is between “the elite” and those voters. Nor is the “elite”, including mainstream media and others in ‘the beltway’ are entirely to blame for the routing on Election night. I sure as heck don’t think the blogosphere of Right or Left are to blame any more than any other factor; they are merely part of the mix. Focusing blame and attention on that elite or a combination of its parts, I suspect, is only going to reveal some of the problems.

My gut instinct tells me, however, that contempt for ordinary voters is never a good strategy for any political movement, within its elite, or within its broader membership. Rarely have I seen more unattractive advertisements for the Left than those disseminated on social media in the past couple of weeks.Cameron Slater may be a card-carrying attack dog for the Right, but I wonder if the largely middle-class and educated Twitterati and FB Status Update Commentariat don’t themselves comprise a fairly vigorous battalion of attack piranha. Except they attack their friends and family and acquaintances directly and indirectly. For every person who posted “I can’t believe the New Zealand public voted in Donkey and his lackeys again’ there was an auntie or an uncle or a cousin, or old school friend who either voted for the centre-Right, and just held their counsel, or who didn’t vote Left, or who simply didn’t vote, and who also will have held their counsel, because non-voters were just as big a target as voters for the wrong parties. And the divide between potential voters for the Left and actual voters grows just a little bit wider.

So maybe, just maybe, for the Left to regenerate some relevance and numerical support, obviously some serious thinking needs to go not into sorting out machinery of politics and the right platform.  But perhaps  the angrier politically active voters of the Left might also seek to understand (instead of presume) why other ordinary people actually voted as they did. And a hint: it will not generally be because they are venal, corrupt and stupid. Maybe some honest and open conversations could do at least as much for the rehabilitation of the Left than another Labour leadership primary. Maybe political tribalism is less an answer to political apathy or conservatism than a trap.














Confessions of a moderate Maori voter…(If that’s OK with you, that is).

On my Facebook feed this morning I read the following status update written by a friend. It made me wonder. This was a cry from the heart for something that Māori have apparently lost. This woman was just..

[r]emembering the days when we weren’t separated by our political beliefs but were connected through kaupapa, whakapapa, hope, and making Aotearoa a wonderful and amazing place to live.

The many likes and comments on this status showed that quite a few people were agreeing with this thinking: Māori have become too politically divided, too self interested, too disconnected from this things that really matter, too divorced from the kaupapa. Māori live in a fallen, individualistic world. The answer to the fall is somehow to rediscover cohesiveness between ourselves as a people, remember the ties that bind us, to reject those things that divide. That’s a pretty powerful vision, especially for a people, such as Māori who, research and our own discourse tells us, are more likely than Pākehā to adhere to collectivist practices and values.

True to my own bloodymindedness I read the question above and thought…’ I don’t remember that time, because I’m not sure it ever happened.’ I think that if we apply the microscope to any period of Māori social and political history what looks like unity and cohesiveness mutates and disappears before our very eyes. Māori value collectivism, including securing collective outcomes (even if only at the expense of other Māori collectives) sure, but that has never translated to hive-think. Our mythology is suffused with stories of conflict, especially between siblings or cousins, and between grandchildren and grandparents, Tāne separating Rangi and Papa in the face of opposition from Tāwhirimatea, Māui’s enduring conflicts and collaborations with his brothers in fishing up Aotearoa and slowing Tama-Nui-te-Rā, and in Māui stealing his ancestor’s jawbone, Tāwhaki overcoming the hatred and jealousy  of his cousins or brothers-in-law, and tricking his grandmother by filching her taro tubers in his and his brother’s quest to ascend to the highest levels of heaven.  And so on. Any number of other myths show intense rivalry, conflict  and sometimes desperate cooperation before fundamental change is able to take place. Māori mythology does not present us with homogeneity. The towering figures of these narratives are intimately bound by whakapapa, but fight furiously for different visions of how the world ought to be. Māori mythology gives us a pretty good template for modern Māori politics and, in that light, makes the split between Hone Harawira and the Māori Party seem positively pre-ordained. I’m not sure what the template would be for the coming together of the disparate elements of Internet Mana, but hey, there would be something in there somewhere…maybe.

