Friday, 5 July 2013

A Study In Exhaustion

A Hard Act To Follow: Dr Pita Sharples' contribution to what success the Maori Party has enjoyed is difficult to over-estimate. Compared to the mature Totara he is replacing, Te Ururoa Flavell, is a political sapling.
 
THE MAN LOOKED EXHAUSTED. Hardly surprising really – given the drama of the preceding days. In was November 2008: the Labour-led Government had fallen; Winston Peters was no longer a Member of Parliament; and the Maori Party had just won five of the seven Maori Seats. Slumped on a chair in the corridors of Parliament Buildings, Dr Pita Sharples was looking every one of his 68 years.
 
Perhaps it was my imagination, but as I sat across the corridor from him, waiting to take my turn on Maori Television’s live broadcast from the Maori Affairs Committee Room, I couldn’t help speculating that there was something more to be gleaned from Dr Sharples’ expression that mere physical fatigue. The thought crossed my mind that I was looking at a man who had fought a long battle with himself – and lost.
 
And that could only mean one thing: that Tariana Turia had prevailed, and that the Maori Party would be signing a coalition agreement with the victorious National Party.
 
“Don’t settle for anything less than a seat at the Cabinet Table”, I volunteered. “Make sure you’re where the decisions are being made.”
 
He smiled wanly, knowing already that this was beyond his own, Ms Turia’s, and the whole of the Maori Party’s power. They would receive portfolios, yes, even the highly symbolic title of Minister of Maori Affairs, but in terms of real power they would, like so many of their people, remain outside the door. The Maori Party may have talked its way into the room where the spoils of victory were being divvied up, but Dr Sharples knew already that they would not be offered a seat at the table – not by the Nats.
 
I would like to think that had the choice to collaborate (or not) with the National Party been Dr Sharples’ decision to make, then he would have held the Maori Party aloof.
 
But, it was not his decision.
 
That the whole of Maoridom has become entangled in Ms Turia’s utu upon the Labour Party is a tragedy only New Zealand politics could produce. Those who diminish the role of individuals in moving our history forward – or backwards – would do well to consider Ms Turia’s career.
 
These fierce old kuia, wreathed in the mysteries of their people’s blood and soil, emerge from time-to-time to trouble the deliberations of men. Advised by voices no one else can hear; protected by guardians no one else can see; they are not to be gainsaid or refused. And, when their work is done, they fade back into the mist and silence of the rivers and mountains that made them.
 
Yet, for all of Ms Turia’s formidable strength, it was Dr Sharples’ straightforwardness – his infectious good-humour and grandfatherly wisdom – that allowed the Maori Party to accomplish such good deeds as are worthy of being remembered.
 
Ms Turia may have been Maoridom’s frightening sybil, but it was Dr Sharples who re-built the relationship between Maori and Pakeha, which Labour’s Foreshore & Seabed Act and National’s Orewa speech had so badly damaged.
 
It was Dr Sharples who accustomed Pakeha to the idea that a Maori-based political party could participate in the affairs of government without igniting a civil war. And, in the Iwi Leadership Group, it was Dr Sharples who introduced his people to an alternative model for influencing the colonisers: one that did not involve loud-hailers or hurled fistfuls of Waitangi mud.
 
And now, for his trouble, Dr Sharples has been shown the door by Te Ururoa Flavell. Gone will be the kaumatua’s openness; his refreshing disposition to speak the truth freely, rather than waste everybody’s time by laboriously constructing a lie. In place of the avuncular smiles and chuckles, we shall all have to get used to Mr Flavell’s gloomy monotone.
 
The perfect symbol of the Maori Party in decline: Te Ururoa Flavell
 
Has anyone ever seen Mr Flavell smile?
 
No matter. The Waiariki MP’s passive aggression: his cultural conservatism; make him the perfect symbol of the Maori Party in decline.
 
A study in exhaustion.
 
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 5 July 2013.

15 comments:

alwyn said...

You propose that Sharples should have insisted on being at the Cabinet table. Under our constitutional conventions this would have required that he accept the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility, which I understand that the Maori party was not willing to do. They wanted the right to oppose any National initiative except in the area of the own portfolios. Thus it was Sharples and Turia who chose that they must be outside the Cabinet, in exactly the same way the Peters did in the 2005-2008 Parliament.
Jim Anderton, on the other hand was willing to go along with the principle and therefore was in Cabinet.

Jigsaw said...

Always intrigued at the ease with which this term 'Maoridom' is banded about.The media don't like to mention much about tribal loyalties so they try to somehow imply a unity that obviously doesn't exist. Very weak debate using that term. The sooner parties bassed on race disappear, the better.

Chris Trotter said...

No, Alwyn, the Alliance had Cabinet members AND an "agree to differ" clause for those occasions when the Party couldn't back the Labour line.

It IS possible.

