The Government can forget about any RMA reforms if it tinkers with the iwi participation agreement proposal in the Bill currently before a Select Committee.
Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says the participation agreements are a bottom line for the party.
The agreements were attacked at the weekend Central North Island National Party conference and are one of the targets of the campaign being run by Don Brash and supported by Winston Peters, to limit Maori involvement in the resource management process.
The fact that the proposal is there is one of the best examples of the way Mr Flavell is leveraging Maori party support for the Government to deliver gains for his party.
And as the cards fell over the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill the Maori Party ended up with more leverage and more power, than it has had had before.
It found itself holding the balance of power.
In November last year, the Government realised it did not have the votes to pass the Bill because the Maori Party and Peter Dunne opposed the introduction of economic objectives into its and ACT opposed the Bill because it did not go far enough in terms of deregulation.
Mr Flavell says it was clear that as far as the Maori Party and Mr Dunne were concerned it was the economic issue that was the sticking point.
“Then the Nats came to us and said we will leave that part of the Bill as it is, we won’t touch it, will you support us to get the Bill over the line,” he said.
“Well, we said what else can we put in there.
“Here are those conditions and that’s where we got to.”
Interestingly he says that some of the items on his list are still in the negotiating process and may only be added to the Bill after the Select Committee process.
That means National is going to have to keep talking to Mr Flavell if it wants to get the Bill passed.
And he’s hoping that the strong stand the party has taken over the Bill will be reflected in some electoral success.
And he believes that all New Zealanders will benefit from what the party has done.
He also says that his party’s lobbying for an increase in benefits last year was a gain for everybody, not just Maori.
He believes that the work the party has done since Triana Turia was its first MP in 2004 has seen perceptions of it change from being a bunch of radicals, nutters and crazies to an understanding that it brings common sense to its arrangement with National.
“We don’t always agree but we have been able to get gains on behalf of our people.”
“We’re taking every opportunity to rebuild the party to present ourselves in the best possible light at the next election and I think across the board there’s a far better acceptance of where we sit.
“We are not an ACT or United Future party; we’re definitely not Labour but we do have an element of Greens about as you saw with the resource management reforms.
“I think we bring a really good common sense, middle of the road, values-based position to the way that the Government of the day acts and I’m hoping we’re going to get the benefit of that.”
But if it is challenge negotiating with the National Government, then Mr Flavell also often finds himself having to negotiate within Maoridom and getting consensus among Maori is not necessarily an easy process.
That’s evident now with the growing Maori objections to the Kermadec Ocean sanctuary proposal.
A high-powered group of Maori including Sir Tipene O’Reagan; Maori Party founder, Dame Tariana Turia and former Maori Affairs Minister Koro Wetere oppose the sanctuary because the way the Government suddenly announced it without any consultation threatened to set a precedent where Maori treaty rights to fish within New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone could suddenly be pre-empted.
Tio complicate the issue, the two iwi with tangata whenua connections to the Kermadecs, Ngāti Kuri and Te Aupōuri, support the sanctuary.
Speaking during the first reading debate on the Bill to establish the sanctuary, Maori Party Co-leader Marama Fox said the Maori Party supported the bill.
“We support the idea of the Kermadec sanctuary, but the Government has been remiss in consultation with the other iwi, and to describe it as an administrative quirk is simply a failure. It needs to go back and rethink how it does its negotiations and its conversations with our people,” she said.
So Mr Flavell is trying to get an agreement by having three parties – the Government, the objectors and the manua whenua (Ngati Kuri and Te Aupori) — meet.
But he says “under the current conditions” the Maori Party will not further support the bill to establish the sanctuary.
Without Maori Party support, the credibility of the sanctuary would surely be diminished.
And also looming on the horizon is the debate over water.
At the heart of this is the document, “Next steps for freshwater”, which promises more clarity ion iwi involvement in water decision-making when the new National Policy Statement is produced.
In the meantime, it has proposed a region or catchment-based agreement between iwi and councils for natural resource management.
But it is the constant repetition by the Prime Minister and Ministers that “no one owns the water” which has the Maori Party worried.
Mr Flavell says that the Waitangi Tribunal has said that Maori do have rights over water akin to ownership.
And he says some Maori farmers who are trying to develop their land are disadvantaged under the current first come first served allocation process.
There is now an officials group that has come together which is already negotiating with iwi to try and draw up an allocation system which, he says, should ensure everyone wins.
He rejects the idea that Maori simply want to cash in and says they want to share the resource and look after it.
Perhaps the most challenging debate that Mr Fkaveklkl has had to conduct within Maoridom is over the Te Ture Whenua Bill, which streamlines Maori land administration and removes a lot of administrative tasks from the Maori Land Courts and places them in a new yet-to-be-created bureaucracy.
The proposal has aroused fears that the move would enable Maori land to be more easily alienated.
But he believes he has won that argument now; that there is an acceptance of what the Bill is trying to do that it will become law.
The Maori Party (and Maori) are at an interesting political point at present, poised between the end of the property rights centred Treaty settlement negotiations phase and now moving towards a more dynamic political world where issues of consultation with iwi and their participation in the economy and whole political life of New Zealand are going to become more urgent.
This is going to put a much greater premium on the party being able to negotiate with whoever is the Government and to have enough leverage to be able to make gains.
If the iwi participation agreements in the resource Legislation Amendment Bill survive the Select Committee process, then the party will have a huge gain and Te Ururoa Flavell will have demonstrated that the one-time protestor now really understands how to pull the levers of power in Wellington.