A couple of the comments on the status I mentioned above refer to a dismay that Māori are not only divided, but can to be seen across the political spectrum. As one said: ‘Frustrating I would say! Look at our mates in every camp!’ This reminded me of the many comments made in the wake of National releasing its list in July. With 2 Māori women in the top 10 (Hekia Parata and Paula Bennet) some comment was made on the left of the spectrum of those women’s betrayal of Maoridom by their alliance with National. As one Facebooker commenting on Annette Syke’s posted link sharing the list wrote:

Yes agreed and to be honest if getting a promotion up the ranks is a result of screwing over your own people then it’s not really something to be proud of.

The tenor of such comments reflects once again the dearly-held notion that a true Māori political vision is a unified one, and those who cross into other political fields, away from the perceived locus of Māori political cohesiveness, are betraying Māori. I just can’t buy that. But that’s because I’m a hopeless political moderate (more on that below)

So while Māori political representatives are spreading throughout the political spectrum more easily in MMP times what can be said about the other part of that equation: Māori voters?

It is probably not a terribly original observation that our voting behaviours (and not-voting behaviours) can reveal a lot about us and how we became formed as individuals. Voting itself is an intimate thing; no matter the promises you make to others, or the signals you send out to the world at large and the people who care to listen, the moment in the voting booth is just between you and your conscience. Of course, we can never know exactly how people vote, we can only know what people choose to tell us about how they voted.

Still it might be good in the lead up to this election, in the wake of all the Dirty Politics palaver, to take a quiet moment or three to work out why we vote as we do (or don’t vote, as the case may be). For some of us our inner voter/non-voter might have been created by a coherent set of political principles held from an early age that we adhere to through the years. Perhaps we vote because of how our whānau and our tupuna voted. Political beliefs might be analogous to a religious belief, in these kinds of cases. Only a crisis of faith caused by some true political upheaval (like the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and the consequent rise of the Māori Party, for example) might cause a deviation for these kinds of voters.  Were there identifiable moments in our pasts, discrete incidents that sealed our voting fates? Were there moments that forced us to give up an old allegiance or create a new one? How might these events have helped create us as individual voters or non-voters? Or is it a messy accretion and conglomeration of experiences and beliefs that have created our voting personas?

There are some limited things we do know, or think we know, about how Maori voters behave. We know, for example, that about 55% of Māori are enrolled on the Māori Roll, with 45% enrolled on the General Roll. Young Māori are more likely to be non-voters, and there is some evidence to suggest that Māori enrolled on the Māori roll are more likely to be involved in Māori communities and more likely to vote. Māori in Australia are more likely than New Zealand-based Māori to be politically apathetic. We also know that Māori are far more likely to give their party votes to Labour, but also, to vote split.

But the stats and research don’t tell us anything really about how Māori voters and non-voters arrive at their voting decisions.

So how are Māori formed into the Māori voters or non-voters about to participate in, or ignore, the coming General Election? I’d love to see your whakaaro on this in any comments you might like to leave! This is not so much a question about how you intend to vote (or not vote), but what set you on that path. Karawhiua!

And now for the confession part…(cos that’s what it says in the title)

The unpalatable truth, for what it’s worth, is: I’m a moderate centrist. So moderate as to be infuriating to anyone with actual political conviction. I’m sure if former PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer was to describe someone like me he would say ‘She is an irredeemably moderate person.’ (In case that sounds odd, I’m referring to the time he once called NZ an ‘irredeemably pluvial country’, meaning: it rains a lot.) In my view this centrism means I prefer a political vision that takes most people with it. Therefore I eschew the edges of mainstream political thought that serve few people.  But, until Māori have a full economic role in this country, we will continue to fall short of all we can be as a country. And, no, I have not made my mind up yet on who to vote for.

But even for an horrifically moderate centrist like me, there is a kind of whakapapa to my (and everybody’s) voting persona. Why am I so resistant to that which is beyond the political mainstream?