Paul said...

It is indeed a sad ending for Pita Sharples - a man who certain members of my own family feel utterly betrayed by.
Unfortunately it seems that he was undone simply because of a sense of loyalty to his co-leader - whose primary motivation seems to have been (as you put it) - utu.
It would have been nice if Pita had learned how to say "no" to T from the outset.
The gains have been miniscule. The losses substantial - including the fact that a sizable cohort of those the MP purport to represent now being deprived of basic democratic rights (courtesy of the mean spirited Mr Quinn).

Anonymous said...

Political parties exist because groups of people feel they have enough in common to make common cause in Parliament. When this society ceases giving Marbury common cause, then possibly Mari political parties will cease to exist. We haven't done it yet, and I don't see it in the near future. Pakeha seem to dismiss the strong feelings which can overcome tribalism. Indeed in some cases they must be really strong. As far as betrayal goes, the foreshore and seabed act was a huge act of betrayal, causing a hugely visceral reaction. I think it is a bit much to accuse Turia of acting out of revenge when the whole of Parliament is a sea of not only compromise but petty revenges.

Anonymous said...

Damn Dragon that should be Maori. Damn my editing too :-).

danial young said...

Being non Maori,i have learned from past experience it is best if can be avoided to leave Maori Politics to Maori,as you will in many instances come up against some very strong and in many cases bigoted ridicule that for some unknown reason is acceptable to the point of supercilious, for want of a better description.

However,here we go.I am of Scottish decent, born and bred.In my youth we were not taught our lanquage in the class room although, we did learn our history and cultural relevance and the past hierarchical clan divisions that our forbears had long ago existed under until English domination that banned our national dress and language.

Today in Scotland, there is a rebirth of cultural understanding and a resurgence in learning the Scottish language along with the Political drive for a united Scotland,as a independent Nation.That battle will be fought by some on patriotic fervor others financial gain others just plain bigotry yet not on the ground of age old Clan hatred of past cribs for the Scottish people have moved and left the age old clan division weel behind in the history books, where they belong.

If Maori, are to progress as a political force they should learn from Scotland,and learn like Scotland,that the people may be divided in their political choices but for the vast majority it is not due to cultural Clan affiliation and waving about a claymore.

Maori have to bury that Mere that divides their Iwi!s not their culture, just the old wounds that will for certain hinder their political progress as united political force.

My children are Maori,and as i tell their Maori Aunties and Uncles, don!t tell me about i don!t understand your oppression under Pakeha rule.The English done their apprenticeship on cultural and bloody control on my ancestors long before they came here.

Yoza said...

As conservative as Te Ururoa Flavell is, he was the only parliamentarian I heard come out and publicly criticise the length of the sentences passed down on Tame Iti and co. by Justice Hansen.

Anonymous said...

Sharples payed a price for class collaboration.

The Labour Party needs to continue to pay the same price until they turn their back on their beloved ruling class.

Jigsaw said...

Always interesting to read from people of a socialist inclination who believe in the universality of mankind, but then promote racial separatism. Why would any political party composed of people taking advantage of their common trace of ethnic decent disband when they are already gaining an advanatage over the rest of society. The country's best hope comes from the increasing middle class Maori who seem increasingly willing to abandon the Maori roll. Roll on the end of separate racially based parliamentary(and local body) seats.

Anonymous said...

Less than interesting to hear that old saw about Mari being advantaged. Gosh am surprised they're not all millionaires by now. Not to mention that they had the economic base simply taken away from them, by means both fair and foul.

What about all those Pakeha who are advantaged by being born to rich parents? Personally, I think no one should be allowed to inherit money, that would be a true level playing field :-).

CnrJoe said...

nice summation Chris.
For me it is all in the press conference last week - Pitas resignation one - when listing the 'gains' Turia pipes up and interrupts with an angrily spat out list including Whanau Ora. As if Pita was going to umm and ahh for a while...
You say shes going to fade back into the mist and the rivers?
PLease do.

Jigsaw said...

Anomymous: Some are millionaires and have got knighthoods as well-perhaps you have failed to notice the fatcats at the head of the various corporate iwi.

Anonymous said...

Not the point jigsaw. I have noticed these people and I'm ashamed at the way they have left the majority of Maori stuck in poverty. But they're just taking a lesson from the ultra right, where selfishness is a way of life.

danial young said...

Jigsaw.Like it or not, there will always be a cultural divide within N.Z./AOTEAROA, political politics and Parties.And i cannot see any deviation from that outside universal Socialism,a ideal that i my children,gran and great gran children will never experience outside some social conscientious.

Not to far on the horizon, we are going to be seeing another political player attempting to gain a foot hold in our Parliament,and that without doubt will be a Asian Party.Myself i have no problem with that,would you.As you appear to be of the opinion that only one united culture that of the Kiwi is the only way.