Tuesday, 23 February 2021

How Powerful Is Labour's Maori Caucus?

You're Move: What would a genuinely powerful Maori Caucus do? What policies would it insist upon? More to the point, since the single most important question in politics is always “Or you’ll what?”, does the Maori Caucus possess the wherewithal to enforce its demands?


THAT LABOUR’S MAORI CAUCUS is potentially powerful cannot be doubted. It is large, has a strong leader in Willie Jackson, and is surrounded by well-meaning Pakeha progressives who struggle to say “No” to its demands. For Maori, it is difficult to imagine a more encouraging political environment.

The key metric, however, will be what the Maori Caucus is able to deliver. Creating Maori wards is not the same as creating jobs. Building support for profound constitutional change in Aotearoa-New Zealand is not the same as building houses. Labour  reclaimed the Maori seats in 2017 by re-presenting itself as the party that cared about the basics: jobs, homes, education and health. In 2020 it started losing them again for not caring enough.

What, then, would a genuinely powerful Maori Caucus do? What policies would it insist upon? More to the point, since the single most important question in politics is always “Or you’ll what?”: does the Maori Caucus possess the wherewithal to enforce its demands?

In case you’re wondering what sort of threats a powerful Labour Party faction might make get its own way, here’s a story from Labour’s past.

Way back in 1988, when it began to look as though the Labour Left had acquired sufficient clout within the party organisation to start de-selecting the leading lights of the “Rogernomics” faction – starting with Richard Prebble in Auckland Central – the reaction was swift and brutal. According to Matt McCarten, upwards of 17 “Rogernomes” told the leadership of the party organisation that, faced with de-selections, they would quit the party altogether and collapse the government. The leaders of the trade unions were cowed by a different threat. They were told that unless they “persuaded” their younger activists (like Matt McCarten) to pull their heads in, then the crucial protection of compulsory membership would be legislated away. Not to be outdone, Prebble himself obtained a court injunction against the NZ Council of his own party which, essentially, secured the status-quo in the Auckland Central seat. Needless to say, the party caved-in to every one of the “Rogernomics” faction’s demands.

That’s what a powerful faction looks like – that is what it can do.

Which raises the obvious questions: “Is the Maori Caucus that powerful?”, and, “Is it willing to go that far?”

On the evidence to date, the answer to both of those questions is “No.”

Were the Maori Caucus as absolutely determined to see their policies enacted as those ruthless Rogernomes, they would long ago have issued a démarche to Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson on the vexed questions of welfare and housing – issues of critical significance to Maori, and precisely the sort of issues that Labour candidates in the Maori seats had promised to address hard and early. They would have pointed out to their Pakeha colleagues the huge risks attached to not making progress quickly in both areas. Their people were suffering and Labour would be judged by how quickly and how comprehensively it tackled the closely related problems of poverty and homelessness.

Had any of their colleagues been foolhardy enough to put the question: “Or you’ll what?” The cold political logic of their position dictates a very obvious reply. “Or we’ll abandon the Labour Party and offer ourselves to the Maori Party. From a relatively powerless two MPs, the Maori Party’s parliamentary strength will swell to 15 MPs – without whose votes Jacinda’s government will hang by a thread – held by Marama Davidson.”

If Labour fails to deliver for Maori, then the Maori Party will be the prime beneficiary of the Maori Caucus’s inability to secure the assistance of their Pakeha colleagues. Labour’s Maori MPs will, accordingly, be replaced by politicians much more willing to exercise the leverage made possible by their party’s possession of the Maori seats. If the Maori Caucus can’t follow this logic, and if it is unwilling to act on it, then how powerful is it, really?

Sadly, the fact that none of the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) have been fully implemented; and that the necessary mobilisation of state resources required to get on top of a waiting-list for social housing which now exceeds 22,000 has not been ordered; strongly suggests that, when it comes to delivering the basics, the members of the Maori Caucus have proved to be no more effective than the Maori Party MPs who opted to throw in their lot with John Key’s National Party.

This conclusion is only strengthened when the Maori Caucus’s policy victories are analysed. Such budgetary successes as they have been able to rustle-up were modest: the sort of sums that will keep a programme or two going for a couple of years; nothing more. Unable to unlock the funds necessary for genuine transformation, Labour’s Maori MPs – just like the Maori Party MPs before them – have opted to settle for fiscally undemanding victories on the cultural front. The most obvious of these being the new, compulsory history curriculum, and the legislative facilitation of Maori wards in local government.

