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Wednesday, 16 January 2019 09:53 pm

New generation eyeing up Maori Party leadership

ALL SMILES: Maori Party Mps Dr Pita Sharples, Tariana Turia and Te Ururoa Flavell. Source: Maori Party website.

ALL SMILES: Maori Party MPs Dr Pita Sharples, Tariana Turia and Te Ururoa Flavell.
Source: Maori Party website.

AN OLD church or a school hall. The same election volunteer faces every three years. It can be a daunting process for first timers. Many do not even bother. Orange signs signal to New Zealander’s that this is their time to grasp democracy. In September we will all once again get the chance to pick up a pen and place a tick by the name of a political party and a local MP.

This year is an election year, meaning thousands of young voters will cast a ballot for the very first time. Among them will be young Maori voters torn between left and right, old and new and where their whanau’s loyalties lie.

FLYING HIGH: One of the Maori Party's achievements has been getting the Tino Rangatiratanga flag flown on Government building. Source: Te Ara

FLYING HIGH: One of the Maori Party’s achievements has been getting the Tino Rangatiratanga flag flown on Government building. Source: Te Ara

Many of these voters are too young to remember the year 2004. A week is a long time in politics, but a decade is a life time. Ten years ago Helen Clark was at the peak of her power, Don Brash was the leader of the National Party and the Foreshore and Seabed legislation brought about the founding of the Maori Party.

Ten years later and the Maori Party has been part of the government for five years. From a peak of five seats, their support has dwindled and they have been reduced to three MPs. So does the Maori Party have a future in New Zealand politics?

The party came together after Tariana Turia split from the Labour party. Taking a stand against the party’s controversial Foreshore and Seabed legislation, she forced a bi-election in her electorate of Te Tai Hauauru and fought it as a member of the newly formed Maori party.

Hoani HoteneHEADSHOTFB

Hoani Hotene
Source: Facebook

First time voter Hoani Hotene, right, 18, was just eight years old at the time so could barely remember the debate that rattled the country.

“Everything I know about politics is what my Dad tells me,” he said. He was unsure of who he would vote for at this year’s election. He appeared naturally sceptical of the Maori party, possibly a result of their tarnished image after five years in bed with the political right.

“Maori politics seems just as bitchy as normal politics,” he said.

Mr Hotene, who is Ngati Haua and lives in Petone, is enrolled in the Maori electorate of Te Tai Tonga. A seat the Maori Party surprisingly lost to Labour in 2011. He seems unsure of answering questions about politics, slightly nervous and reluctant.

He said the Labour Party reflected his views most closely as they seemed to be looking out for people with less.
“They do good things that help single mothers or lower income families and especially Maori,” he said.

During their time supporting the government, the Maori Party under the leadership of Mrs Turia and Dr Pita Sharples attempted to claim that social care ground with Whanau Ora.

Mrs Turia will bow out of her role as the female co-leader this year. Dr Pita Sharples has already stood down to make way for Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell.

Source: Otago Daily Times

Dr Bryce Edwards
Source: Otago Daily Times

Otago University politics lecturer Dr Bryce Edwards, left, says the future of the Maori Party is now in the hands of Mr Flavell and whoever the new female co-leader will be. Dr Edwards speaks with authority on politics but he makes it clear that Maori politics is a different ball game.

“He hasn’t shown any great reason why he will be a great leader,” Dr Edwards said.

He said Mr Flavell, 58, had been overshadowed by Tariana Turia and Tamaki Makaurau MP Pita Sharples during his time in Parliament.

“He is a very effective parliamentarian but I don’t think he has ever done anything to show he is a natural leader.”

Mr Flavell, right, who is Ngati Rangiwewehi and Ngapuhi Iwi, is taken aback to hear this criticism, saying it did not stack up. Pausing for several seconds on the phone before starting to list the leadership roles he has held throughout his life. One senses a defensive tone. It does not seem to be first time Mr Flavell has fought off criticisms of his suitability for the leader’s job. From being high school head boy, a school principle, chief executive and finally his eight years as an MP.

Source: Stuff.co.nz

Te Ururoa Flavell
Source: Stuff.co.nz

“I have had leadership positions ever since I was a young fella. I have plenty of experience in leadership roles,” he said.

“I am not a Tariana Turia or a Pita Sharples but I am my own man.”

Mr Flavell, who has five children and lives in Rotorua, said the party had started succession planning two years ago and he had gone through the process of being selected.

The future of the party could depend on Mr Flavell retaining his seat of Waiariki which he has held since 2005. In 2011 he had a majority of 1883.

In a Te Karere poll in October, 43% of Waiariki voters said they would vote for the candidate from the Maori Party. 17% would vote for the Labour candidate and 8% for Mana. However Maori electorates are notoriously difficult to poll. Dr Edwards is one of those who has watched the shifting numbers over the years.

“It seems highly likely that the Maori Party will hold that seat. He seems to have a pretty strong base there,” Dr Edwards says.

“It seems very difficult for them to hold or win any other seats.”

Mr Flavell, who lives in Rotorua, was very confident of holding onto his own seat and optimistic that the party could win others. As positive as Mr Flavell appears about the future of the party, he must have even a small tinge of doubt and worry.

Tariana Turia Source: Taranaki Daily News

Hon. Tariana Turia
Source: Taranaki Daily News

“We can get some other seats. I am not sure of how many. We are choosing some high profile people to take up the reigns,” he said. “We are in the throes of selecting our candidates at the moment so it would be premature to name names.”

He said all the party have to do is get to 3% of the party vote to be able to bring in additional MPs on the list. The Maori party’s highest election result was in 2008 when they won 2.39% of the party vote.

He said getting between 5% and 7% of the vote would make him pretty happy.

