Prime Minister Bill English’s Waitangi Day gamble appears to have paid off.
His decision not to go to Waitangi itself left him open to criticism that it was the responsibility of the Prime Minister to be at Waitangi whether the mood there was “good or bad” as Labour Leader Andrew Little put it
But in two speeches at Ngati Whatua’s Orakei Marae he set out the Government’s commitment to the Treaty partnership in one of his most fluent and relaxed presentations since assuming the Prime Ministership last December.
Meanwhile, Little was left on the backfoot after Labour bumbled its announcement that Willie Jackson would be a candidate in the forthcoming election.
The Jackson move was a good “get” for Labour, apparently negotiated by the Auckland organiser and Little’s former Chief of Staff, Matt McCarten who struck as soon as he heard that Jackson, a broadcaster and former Alliance MP, was seeking the Maori Party nomination for Tamaki Makaurau.
Though Jackson might have expected he would get the nomination for the seat for Labour, Little did not go that far because it would have been a move which would set off an uprising among the current Maori MPs with Peeni Henare the current MP.
Henare was at Waitangi (where the announcement was made) and offered no complaints about the decision.
However, Jackson himself hinted that all was not yet well.
“Kelvin (Davis, Te Tai Tokerau MP) is backing me and hopefully Peeni,” he said
But the party’s feminists are not yet on side and MP Poto Williams, put out a statement complaining about Jackson’s involvement in a controversial Radio Live broadcast about the “Roastbusters” teen age sex scandal controversy in West Auckland in 2013.
There is now a Facebook petition calling on Labour Party members to oppose his selection on the list.
The danger for Little was that her comments could be a reminder of the potential for indiscipline with the Labour’s caucus and invoke memories of David Cunliffe’s divisive leadership.
However privately senior Labour officials weren’t too concerned about Williams’ complaint and thought it might act as something of a dog whistle to centrist males who worry that Labour is too much captured by identity politics.
That is obviously a greater concern now that NZ First is highly likely to have former Labour Minister Shane Jones as a candidate. Jones abhors identity politics.
And it is clear he is coming back.
At his annual Waitangi Day party at Waimate North over the weekend, he gave up even trying to deny that he was likely to become an NZ First MP to any of the high powered and eclectic list of guests who asked.
The party was an indication of how important he will be to NZ First as even former directors of Winston Peters’ old nemesis Fay Richwhite were guests along with 40 diplomats and a host of other business and community leaders.
(And of course the high-powered guest list also acknowledged that business believes NZ First could play a critical role after the election.)
Labour know they are in a fight for NZ First voters and the probability that Jackson and former Police Association OPresident Greg O’Connor will be candidates is part of the party’s attempt to stop the leakage of support to NZ First.
Nevertheless the appearance of both raises more challenges for Labour with its list selection.
Party President Nigel Haworth tersely replied that the list was “manageable” when asked over thew weekend how Labour would manage all the new candidates.
But there are four senior MPs — Andrew Little, Annette King, David Parker and Trevor Mallard who must be accommodated before other positions can be allocated, all the time bearing in mind the party’s 50/50 gender balance rukle.
What may be a problem for some Labour Party members and MPs is the extent to which Jackson is prepared to back himself.
“You don’t come into this game to sit on the backbench,” he told reporters on Saturday.
“I was in Parliament 15 years ago and was a backbencher.
“So at age 55 you don’t come along and say I’m happy to be an MP and sit on the backbench.”
Little however was forced to call a later press conference on Saturday to deal with Williams’ complaints while, at the same time, the on going dramas at Te Tii Marae seemed to vindicate English’s decision not to go to Waitangi.
In a carefully rehearsed move, NZ First leader and several of his MPs, dressed in suits marched abreast down Te Karuwha Parade to the Marae and Peters told the security on the gate that he would come in only if the media were admitted as well.
That wasn’t going to happen, so Peters did an 180-degree turn and held an impromptu press conference with the media who had been waiting all morning for the confrontation.
But while the Marae security (with police assistance) tried to shut the press conference down, Peters declared that “this is not good for Maori, and it is not good for the country.”
Remarkably, Mana Party Leader, and former Te Tai Tokerau MP, Hone Harawira, whose family have been at the forefront of Te Tii protests for over 20 years emerged from the Marae to tell journalists that he didn’t think the media ban was a good look for the marae.
“I think there are a number of issues that need to be resolved internally, and I don’t want to bag the Marae, but we’ve got to get together, sons of Ngapuhi, and do something about his very very quickly.
“It can’t happen again.”.
All of this made Labour’s complaints about the Prime Minister not being there look a little lame.
Indeed, privately, Labour MPs at Waitangi, said it might have been better if the party had also reserved its position about attending and left the option open of walking out of Te Tii.
Tamaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare said his grandfather, Sir James Henare, a Tai Tokerau leader, had long regarded the Te Tii Marae as trouble and had therefore refused ever to visit it.
Little ended up saying that if the media ban were still in place year, Labour would not attend.
Meanwhile staying well away from all the turmoil at Te Tii, the Government was lining up for a “positive” Waitangi Day at Orakei Marae in Auckland with Ngati Whatua.
In his main speech, to a breakfast at the Marae, English sounded suspiciously like he was rehearsing some of his election campaign themes.
- New Zealand has positive choices over the next 10 – 15 years because it has low debt. “we can choose to do things which many other countries simply can’t chose.”
- New Zealand has developed a unique culture of dealing with difference and diversity between groups. “There is almost nowhere in the world that can demonstrate the same ability to find justice and see it done.”
- Treaty settlements are contributing to the Government’s regional development policies. “it is becoming clear to the business community that the long term committed investors in their region, almost without exception are iwi.”
- Whanau Ora works. “Any whanau has some spark of hope which we can support, which we can grow because of that, in the end, is how you fix the whanau – it is not the Department of Social Welfare.Much as we have good intentions, we have not realised the promise to our tamariki yet of protection from violence, a safe community, a good education and the type of support that encourages aspiration and not dependency.For many, we have, but not for everybody.”
At the heart of much of this is a recognition that National is in coalition with the Maori Party which under its new President, Tukuroirangi Morgan, has kicked itself into a revitalised and more pro-active political form.
Morgan told the Wharenui at Orakei that New Zealand had matured since the Bastin Point occupation by Ngati Whatua in 1977.
“We (Maori) are moving towards, economic, social and cultural prosperity he told POLITIK.
“There is only one objective that we seek, and that is the ability to shape our own destiny, to use our resources along with the crown, so that we make our contribution to the total wellbeing of New Zealand.
“What’s good for Maori is good for this country.”
Central to Morgan’s ambitions is the party winning more seats at the next election.
Harawira said at Waitangi that he and Morgan were ready to announce an electorate deal, but Morgan said yesterday that still hadn’t been finalised.
“We are 99% there, though,” he said.
Simply, the Maori Party stands for partnership.
NZ First, the other possible coalition partner after the next election rejects that idea.
In a a rather complex lecture in Paihia on Friday night, Peters argued that because the Treaty made everyone in New Zealand British subjects, the idea of partnership was nonsense.
“That unfortunate term has created legal chaos with activist judges, bureaucratic meddlers, treaty lawyers and a “Treaty Industry” taking advantage of the void it opened,” he said.
“It has created an insidious culture of division and parallel systems which we grapple with today.”
Reconciling that with the views of Morgan and the Maori Party — and from what English said yesterday, National also — could be one of the big challenges of the post-election negotiations.
But what is clear from this Waitangi weekend is that both the election campaign and those post-election negotiations are likely to see many of the debates and arguments rehearsed this weekend pop up again.