Election series article # 4: The Maori Party under pressure

Mike Kay, Workers Party, Auckland. Originally published in the October issue of The Spark.

The Māori Party has not had a good year. While it may have breathed a collective sigh of relief when it parted ways with its only dissident, Hone Harawira, the euphoria must have been short-lived. It now faces intense pressure on its left flank since the formation of Mana. Seven years on from its inauguration, the Party will now struggle to continue to present itself as the authentic political voice of all Māori. In order to restore some of its radical credentials after three years of coalition with National and ACT, the Māori Party has recently been very vocal over the passage of the Policing (Storage of Youth Identifying Particulars) Amendment Bill.

The Party’s police spokesperson Rahui Katene rightly described the Bill as a “travesty” that would stigmatise Māori youth. The Bill, passed under urgency, enables the Police to keep the photographs and fingerprints of young people who are arrested but discharged without conviction. It also retrospectively validates the keeping of records collected since 1 October 2008, in breach of the law at the time.

So, obviously, a law worth opposing. However, civil liberties is one of the few policy areas where the Māori Party is able to differentiate itself from its right wing coalition partners, and even then, only insofar as it impacts on Māori.

Current polls point to National being able to govern on its own this November. But if the Māori Party has a role in a future National-led government, it is likely to be along the lines of recent comments made by Tukoroirangi Morgan of Waikato Tainui. Morgan wants to form a consortium of iwi, land trusts and incorporations to buy stakes in any state-owned enterprises that may be part-privatised in the event of a second term for National. He is proposing the formation of a consortium to buy a serious stake in Mighty River Power or Genesis Energy.

Mark Solomon, who was a member of Māori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples’ Māori economic taskforce, stated: “My view is iwi are the Crown’s perfect partner. We’re never going to leave the country. Everything we earn stays in the country and what we do earn we reinvest in our own community. It’s a win win for everybody.”

The Māori Party can thus become the vehicle to help National sell the politically unpopular policy of asset sales to the public. The notion that the problem with the policy is foreign ownership, rather that privatisation per se, is unfortunately widespread. Iwi corporates would be able to cash in on the sell off, pushing the populist line that ownership will not go offshore.

For workers in privatised industries, the effect is the same, whether the bosses are New Zealander or foreign, Māori or Pākehā. Job cuts and attacks on pay and conditions are the inevitable result. Consumers face even higher energy prices. Asset sales since the Rogernomics era have helped send poverty rates for the majority of Māori rocketing. Iwi corporate ownership of police stations, courts and prisons lends legitimacy to the machinery of state oppression.

Privatisation reveals the class polarisation within the Māori population with utter clarity. The tiny minority seated at the “Brown Table” will further enrich themselves, whilst the working class majority will continue to suffer. Socialists and Mana activists need to clearly distance themselves from the “foreign control” distraction and oppose privatisation purely on the basis of dispossession of public property. Otherwise we risk disorientating the working class and giving quarter to the unquestionably pro-capitalist Māori Party.

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