While these cultural “wins” may not be all that costly, fiscally-speaking, they have the potential to unleash an electorally expensive political backlash from aggrieved Pakeha voters. The tumult surrounding the foreshore and seabed legislation generated an electoral response that came perilously close to delivering power to a National Party leader pledged to diminish the Treaty of Waitangi, quash the whole notion of a Treaty “partnership” and abolish the Maori seats. That was a very big bullet for Maori to have dodged. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that conservative Pakeha are going to keep on missing.

If the Maori Caucus has set its sights on bringing forward some, or all, of the constitutional changes arising out of the consultation exercise headed-up by Moana Jackson, then it is likely to encounter the same polite refusals that John Key offered to Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples. Progressive Pakeha MPs are known to talk a good game when it comes to the Treaty and Te Reo, but they are also acutely aware that this is still the Crown’s country – and the Crown does not share power. Neither is a Labour government which owes its absolute parliamentary majority to the votes of “Middle New Zealand” – i.e. Middle-Class Pakeha New Zealanders – likely to embrace policies radical enough to frighten them back to National.

Back in 1988, the Rogernomes were so convinced that their policies were what New Zealand needed that they were willing to abandon their party and destroy their government rather than see their achievements watered down or rolled back. How convinced is the Maori Caucus that its policies are what their people need? And how far are they willing to go to make sure that the bi-cultural future they’re seeking is not, once again, put on hold?


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 23 February 2021.

17 comments:

petes new write said...

Pakeha represent 70% of the population compared to Maori 16%. Just imagine if somebody pushed it?

AB said...

The Rogergnomes were the torch-carriers and stenographers for the most economically and socially powerful segment of the NZ business and professional establishment. (That they could be intellectually and morally such empty vessels is shocking in hindsight.)
The Maori caucus is the opposite - representing some of the weakest among us. Sorry Chis - it's a silly comparison. The most the Maori caucus will get is what Ardern and Robertson think is enough to keep the Maori Party from making more incursions. Your nightmare of an uprising of the solid, white kiwi heartland in outrage against Labour's cultural 'wokeism' is not going to happen. Labour is now a very effective and canny centre-right party - and the demographic you imagine rising in outrage against them is already a fading, marginal voice.

David George said...

"How convinced is the Maori Caucus that its policies are what their people need"

Do they even know or care what "their people" need or want.
Seems to me that there's a faction of resentful, offensive, separatist types and the bleating, "poor me" types that see their people as infantalised, dependent perpetual victims.
My observation is that most Maori loath both views, don't want or need special treatment and just want to get on with their lives and make the best of this world and all it has to offer.
Unfortunately there are those that would provoke discord for their own ends or even as an end in itself.

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity"

Jack Scrivano said...

I think Labour’s Maori Caucus can only lose. If they win major concessions for Maori, they will alienate at least a chunk of Labour’s Pakeha vote. If they ensure that they keep the Pakeha voters on side, and keep Labour in power, they will have failed their iwi brothers and sisters. Heads you lose. And tails you lose.

Chris Morris said...

You have a lot of faith in the latent ability of the Maori caucus. I don't think that ability is there. I cannot think of a single piece of legislation they have fronted and driven through. For all it is derided, David Garrett got the 3 strikes through. David Seymour got the assisted dying through. Pita Sharples got lots of minor stuff through. What has any Labour Maori MP got through since 2000?
There is the criticism that the Prime Minister is a show pony who only talks in soundbites and does not understand the detail of the bills. By that standard, the Maori caucus are cannon fodder donkeys.

The Barron said...

'With great power comes great responsibility' - I'd like to be Shakespearian or Biblical, but I think it is Spiderman.
I think the Maori (and Pasifika) caucuses have exercised power proportionately and sparingly. The middle New Zealand of Chris' concern needs to be looked at in time and space. In Auckland schools, Pakeha is now the largest minority, not a majority. While Maori and Pasifika are over-represented in deprivation statistics, there is also a growing middle class from these sectors and decades of academic graduates. Middle NZ has South and East Asian small and large business owners. Pakeha under 40 have grown up with a naturalised understanding Maori culture is unique to NZ and we are a nation in the Pacific.
The Labour Maori caucus are community leaders that decided that their best way forward for Maori was in partnership with the wider Labour Party. This is not to be subservient on wider economic and social policy (as it is argued the Maori Party were to the National government), but able advocate for Maori and Pasifika within the needs of NZ.
All New Zealanders should be ashamed the lower statistics of deprivation in NZ, and concerned that indigenous ethnic groups are over represented. If a strong Maori and Pasifika caucus can offer solutions, this should benefit all NZ.
This is as much a class issue as an ethnic one. Middle NZ can not be defined by keeping other NZers in poverty, we must be of inclusion not exclusion.
Jacinda just needs to keep asking herself 'What would Spidey Do?'.

weka said...