I remember our home’s ‘carless day’ from the Muldoon era circa 1979. It was a Monday. I was 9. I didn’t care. Nor did I care about things Maori in those days, although I sporadically went to ‘Mahrey Club’ (Te Kotahitanga Juniors actually, with the extraordinary and extraordinarily scary (to me) Tihi Puanaki)  because my brother did.  Not long after, prices and  wages were frozen for a couple of years. I had no idea what that meant either. All I do remember was my mother’s heartbreak when Labour won the 1984 election. ‘Not those bastards!’, she groaned. Muldoon had been an economics whizkid, he was on the board of governors on the IMF! And the World Bank! (I was just impressed that there was such a thing as a Bank of the World..) What the hell did that upstart from Manggerry know about running an economy?! The choice New Zealand voters appeared to have, in my mother’s view, was between control and, well, absence of control. National represented for me, in those formative years, stability, familiarity and economic knowhow in the obvious absence of my own knowhow. Labour represented the fly-by night government that would only last one term. I really internalised my mother’s distrust of the Left. I rebelled against her in so many other ways, but not in my politics. I learned as a kid to distrust politicians that I perceived (regardless of the objective truth of the matter) to be unstable and inexperienced.

For my first election (1990) I had no understanding then of what Māori may have stood to lose or gain from the policies of political parties. I don’t think I really had, throughout my teenage years, a concept of Māori as, in part at least, an identifiable voting bloc.  Those of us who were Māori  at our overwhelmingly Pākehā high school were too busy trying to be Māori enough to be distinctive, but not so Māori as to fright any well-bred horses. My first brush with actual politics came when I met David Lange in 1988 when he came and spoke to a bunch of us somewhat start-struck teenagers working at the Brisbane World Expo about how how he and his government had brought the winds of neo-liberal change to our previously stilted and fun-less lives. We were the vanguard of change, apparently.  Us and our shiny newness and our eagerness and our willingness to believe that we could do anything and be anything we wanted. But then I shook his hand and he wouldn’t meet my eyes. So there went my vote. I then became wary of what I saw as larger than life political personas. The eyes might just be empty.

I was on the Māori roll by then, not because I had any idea of what Māori political aspirations were, or need were. I just wanted to be able to identify in a civic manner, that I was Māori. I became one of a handful of outliers to vote for National in the then Southern Maori seat in the 1990 election. The following years saw me drift slowly Left, and I’m I’m not even sure why. I don’t think I knew why I voted why I did. There was no epiphany.

The final moment for me came in 2004 on the day of the Hikoi to Parliament on the Foreshore and Seabed debacle. Two moments actually. One came in the grounds of Parliament hearing and seeing the veneration expressed for Tariana Turia as the leader of a new age. I saw the huge posters of her smiling face, and I had another Lange moment. I didn’t want to put my trust in a saviour for Māori who would rescue Māoridom from the Pākehā Pharaoh. The second moment came from hearing two Pākehā ladies at my work, after the Hikoi, sneer at the marchers, one of them saying something that sounded suspiciously like ‘If I had a gun…’. That moment solidified for me that Pākehā mainstream politics could not deliver good outcomes for all Māori without Māori being part of designing and delivering those outcomes. Voting for parties pursuing a Māori vision then became possible for a centrist like me. But I have no illusions that that Māori vision requires homogeneity of thought and a harmonious unity that has never really existed, not even in our mythology.

Pita & Tariana: legacies and looming threats

What a week it has been for the Māori Party, and for Tariana Turia and Dr Pita Sharples in particular. Today (9 July 2014) marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Māori Party, (even as the party’s survival becomes increasingly subject to question). On Thursday last week Pita introduced the new Māori Language Bill to Parliament. On Monday Tariana launched Te Pou Matakana  the new North Island commissioning agency for Whānau Ora. Not bad for a week’s work.

Both the Bill and the launch of the commissioning agency represent a pretty powerful encapsulation of Māori Party thinking. Both developments seek to displace core decision-making from central government to iwi Māori and urban Māori communities in regards to Māori frameworks designed to improve the Māori language survival (on the one hand) and healthy whānau development (on other).

To illustrate: both developments set up independent agencies with iwi/urban Māori representation that will oversee to a substantial degree developments in both spheres. In the case of te reo Māori, Pita is pinning high hopes on the ability of Te Mātāwai “to provide leadership on behalf of iwi and Māori regarding the health of the Māori language” despite some fairly widespread concerns about the proposed agency. Regardless of the criticism, the new agency looks likely to forge ahead, to be appointed by “regional iwi clusters”, taking over the governance of the Te Taura Whiri,Te Māngai Pāho and Maori Television.

