Friday, January 24, 2020

Barry Soper: Time ripe for Māori Party resurgence

Tomorrow the blue blazers of the Ratana brass band will be dusted off, the euphoniums and trombones will glitter in the sun, the drums will be ratta-tatt-tatting and the drum major will be swinging the mace, leading a never-ending stream of reverential politicians onto the marae near Whanganui. 

They're reverential because, while it may be all about celebrating the birth of the prophet Wiremu Ratana, it's actually about politics and never more so this than this year.

The Māori Party, wiped out at the last election, is poised to make a comeback and while that's a frightening prospect for Labour, it's music to National's ears.

Laying the groundwork for a Māori resurgence is the firebrand Tariana Turia who showed mettle in 2004, standing up to the formidable Helen Clark over the foreshore and seabed legislation. That gave birth to the Māori Party and the time is ripe for resurgence and Turia knows it, and so does the hopeful Simon Bridges who sees it as the coalition lifeline he'll need.

Labour currently holds all seven Māori seats but recent elections have shown they're not a Labour given and decisions by this Government in the coming weeks could decide their fate.

This week Turia's ignited the blowtorch, telling us Jacinda Ardern's out of her depth. She and four powerful Māori women leaders wrote to Ardern last November seeking a meeting over Whanau Ora, the brainchild of Turia, which channels money directly to Māori families rather than feeding it through the wider bureaucracy.

They're upset that money earmarked for the agency is being used by other agencies and they've expressed no confidence in the Minister in charge of it, Peeni Henare, who will face a challenge in his Tāmaki Makaurau seat, possibly from the loose-lipped John Tamihere.

Mistake number one for Ardern was to ignore the letter from the kuia.

Mistake number two the Prime Minister made was to become involved in the Ihumātao protest, telling the owners of the land Fletcher Building that there will be no housing development on it until the dispute's settled.

It was a Māori issue to sort out, not the Government's, which has no place in overriding what was a business transaction. It sends so many wrong signals and any settlement, certainly if it involves taxpayers' money, will compound that.

We're told it'll be resolved before Waitangi Day and for Labour it's a minefield. New Zealand First, if it's true to its principles, won't want a bar of it if public money's forked out.

Ratana is Turia territory and Ardern's reception there tomorrow will be keenly watched and will certainly give her a good indication of the work that needs to be done.

Barry Soper, the political editor of Newstalk ZB, is one of the country’s most experienced political broadcast journalists and the longest-serving member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

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