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Emma Espiner: The death of the Māori Party

Winston Peters will dominate conversation for the next two weeks as the country picks over the results from the 2017 General Election, and tries to anticipate the King/Queen-maker's next move. For me, the more poignant result on the night was the loss of the independent Māori voice from Parliament.

The Māori electorate voted resoundingly against the Māori Party and returned all seven of the Māori seats to the Labour Party. The most shocking upset was in Waiariki where Te Ururoa Flavell lost to Tamati Coffey. Despite some polls showing Coffey ahead it was widely considered that the former Minister of Māori Development would keep his seat. Te Ururoa has since resigned from his leadership role and will be leaving politics altogether.

So what are we left with, and what does this mean for Māori aspiration and representation?

You wake up the morning after the election and who are your champions? Where is Metiria Turei, Te Ururoa Flavell, Hone Harawira, and worst of all - Marama Fox?

I was completely uninspired by the National and Labour Party leaders' aspiration for Māori on the basis of the major televised debates this election. If you blinked you would have missed the mention of Māori issues at all, and when they were raised they were relentlessly deficit-based. When Jacinda Ardern and Bill English were asked by Patrick Gower in the Newshub Leaders Debate what their most impactful policy for Māori would be they said respectively trades-training and NCEA levels. Really? That's the best you've got? Again, it felt that Māori are just a problem to be solved.

I got some push-back from people when I raised this - Māori issues are being covered in Māori media and dealt with by Māori leaders behind the scenes. I reject that utterly. If our key decision-makers aren't on board with kaupapa Māori we've got no hope at all. You have to be at the table and I couldn't see a single place setting for Māori when I went looking.

That’s not to say there weren’t signs of promise. Indeed the strong and diverse mix of Māori leadership during the election campaign across the Green Party, Mana Movement, Māori Party and the Labour Party was extremely promising.

Then you wake up the morning after the election and who are your champions? Where are Metiria Turei, Te Ururoa Flavell, Hone Harawira, and worst of all - Marama Fox, easily one of the best MPs in the last term and someone who has shone nation-wide on the campaign trail.  

What we've learned from Donald Trump is that the things we think we've achieved – progress on gender, civil and indigenous rights - can be lost very quickly. We can't think that the gains have been made and we can just bank them.

Not only is the Māori Party gone but we have a Māori leader in the power broker role saying we should get rid of the Māori seats and remove all reference to Te Tiriti from legislation. Winston Peters also wants to end Whānau Ora, which would erase the Māori Party’s biggest achievement over 12 years in Parliament. They say you can judge someone by the company they keep – or at least their supporters.

On that score can I quietly remind you that Don Brash and the Hobson’s Choice movement backed Peters.

What we've learned from Donald Trump is that the things we think we've achieved – progress on gender, civil and indigenous rights - can be lost very quickly. We can't think that the gains have been made and we can just bank them.

Beset with immense challenge, Māori have put their faith in Labour. How does Labour even begin to honour this support? Sure it has the biggest voice for Māori in Parliament now and I am encouraged by the entrance of Kiritapu Allan and Willow-Jean Prime, and the continued leadership of Kelvin Davis - one of the most genuinely good politicians we have.

But what if they're heading into opposition? Some may be cheering the fact that the Māori Party have been punished for dealing with National and say good riddance to government. But as the decisions are made at a Cabinet table with no strong Māori voice, that could look like a Pyrrhic victory. Be careful what you wish for.

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