The same phenomenon is at work with the launch of Te Pou Matakana, a new entity that was conceived and created out of the National Urban Māori Authority (NUMA) although not without some controversy. This new entity, (alongside the South Island commissioning agency (Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu) and the Pasifika Futures agency) will take over from from Te Puni Kōkiri in contracting out services, setting policies and distributing funding.

In one week the roles of several government agencies have been either placed under threat or significantly diminished.

I get this. There is a pretty powerful stream of thinking that holds that Māoridom needs to find its own answers, and that Government adoption of and interference in Māori generated solutions causes more problems than it solves. I have written about this before  in regards to Māori welfare outcomes, which are fairly closely connected to Whānau Ora:

New Zealand governments have never actively pursued Māori solutions to Māori welfare problems. One reason for this is because Māori welfare has been  intimately tied up with Māori self determination and notions of rangatiratanga, however that might be interpreted. A brief review of the history of social security in New Zealand shows that  the New Zealand state’s distrust of Māori ambitions has often meant the neutering of Māori initiatives that could have effected better Māori welfare outcomes.

(O crikey, quoting myself is a slippery slope..)

Anyway, bearing all that in mind I read something in the Herald yesterday that left a cold feeling in my stomach. That something was a headline: Labour Government would review Whanau Ora policy. As outlined in the article Labour has announced plans to review the policy should it lead the next government. Reviews often mean fundamental change. As Nanaia Mahuta stated:

“While the minister may feel emotionally attached to her programme it is important that future commitments under a Labour Government are based on outcomes achieved and evidence that underpin the strength based approach in the Whanau Ora model.”

Although, it is true that Whānau Ora must live beyond Tariana’s tenure as Minister, there are a couple of reasons I find this statement odd. For one thing it seems strange to link the Ministers ’emotionalism’ to an implication that Whānau Ora is somehow not outcome focused. This seemed to be a statement that reduces Whānau Ora to an outlier minister’s pet project.While there is no doubt Whānau Ora could not have existed without Tariana’s belief in it, it has very long roots indeed (once you take into account its conceptual beginnings under He Korowai Oranga in the health sector well over a decade ago).

For another, ummm…I thought outcomes-focus was integral to the design of the approach in the first place. Sir Mason Durie said as much back in 2010 at the time of the launch of the Whānau Ora Taskforce the momentum was gathering for the programme and shortly before the establishment of the Minister for Whānau Ora. When asked on TVNZ’s Q&A what kind of accountability Whānau Ora would provide for, Sir Mason said:

Absolutely, you’d expect that is there’s a Whanau Ora practitioner, that if they’re dealing with a whanau, they should be able to demonstrate that the whanau is better off financially, better off socially, more social cohesion, and better off culturally, so that they’re broad areas I know, but they’re indicators within all of those areas that will be useful in measuring the outcome, so I think the accountability will be greater not less.

This intention has been borne out, for example, in the prevalent concern exhibited by Te Puni Kōkiri for tracking Whānau Ora outcomes for 333 whānau engaged in the programme by the end of June 2012.

So if accountability and outcomes are already integral to the Whānau Ora approach (debates about measurement and analysis aside for now), I wonder what the purpose of this intended review would really be. My suspicion is that it would be aimed at a well worn story in New Zealand politics across the political spectrum: pushback – recovering a higher degree of Government control over Māori intitiatives, in this case over the functions and tasks that are now being carried out by the commissioning agencies.

And there is no doubt Whānau Ora is vulnerable to political winds of change. There is no legislation underpinning the policy, there is little mention (last time I looked) of Whānau Ora in strategic documents outside of Te Puni Kōkiri’s, The fulcrum of its existence is the Ministerial office and little else. This minimalist approach seems to be deliberate for the reasons I mention before, that Whānau Ora might have a greater chance of success with less, not more, Government oversight.

In which case, Tariana’s own words of unease yesterday (in a Māori Party press release  commenting on the observations made by a political panel at the launch of Te Pou Matakana) may have some foundation:

Whanau Ora leaders also described their despair at the word ‘review’, given they have felt under the microscope every step of the way in the Whanau Ora journey while many other services appear to escape such scrutiny,” said Mrs Turia. “Rather than a review, it would so wonderful if political parties could instead reflect and learn from transformation of so many lives that is occurring through the means of Whanau Ora.

Perhaps future more detailed policy announcements from Labour might allay some anxiety that could be gathering pace about one of the legacies of the last ten years of the Māori Party.



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