The question is this.

1. Are the Labour Maori MPs for the working class Maori who voted them in? Most of whom work in marginal jobs. If so, time to play hardball. Gut the RMA, build state houses, bring back full employment, and if Jacinda won't do this take over the Maori party.

2. They are Labour party hacks who Happen to be Maori reinforcing the neoliberal system that has been disastrous to most Maori. (The Ngai Tahu Ariki have done very well out of it all).

Because the Maori know when to vote otherwise

greywarbler said...

Maori have to watch that their leaders don't do a Labour on them. There is a magnetic pull towards getting middle class living standards (a good aim) which then can separate the successful from those less so (a schism in goals, understanding and solidarity). The wisdom of mixing attempts for good conditions, education etc and enabling the strugglers to form goals of where they would like to be, and set their behaviour to attain the skills needed to get there, is needed for Maori to get the best results.

I am keen on the late Barbara Sher's philosophy of finding out what you want to do, can do, and then working out how to do that and feel fulfilled and vital. Presently I am reading her book 'I Could do Anything If Only I knew What it Was', her talks can be viewed on Google youtube. Labour smartarses trashed our culture of the 1980's, believing in the magic of business to create an organised society along supply and demand lines. Talking about growing in a 'level playing field' as if the pollies were deskbound gardeners or Sim players. (Here is a Sim link to help think about the nuts and bolts of planning a modern village in the conventional way, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RILY1R6vK9g.) But people being sown and grown by officials happens often unhappily; now citizens need to get involved, being practical and future-thinking, for the sake of our young people's future. This is the new Industrial Age, and people are again being pushed to their limits as happened in Britain et al in the 1800s!

Now without a number of definite paths to follow for each person's preference or ability just erratic paths for many, Maori from necessity are stepping forward, trying to plot the way to their own future stability. The path needs to offer skills, jobs with promotion for experience and proved ability (not through hapu string-pulling or slick chat). Alan Duff's latest book 'A Conversation with my Country' continues with his thoughtful and honest perceptions and concepts from his former books, one of which is 'Out of the Mist and Steam 1999'. Very much worth reading for gaining insight into what is often an 'oil and water' blending attempt of bi-culturalism. He has 'looked at life from both sides now' and is wise, also Denis O'Reilly, just to name two people of present prominence. Celia Lashlie was so keen to help people find their potential but death took that great lady, RIP. There are green-shoots rising similar to her ideas as in Tracks-Inspiring Young Men, https://www.tracks.net.nz/tracks/calendar

Denis explains how government departments and agencies in a drug rehabilitation program shot themselves in the foot by demanding perfection and not enabling the community to develop their skills to bring their concern and healing power to work, rather than outside officials and fixed targets. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/123976514/why-the-ministry-of-health-pulled-the-plug-on-a-million-dollar-methamphetamine-programme-for-gang-members

greywarbler said...

The Barron - I liked your vision of active Spiderman doing much; bringing 'comic' characters to grand social battles - perhaps Jacinda can combine both Spidey and Wonder Woman roles! I think she could do it if she set her mind, had a private drive to achieve certain outcomes, and quietly plotted her way towards the goal.

One thing she cannot do, is to concentrate her mind just on Covid, and maintaining PR around that issue. It is important but she has a very able set of scientific experts and communicators to advise her and carry on the plans she has overseen. With the verve of the two heroes, Spidey and Wonder Woman, she has to be a better performing pollie than even one who can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Sam said...

I doubt this will be the end of the Labour Party. It depends on how Jacinda presents herself and it's up to the arrangments Willie Jackson comes up with. In the wider perspective whats the content of the treaty infrastructure. Trade with China went up 50 billion and Maori wages stayed flat. Y'know you've got to give each other something that will keep each other's interests together. I think it's in the National Partys best interest to get everyone worked up over a make or break issue like the treaty.

We have totally missed the twenty-first century. While we get caught up in these irrelevant issues of the past Maori are missing the innovation revolution in IT and emerging sectors making Maori wages anaemic.

greywarbler said...

Sam
I consider that Maori have the go and the vision and the stickability to take us forward. Right let's get cognisant of IT and the innovation revolution with Maori right up there.

Also right bring Maori perceptions of the reality of the physical, the need for people to be making their own lives and society, not bowing down to machines, not being penned up by robot dogs, and that applies to people as well as the supposed lesser animals.

