What was 2010 like for the smaller parties propping up this government? Not a lot of fun, really. Big holes were exposed in ACT, the Maori Party and United Future, which raise even bigger questions

Power exacts a price. Of the three smaller parties with a role in government in 2010, the highest was undoubtedly paid by Rodney Hide and ACT, but the Maori Party too must be weighing up its political balance sheet. United Future is simply hanging on for grim life.

ACT had a high profile last year, but only served to prove that not all publicity is good publicity. It started the year on the back foot, given leader Rodney Hide's indiscriminate use of taxpayers' money in 2009 to travel to London and Hawaii. But with the super city elections due, the three-strikes legislation to be enacted and the chance to nudge National a little further right on regulatory reform, hopes were high early on. But so were internal ructions.

There had been talk of an attempted coup, and then at the ACT conference in March deputy Heather Roy challenged her leader in strategic vision, if not in direct words. The scene was set, finally reaching its climax in August, when John Boscawen rolled Roy was deputy without explanation, leading to that hideous evening press conference, where Roy sat beside her leader looking like an abused spouse.

A month later David Garrett ripped the wound open again, admitting that as a twenty-something he had stolen the identity of a dead child to get a fake passport. Why would anyone do such a thing? For sport, said Garrett. To see if it could be done. It was repugnant to, well, everyone, and while it took Hide a few days to understand that, Garrett eventually paid with his political career.

On this very site, one of the party's founders, Deborah Coddington, wrote that "ACT deserves to die" because it has "no values, no faith, no morals. It is philosophically bankrupt".

Hide, for his part, admitted that the monumental tasks of being both a minister and a party leader had defeated him at times. He and his party got next to no political pay-off for the time and energy given to the Auckland super city set-up, and ACT's idea of radical regulatory reform looks dead in the water this term.

Through all this, ACT's one consolation was that its national polling remained between one and two percent, where it had been for some time. Yet that matter little. ACT's life-support machine is the seat of Epsom. Rumours far and wide suggested ACT's support in the wealthy Auckland seat had plummetted, but somewhat recovered by the end of the year. Those numbers will be crucial as National decides whether to back ACT by running a lame duck candidate – or no-one at all – or whether to take the seat for themselves.

Epsom is National's if ever and whenever the party wants it, but a coalition partner to its right is of immense value and by the end of last year the indication was that National would give Hide every chance to rehabilitate himself and his party.

So ACT ended the year clinging to life, even more firmly in National's pocket, and with only the three strikes law to show for it.

The Maori Party remains a high risk experiment. So far the rewards have been more than symbolic but not ground-breaking: A place for the Maori flag; the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights affirmed; a tangible, if watered-down, commitment to Whanau Ora; endless hui on the foreshore & seabed law change and a willingness by the government to spend a fair chunk of its political capital on the issue.

On the other hand, the compromises have been many, and obvious. Most notably, Maori unemployment is around 14 percent, more than double the national average. The Maori Party is being ignored by National when it comes to the economic advancement of ordinary Maori and was even forced to vote for last year's GST increase via the Budget.

By the end of the year the party was looking tangled in a net of its own making over the foreshore & seabed. Its election promise was for change, yet several iwi had joined Hone Harawira in his criticism of the government's proposed solution. While the leadership is still backing "public domain" and court access, painting it as a win for Maori, fewer of its supporters are buying that line.

The Maori Party's greatest strength (outside the Maori seats themselves) is also its greatest weakness. As an ethnicity-based party it claims to speak for a whole people and its unique kaupapa. In theory, it is a pan-Maori voice.

But it's of course folly to act as if all Maori think and vote alike, so its attempts to speak for all Maori can mean it ends up pissing off many. In hindsight, I think 2010 will be seen as the year when the difference of opinions and political beliefs within Maoridom, amongst iwi, and between business groups and working class individuals began tearing at the fabric of the party. Ultimately, it has to ask how long it can go on trying to represent an entire ethnicity.

Hone Harawira had an impressive year, moving on from his silly travel antics of 2009 and buckling down to the hard yards of parliamentary life. I suspect he commands more sway over public life than any other backbench MP. For me, he was the non-government MP of the year.