“I am confident that we will be pretty influential in the next Parliament,” Mr Flavell said.

“I think that the Maori Party has a future in Parliament. I think that we bring something that no other party brings.”

The future of the Maori party could depend on Mr Flavell retaining his seat once more. But if only he were returned to Parliament, would the party really still be alive?

Dr Edwards said there probably was a future for the party but in New Zealand politics it was very hard for minor parties to survive.

“The impression I get talking to people is that the Maori Party is not particularly enmeshed in the grass roots of it’s electorates. They have become very Parliament focussed.”

Dr Pita Sharples Source: Stuff.co.nz

Dr Pita Sharples
Source: Stuff.co.nz

Dr Edwards predicts the Maori Party would win between 1.5% and 2% of the party vote at this year’s election. The Party’s support peaked in 2008 when they won 2.39% of the vote, however this sunk to 1.43% in 2011.

“It will be very interesting to see who number two on the list is,” he said.

The Maori Party has only ever held electorate seats. They have not taken any additional MPs into Parliament on the list because their percentage of the vote has not been high enough. However if the Party win about 1.2% of the party vote they will be able to bring in a second MP on the list. This is often called the ‘coat tails’ rule.

Mr Flavell has the tone of somebody who has spent the past five years defending the Maori Party’s confidence and supply agreement with the National Party.

“We recognise that that is some of the feedback that comes through. Our membership has given us a clear mandate,” he said.

“It’s better to be on the field getting some goals.

“It’s about having a vision for the country and working with one of the major parties to get those things through.”

UNLIKELY BED FELLOWS: Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples, Prime Minister John Key and maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia sign a confidence and supply agreement following the 2011 election. Source: Stuff.co.nz

UNLIKELY BED FELLOWS: Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples, Prime Minister John Key and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia sign a confidence and supply agreement following the 2011 election. Source: Stuff.co.nz

Dr Edwards said the Maori Party had a very strong brand but it had been damaged by working with the National Party during the past six years.

“There is the view by some Maori that the party has been too subservient to National,” he said.

“There is a certainly a section of Maoridom who are quite well represented by the Maori Party. Not all Maori voters see themselves as left wing or working class. The Maori Party does represent that growing Maori middle class.” Dr Edwards said.

Mr Flavell said that the party had benefitted Maori and all New Zealanders. He pointed out that voting against asset sales was a point of difference from National.

With the scrapping of the Foreshore and Seabed Act in 2011 some question whether there is any reason for the Maori Party to continue.

Rangi Phillips, 45, a former member of the Maori Party, says he lost hope in what the movement was trying to achieve after the act was scrapped. Now disillusioned by politics he says he has not joined another party.

“I was sceptical when Maori (party) started to work with National. I thought I would give it a chance but it never worked,” he said.

Mr Phillips, whose Ngati Raukawa iwi provided the much respected founding party president Dr Whatarangi Winiata, sounded disillusioned and disappointed. He recalled the early days of being involved in the party. The enthusiasm for the cause and the passion of those involved. Speaking of the glory days his eyes look empty and sad.

“We had a cause. Now it’s different. We held out for the act to be ripped up. Was the new one much different? I don’t think so,”

“I had never been involved in politics before and won’t be again. It’s a bunch of rubbish really.”

A strong Maori man, Mr Phillips lives in Levin and works as a gardener. He works hard and enjoys the finer things in life. One wonders whether he will ever again hope for more.

Dr Edwards said the Maori party undoubtedly hit its peak of influence at the 2008 election when it chose to form a government with National.

“It was a party that seemed incredibly optimistic.”

Orange Guy Source: New Zealand Electoral Commission

Source: New Zealand Electoral Commission

One wonders if that optimism is still alive in the Maori Party today.

Dr Edwards said the Maori pPrty had achieved some things in government.

“There have been certain policy trophies and they range from the substantial through to the symbolic,” he said. He mentioned the decision to fly the Tino Rangatiratanga flag from government buildings.

“That’s a win that will have a long term influence.”

Much of the Maori Party’s future will depend on who the female co-leader will be. Mr Flavell said the female co-leader would be chosen once Tariana Turia formally resigned her position, either before or after the election. He was hesitant to name anybody he thought would be a good co-leader.

Dr Edwards said the future of the party would depend on what seats it held on to at the election.

“I think that the Maori Party’s future is quite contentious. Flavell needs to bring in some incredible new people and candidates.”

He said the party was smart in setting itself up in the centre of the political spectrum. This should mean the Maori party can work with National or Labour following the election. But after six years of being in National’s shadow can the Maori Party be trusted by the left? Or does the departure of Tariana Turia make it easier for the party to ‘make friends’ with Labour?

Mr Flavell hits his stride in explaining the Maori Party’s vision for New Zealand. He has obviously said these lines many times before and has them well rehearsed.

Whanau, young people, kids and the unemployed are just a few of the people he mentions.

“If other people have that vision then they will come with us,” he finishes needing to catch his breath.

Despite the rhetoric, Rangi Phillips says he will never return to the Maori Party. “Too many ngohi (fish) had travelled through the pūao (river)”.

Though, perhaps the future of the Maori Party truly lies with the new generation of voters. Can their trust and most importantly, their votes, be won over?

Images: Stuff, Taranaki Daily News, Otago Daily Times, Maori Party, Electoral Commission, Facebook

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is a Whitireia journalism student covering Porirua, Titahi Bay, Mana and Plimmerton. He has a BA in History and Political Science from Victoria University.
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  1. A well thought out analysis of the current Maori political scene. I believe the legacy of the M party will be one of a missed oportunity, sadly there was a lack of understanding that in politics “perception is everything”. Kia ora Sam

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