It’s been the week where the National Party has made clear its view that the Maori Party is now its preferred coalition partner.
That has been obvious from the way the Government has been prepared to concede ground to the party to get its votes to support the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill.
It could have passed the Bill with the support of NZ First, United Future and Act — but those three parties all wanted the iwi participation clauses in the Bill out.
That would have jeopardised hopes that the Maori Party might be ready to support National after the election.
National believes the party has revived its organisation and could well get three or more seats at the election.
Last night the Maori Party was applauding the passage of the Bill and the creation of the new iwi participation agreements now called Mana Whakahono a Rohe agreements.
“A Mana Whakahono a Rohe agreement requires both iwi and councils to develop and agree a shared understanding of their respective expectations in the context of the Resource Management Act,” said the party’s co-leader, Marama Fox.
“Practically, this will require agreement about who should be involved in a particular consent or plan process and creates robust, upfront engagement between hapu, iwi and councils, adding significant value to overall outcomes.
“We acknowledge that some may question the provision for Mana Whakahono a Rohe agreements but we consider that they are a positive step forward in both resource management laws and local government/Māori relations.”
But in the process of agreeing to the Whakahono agreements, National may well be risking driving Winston Peters and NZ First closer to Labour.
There are even signs that Peters is starting to work with some Labour MPs.
POLITIK understands that he and Te Tai Tokerau MP, Kelvin Davis have joined to try and get the stalled Ngapuhi Treaty settlement negotiations going again.
Meanwhile, Peters made a clever pitch to nervous National Party MPs who may be worried that the party’s willingness to concede points in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill to the Maori Party could cost them support at home.
He invited them to join him in opposing the Bill, and then he would join with them to draw up a new Bill.
That was never going to happen, but the campaign by former ACT, Muriel Newman, former National leader, Don Brash, and Wellington lawyer and former ACT MP, Stephen Franks against the iwi participation clauses has struck some chords in some National electorates.
Tauranga has long been home to some hard-line conservative groups who have opposed further accommodation with Maori but its MP, Simon Bridges, told POLITIK that he thought that some of the fears currently being expressed were similar to those he had heard before National passed the Foreshore and Seabed Act which had turned out to be benign once it became law.
He said he was sure the same would be the case for the Resource Management Act.
The right wing blogger, Whaleoil, claims that National’s caucus has discussed the issue.
”Bill English told his caucus that to park the legislation would make them (and more to the point, him) look weak and vacillating,” he wrote.
“Instead they’ve decided that cuddling up to Maori interests is a vote winner.”
There have been occasional attempts at National Party regional conferences in the North Island to raise the issue, but the party hierarchy has carefully managed them and made sure they didn’t make it into the public arena.
Judging by the turnout at Don Brash’s Hobson’s Pledge meeting in Waikane this week, the opposition to iwi participation arrangements is largely confined to the older age group.
The more important consequence for National of the decision to prefer the Maori Party as a coalition party is the danger that it may force Peters and NZ First to turn to Labour.
A Horizon poll published this week said that 77% of people who voted NZ First last election would prefer that the party went into coalition with Labour over National.
Labour is well aware of this, but it would prefer that those Labour supporters voting NZ First actually voted for Labour.
Meanwhile, Peters himself has been comparing himself to Donald Trump.
Speaking to the Asia-Plus group yesterday in Wellington he said the wave of discontent because ordinary people were fed up seen in Europe and the United States was now in New Zealand.
“There are a great many people in New Zealand today who feel Wellington treats them as the forgotten people,” he said.
“The winds of change are coming in New Zealand.”
What that really says is that he recognises that he is now being forced to be the “outside” candidate.
For the moment, it is the Maori Party who are the insiders.