Consider these points:

  • Harawira's crusade against smoking won a select committee inquiry and, remarkably from National, a tax increase
  • He offered more potent and populist criticism of the government than just about any other MP, save Phil Goff
  • More and more Maori are coming in behind his opposition, revealed as early as last February, to his own party's foreshore policies
  • He has consolidated his power in the Maori north. He now owns Te Tai Tokerau and so is beyond the reach even of his own leaders
  • His articulation of Maori anger from inside the House is of immense worth to the country's race relations. He gives those who might otherwise feel disenfranchised and alienated a voice. Frankly, if Harawira didn't exist, we'd want to invent him.

Finally, United Future. Peter Dunne has boxed above his party's weight on tax, being at the heart of the government's key reforms. He has also retained the Families Commission – so far. His power has been significant, given his minimal voter support. And, you might ask, what price has he paid? Of the three minor parties with a place in government, hasn't UF done best?

In fact, if you judge UF by the same standards as the other parties, it comes up short. UF, according to its 2008 manifesto, strongly opposes cutting state sector numbers... it supports "zero fees" at tertiary institutions... it wants KiwiSaver made compulsory... it opposes foreshore and seabed reform... But neither the government nor voters pays any attention to it on these issues.

If voters know anything about the party – and that's questionable – it's probably about tax, and National owns that issue in the public mind. So while Dunne will feel content as a minister looking back on 2010, it's hard to see, from a national perspective at least, that he's done anything to help him fend off Charles Chauvel and Katrina Shanks in Ohariu next year. (He may be working magic at a local level; I've no info on that).

In short, the party happiest with the performance of the minor parties in government this past year will be National. While it would like a slightly stronger ACT and a slightly more malleable Maori Party, the minor three have only made National look more stable and appealing. Despite the turbulence provided by ACT and the Maori Party, and in part because of it, voters have kept faith with this government.

But minor parties live and die on their performance in election year. So if you thought last year was a bit of a roller coaster, just wait a few more months.

Comments (15)

by The Falcon on January 12, 2011
The Falcon

I'm continually amazed by left-wing media commentators' worship of Hone Harawira. He's one our least intelligent and most vicious MPs.

Consider this link: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10569951

The link says engineering students were performing a parody of the Haka. Harawira was among a group of thugs who burst into the room armed with baseball bats, locked the door so there could be no escape, and bashed the unarmed students, resulting in broken bones. Truly disgusting behaviour from a pathetic human being, who is now lauded as a messiah by left-wing commentators.

The racist provocation of the haka was cited as a mitigating factor - but if racism justified violence, Harawira would be permanently hospitalised himself.

Now ask yourself which is worse - breaking bones with baseball bats, or stealing the identity of a dead baby for stupid but non-malicious reasons?

Really, I'm not saying he's not an effective MP, but the world would be better off without people like Harawira. Praising such a person while condemning Garrett as "repugnant" is hypocrisy of the highest level. It's astonishing that you tarnish your blog with such rubbish.

by Chris Webster on January 12, 2011
Chris Webster


Good choice. Tumeke! Hone Harawira also has my vote.  There's something about left-wing media commentators missives that really tear up the populace.

Keep doing it - Just like Hone.

Shane Jones (to his credit) realised he'd have to continue to eat rats if he stumped in the north --  so switched his attention to winning Tamaki Makaurau -- becos he dont have a snowball's chance up there.

As an ethnicity-based party it claims to speak for a whole people and its unique kaupapa

And I dont agree with your analysis that the Maori Party is the default voice for Maori citizens -

I have never heard its leaders claim it represents or exists to speak for a whole people --it may speak for its members and supporters -- but non-members and people of Maori descent -- no. Hell it even has Pakeha who are members --

Unique kaupapa yes -- but the values espoused are practiced and upheld by most Maori citizens - sans Maori party.

Its performance in the House since its arrival on the whole is mind-boggling in terms of the depth of its submissions and speeches on whole ranges of policy and portfolio - pity the efforts are ignored by right and left wing media commentators -- dont they like substantial debate and critical thought?.

As an aside - Hone Harawira is a delight to speak with and be around - he is charming, he brags and has a wonderful energy and work ethic - he loves his family and his friends  and he's even not bad looking even when he kids around.

Mr Falcon - your Freudian indignance is showing.




by Andrew Geddis on January 12, 2011
Andrew Geddis


When you say "Praising such a person [Harawira] while condemning Garrett as "repugnant" is hypocrisy of the highest level", I don't think you are being fair. Tim didn't call Garrett "repugnant" - he said that everyone viewed Garrett's offence (stealing a dead child's identity) as "repugnant" ... hence his place in the House became untenable. Surely that's a pretty obvious statement of fact?

