It was former Prime Minister John Key who pushed National to stick with the Maori Party over the controversial iwi participation clauses in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill.
And by doing that he snubbed his other coalition partners, David Seymour and Peter Dunne, who were willing to vote for the legislation.
But because Key wouldn’t agree to their condition that the iwi participation clauses be removed they ended up voting against the Bill.
ACT MP Leader, David Seymour and United Future Leader, Peter Dunne had a meeting with Key ln April last year and offered to support the Bill if he agreed to drop the iwi participation clauses.
Seymour told POLITIK that Key was non-committal.
“The problem with Key was that he was always so non-committal on things like this,” he said.
“But he didn’t reject the offer at that time for any reason.”
However POLITIK has spoken to other sources familiar with the meeting who said Key had always intended that National would deal with the Maori Party rather than ACT and United Future.
That was because Key wanted the Maori Party to be able to produce some gains from its association with the Government which it might then be able to translate into more votes and thus provide National with enough support after the next election so it would not need NZ First and Winston Peters.
That was presumably why he was non-committal in the meeting with the two MPs.
Both Seymour and Dunne had opposed the Bill — for different reasons — when it was introduced into Parliament at the end of 2015.
Right from the return of the Government after the 2014 election ACT Leader David Seymour made it clear he would not support co-governance arrangements being promoted by the Maori Party.
In a post on Kiwiblog yesterday Seymour said: “However, instead of pushing ahead with RMA reform after the election as ACT had urged, Nick Smith dragged the chain until Winston Peters won the seat of Northland in 2015.
“This ended the National-ACT majority and meant Nick Smith had to choose between working with both ACT and United Future, or with the Maori Party’s two MPs.
“That’s when Nick Smith made the disastrous decision to rush into the Maori Party’s arms, thinking it would be too hard to get ACT and United Future on the same page.
“He failed to envisage the concessions the Maori Party would demand, dragging out negotiations and adulterating the once positive proposals.”
But Seymour may not have realised that Key wanted the Maori on board, and if that meant going without ACT and United Future, he was prepared to do so.
In December, eight months after the by-election, the Bill to amend the RMA was introduced into Parliament complete with provisions that Maori Party Co-Leader, Te Ururoa Flavell said would have iwi involved at the front end of local council planning rather than responding at the end.
At the same time, Dunne offered a hint that he could be willing to support the bill if it was “rewritten more consistently and thoroughly,”
What we now know he meant was that he wanted the provisions that Flavell was referring to removed.
However, Dunne’s comments led to him and Seymour working together to develop the proposal they took to Key four months later in April last year.
“Crucially, our proposals excluded the pernicious iwi participation arrangements.
“We formally offered our support for these reforms to the Government a year ago, but Nick Smith couldn’t bear to be seen changing course.”
Though Seymour blames Smith — it seems more likely that it was Key who was driving things because he didn’t want to do any deal that would alienate the Maori Party.
Seymour now claims that National Party members “are up in arms over how their party has been compromised. “
“They’re letting their representatives know they’re angry, and good on them.”
It’s unclear whether Seymour is correct.
Whilst National Party MPs concede that the legislation has been “difficult” for some party members to accept there is no evidence so far of any resignations from the party.
Meanwhile, New Zealand First, who stayed out of the negotiations but who also oppose the iwi participation clauses, believes it has found an election issue.
Speaking during the Third Reading of the legislation in Parliament last week, the party’s Deputy Leader, Ron Mark said it was also willing to co-operate with the Government on any amendment to the legislation but that their support would be “subject to a number of things, such as our belief and our adherence to the principle of there being one law for all, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity.”
And Mark set out a post-election bottom line: “I want to start by making it very, very clear to the House that New Zealand First is not going to go through this election talking about bottom lines, except for on this matter.
“We wish to make it very, very clear as a party that if any party in this House today debating this bill, and voting for it in particular, wishes to be in Government with us post 23 September, they will have to accept that we will repeal this bill.
“I am saying it again: New Zealand First is making it very, very clear that if this bill passes in this third reading, those parties that vote for it—if they wish to be in Government with New Zealand First post-September 2017—had better accept that this bill will be repealed.”
Whether NZ First can maintain a high level of concern about the Bill among potential voters is debatable.
It would be more likely that the Bill would become an issue if there were an instance of an iwi over reaching its rights under the legislation.
Given that there are now five months to the election that would seem unlikely.