The rise and demise of the Māori Party

A Māori Party that unified all Māori has been a dream and aspiration of many leaders since the 1840s and many movements have arisen in an attempt to express kotahitanga – unity.

In 2003, a High Court case determined that Māori ownership in regard to the Foreshore and Seabed was a live matter that required investigation because the court found Māori may not have lost their interest in this domain.

The government, of which I was a member, moved to place the matter at rest by legislating a due process which ultimately could be tested in the courts. This would be seen as a move to confiscate rights and predetermine them. Given that the two foundation races of this country are deeply maritime driven, this meant that one of them – Māori – believed that their rights had again been confiscated by an Act of Parliament in preference to non-Māori.

The Māori Party arose because there was a massive catalyst issue that unified all Māori. In 2004, Tariana Turia resigned from the Labour Party and stood as an independent in the western Māori seat Te Tai Haururu. She won a non contested by-election. In 2005, the Māori Party won four seats and sat on the cross benches. In 2008, the Māori Partry had its best result at the polls ever and won a fifth seat from Labour – Te Tai Tonga, Southern Māori.

But by 2011, the Māori Party was in big difficulty. It had signed a confidence and supply agreement with the Government and taken Ministerial posititons with the National-led Government. Hone Harawira left the party and won his by-election in 2010. He re-won the seat in 2011 and Māori Party unity thereafter was completely destroyed.

The Māori Party failed for a number of reasons. It refused to build its activists as participants up and down the country. The party allowed power to be concentrated in the hands of the few in their parliamentary offices.

At no time, even with unity, had the Māori Party won all seven Māori seats. Parekura Horomia in Ikaroa-Rawhiti and Nanaia Mahuta in Waikato-Tanui held their seats. In 2014, Labour had won back four seats and only one seat remained in the hands of the Māori Party -Waiariki.

The Māori Party failed for a number of reasons. It refused to build its activists as participants up and down the country. The party allowed power to be concentrated in the hands of the few in their parliamentary offices.

When it ran the 2011, 2014 and 2017 election campaigns, there was never a co-ordinated Māori Party strategy. There were in fact seven individuals representing the Māori party fighting seven individual battles.

More importantly, the Māori Party thought it represented all Māori people when in effect it came to represent a very small minority. That minority was a loud minority and populated the new Māori socio economic class built around the Iwi Leaders' chequebook, Kohanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa, Wharekura and Kapa Haka. These groups represent less than 10 percent of our people, but because of their organisation, money and noise, they made out they represented all Māori.

Clearly, most Māori are not just Māori voters. They vote on bread and butter issues, which the Māori Party was perceived to have failed to advance at every level they contested.

The Māori Party also made a significant mistake in reaching out to non-Māori voters by creating an alliance with the Pacific Island voters and having other non-Maori candidates standing in general seats.

In 1999, Tau Henare and Tuku Morgan, tried exactly the same approach when they organised a Party called Mauri Pacific. It actually turned out to be Mauri Pathetic and they got nowhere. So with all those issues, the Māori Party brand became conflicted with terms like Mana Māori Motuhake – which simply means Māori independence.

So they lost all seats in 2017 and the real nail in the coffin of the Māori Party came about with Nanaia Mahuta’s massive 9000 majority in Hauraki-Waikato against a candidate endorsed by the Māori King and supported by the President of the Māori Party.

In politics, death to a politician or a party can come by a number of cuts. It was the aggregated range of those issues, which ultimately buried the Māori Party.

John Tamihere is executive of the National Urban Māori Authority (NUMA), chief negotiator for Ngāti Porou ki Hauraki and is on the Māori Television Board.

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