As for whether Harawira's past crimes are comparable to (or worse than) Garrett's, well maybe. But one big difference is that Harawira didn't hide his actions from the electorate before his election. Another is that Harawira didn't hold himself up as a voice on the need for tougher responses to crime - the hypocrisy angle doesn't enter into the equation. A third is that Harawira's crime was committed in the name of his political beliefs, beliefs which he still espouses today. Whether or not those actions were justified in the (very different) world of the 1970s is arguable, but you can't deny that they emerged from a deeply and genuinely felt sense of injustice and the need to advance the cause of Maoridom.

Finally, while "the world would be better off without people like Harawira", the fact is that he (and the constituency he speaks for) do exist. Tim's point is that it is better he is inside the House throwing rhetorical bombs than outside the House, where past baseball bats may one day morph into present-day real bombs. Is that really so wrong?

by The Falcon on January 12, 2011
The Falcon

2011 is only 12 days old, but I doubt you'll be challenged for the "worst use of the word 'Freudian' in 2001" award. Keen to butcher the word "irony" too, by using it in a "no YOU'RE stupid" context?

Still, shouldn't expect anything more than childlike intellect from someone whose boss can barely read and write.

by The Falcon on January 12, 2011
The Falcon


A couple of the 3 points you reel off may be valid... but equally, I could say:

1) Garrett's crime was lessened by the fact he's genuinely sorry, whereas Harawira demonstrated borderline sociopathy by feeling no guilt for breaking the bones of young students.

2) Harawira IS a hypocrite, in that he called John Howard a "racist bastard", yet constantly displays his own strong racist streak.

3) I disagree that Harawira necessarily genuinely felt a sense of wrong from the haka parody. Some people are just thugs looking for an excuse for violence - e.g. the classic "why are you looking at me, you want a fight" example.

I'm also going to invoke Godwin's law - Hitler felt a sense of injustice and thought he was doing the right thing. Doesn't make it ok.

Basically what I'm trying to say is, Harawira is a bad person. A really unpleasant human being. And it would be great if left-wing commentators stopped making excuses for him - he's not worth it.

by stuart munro on January 12, 2011
stuart munro

Falcon - I wouldn't have put it as strongly, but I agree. I think many commentators' endorsement of Hone Hawawira is post-colonial cringe. Even among a crowd of egotistical politicians his sense of entitlement is extraordinary. His is not the kind of behaviour I want to see in Parliament.

The argument I'd make about Garret is that he's gone. He was unacceptable, and so is Harawira. But Hone's got teflon. It doesn't seem to have made him a better person.

by Tim Watkin on January 12, 2011
Tim Watkin

Falcon, I don't admire violence, but it's not clear from your link what role Harawira played in that violence from a generation ago, or what exactly happened. (Perhaps you know more than the story tells and my memory recalls?)

Some might say 'it was the act of an angry young man more than a generation ago'. You might say, 'Garrett's act was that of a weird young man almost as long ago'. The difference is that Harawira's is well-known and entirely consistent with his political evolution. Garrett committed the ultimate sin of hypocrisy.

Harawira made a name as an activist, and he brags about his 20- or 30-something court appearances (in which he usually, or perhaps always, successfully defended himself). But he has grown into a different creature today. While I'm not making a character comparison, by your measure, you'd damn Nelson Mandela as a thug and sociopath.

Some angry young men do grow-up. And what Harawira has become is a more reasoned voice for other angry young men, so they don't feel compelled to take up baseball bats. His new weapon is Te Tai Tokerau, and it's a brutally powerful one in its way.

This country is on one hell of a race relations journey trying to reconcile two peoples and two histories. This is much bigger than political point-scoring. It's crucial we listen to even the voices of those we disgree with, or else those feeling alienated will get your attention in other ways. Make no mistake, right-wing leaders in the form of Jim Bolger and Doug Graham, amongst others, have probably been better at this than many on the left in recent years.

If you've read other posts I've written on the topic, you'll know I'm hardly an apologist for all things Maori, but pakeha need to be challenged on this, while Maori have to feel as though they have a stake in our society. Harawira has an important role, if he keeps his discipline, I have no doubt about that.

by Tim Watkin on January 12, 2011
Tim Watkin

Chris, fair call on the MP re its efforts in the House. There's talent there alright.