We need to have a two-pronged path to the future; those that carry the best of the past with them and nurture it, and those prepared to jettison values, concepts, ethics and morals, must be watched carefully by the others to check and hopefully limit whatever destructive idea they will come up with next. There is a hollowness in our society where people reject their soul, and everything is measured by money and the status that smart innovation brings.

Those wanting to retain the fine possibilities of humans need to be guardians of society who maintain standards and control society, and the Maori concept of kaitiaki would extend to people and a positive, green culture for us all. The paramount concept would be that everyone has a good and positive place and work to do within society, an interactive position.

The idea of punishing those who did not follow the rules would be carefully controlled. There will be disagreements, and humans are restless, and often impractical. There would not develop a lynchmob or witch-hunt mentality to be used against such people; the wost of whom would become 'others' considered dangerous to a settled society. Rehabilitation, and if the person became destructive or vicious, then they would live apart but with controls against destructive or vicious behaviour. It is important that the 'naturists' don't become purists, or cultists who scapegoat transgressors. I would hope that there were fewer laws and more cohesion amongst the naturist people, who would try and influence the tech people as to moral ways of living, avoid extremes of wealth, and have regular meetings so citizens could meet and inform themselves of changes, and check against their own moral laws to see if their standards remained compatible with those drawn up as desirable.

WAt present w are just playing at running our country and preparing for the future. Maori can show us the way, but there has to be deep thought from all citizens who are alert and of a distributive mind.

Barry said...

While Maori retain the tribalism that seems to underwrite everything they do and think about, nothing much will ever happen for 'Maori'.
The tribal nature of the iwi means that the heads of the tribe get most of the benefits, the rest are sort of brainwashed into believing that whats good for the tribe is good for each and every member.
Now a few - what I would call sub-tribes - are doing very well with business ventures - but those successes almost never include the bloodsuckers that run Iwi administration.

Urban Maori are looked down upon by tribal Maori so their furture is as bleak as its ever been

DS said...

Obvious point - the Rogernomes were destructive lunatics. Emulating their tactics is a recipe for fratricidal disaster.

greywarbler said...

You had better stop spouting Barry - your comments are revealing the very big cracks in your understanding of society and our problems here in NZ.

For instance: The tribal nature of the iwi means that the heads of the tribe get most of the benefits, the rest are sort of brainwashed into believing that whats good for the tribe is good for each and every member.

What you have described is the nature of class structure that pakeha has long laboured under,
with the Labour Party making inroads to it, trying to bring opportunities and advantages to every member. Unfortunately under 'modernising' influences in the 1980's, the heads of Labour, relying on the 'brainwashed' supporters reset their direction. They turned the waka around to the opposite way, opened the borders of our country so every jerk who wishes to outbid NZs can come here and buy us and our assets, and the profit goes to a chosen few.

That is capitalism, which when unrestrained is a blood-sucking venture; with the highest value to anything measured by money and cash; this is the society which Maori have had to adjust to. They have had lands and basic food sources sequestered, which were permanent assets, and been recompensed in money which can vanish like quicksilver. They have to find a way to get some permanency out of such repayments so that there will be sustained advantages to the rangatahi.

(This is an explanation of the Maori word for young people, showing it in a sentence.

2. (noun) younger generation, youth.
Heoti, mēnā ki te whakaaro o te rangatahi i ētehi wā he wahine pākaha a Te Puea, i mōhio anō hoki rātou ki te hōhonu o tōna pūaroha ki a rātou katoa (TTR 1996:52). / However, if the young people in these times thought that Te Puea was a strict woman, they also knew the depth of her concern for them

That sentence illustrates my point. The elders and leaders of Maori are seeking to establish a solid base for their future, and it is difficult, Maori may question at times, but the work must go on towards good, fruitful results. And mouthy pakeha full of sour denunciation would seem likely to rejoice in Maori failing so that retrograde pakeha prognostications seem to have been wise.)

sumsuch said...

Koro Wetere was willing to quit completely if Labour pushed him out of cabinet early by a few months. How much he regarded Langeism and himself.

I can't think of sharp Parliamentary action from Maori MPs. The benefit inaction from Ardern alone requires their severe intervention. But their Maori doesn't somehow involve the poorest, least, weakest. Pricks, pakehas on this; fucken pricks, Maori MPs on this.

sumsuch said...

Keep up the excellent salience.

You ignited my lying litter here as you have often done.

Reason and demo-cracy inflame me. Since there are so many against these obviousnesses.

Mark H. Patrick said...

I wonder what would have happened had "Remit 10' from the Feilding Branch of the New Zealand Labour party to expel Richard Prebble, Roger Douglas and David Caygill,been allowed to proceed?