But look at the very name of the party. They have set themselves up as the voice for all Maori. Look at it this way... Turia and Harawira would never be in the same Pakeha party... Their target is very single Maori seat and not one general seat... It is not representative of any sub-group, such as an iwi or a religious faction or a political ideology.

What unites and defines them is ethnicity and "the dreams and aspirations of tangata whenua to achieve self-determination for whānau, hapü and iwi within their own land", to quote from the MP constitution.

But that can't go on forever. As with the ANC in South Africa, politics will divide them one way or another. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

by Save Happy Valley on January 12, 2011
Save Happy Valley

I am Pakeha and Live in Northland, and have a lot of time for Hone Harawira. He is great.

I agree with what you wrote Tim. Keep up the good work.

For an interesting approach at looking at how communities and governments and so on can look at maori views and approaches and go for a more shared approach:

http://www.sharingpower.org : A conference in Whakatane this week is a great way to build bridges between maori and pakeha at different levels.

about: The Conference brings together scientists, economists, indigenous leaders, environmentalists, academics, policy makers in national governments and international agencies, and many others who care about the quality of heritage this generation passes on to future generations.


by Kyle Matthews on January 12, 2011
Kyle Matthews

Honestly, if you've based your entire knowledge of the Auckland Engineering students and the issues that other Maori students had with them and their actions on that article, you're doing yourself a disservice. There's several chapters of context that you should read, and the relationship with Garrett is just silly.

Many of the Maori students were charged in court, and Harawira has never denied this, or even worse, denied it in a court of law. He might be a dick, but that's no barrier to being in parliament. Neither is giving someone the bash - there's several current MPs who have gotten a bit violent, at least one of them in parliament buildings, and gotten nothing worse than a slap over the hand.

by Chris Webster on January 13, 2011
Chris Webster

Tim: Let us remember the political circumstances under which the Maori Party had its genesis.

The Waitangi Tribunal stated: that the Crown’s policy response breached the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and gave rise to serious prejudice—namely that cutting off Māori access to the courts and effectively expropriating their property rights puts them in a class different from and inferior to, all other citizens, and that the policy takes away opportunity and mana and in their place offers fewer and lesser rights.

Clark and Wilson’s political and racially discriminatory reaction to the CAs decision that the Māori Land Court did have jurisdiction under 1993 Te Ture Whenua Maori Act - to determine whether the foreshore and seabed had the status of Māori customary land – resulted in the 2004 FSA – the ramifications of which continue today.

Given that only Maori citizens were denied the common law right to court proceedings in your view what other name would have been ‘proper and right’?

by Tim Watkin on January 13, 2011
Tim Watkin

The Foreshore & Seabed Party? The Day in Court Party? Except that they're far from a single issue party. The foreshore may have been their genesis, but as you say, the party's contribution on many other issues has been impressive (although on others, not so much).

And on most of those issues they often speak about 'Maori' in general as the people they're speaking for.

by Bruce Thorpe on January 13, 2011
Bruce Thorpe

Good call, Tim.

Hone Harawira has achieved a great deal in parliament.

One of the few politicians in this country with a combination of rhetorical skills and a genuine grassroots appeal.

Before I have my say about his association with politically associated  violence, I want to clarify my position on the He Taua confrontation with the Engineering students' haka party.

The engineers' insisted each year in a parody of a haka which was deeply racist and highly offensive and had ignored peaceful approaches to desist over several years.

As far back as 1960, when the Engineering School was adjacent to and shared facilities with  the teachers' campus at Ardmore, I was present on occasions when both Maori and Pakeha teaching students remonstrated with the engineers, and although on at least one occasion (1960?) there were apologies and gestures of conciliation, every year those arrogant hoons would don blackface and repeat the offence.

I have always accepted that the He Taua act of war, was  justified, well executed and achieved very important political goals.

The people involved made no attempt to deny their actions or political motives, and were fully prepared to face the legal consequences.

I do however feel very uncomfortable with the general Maori Party connections with gangs and Harawira's personal acceptance of acts of violence and intimidation .

At least three of the party m.p.s have been publicly associated with gang activities and there is a fine line between the cultural displays of the haka and direct street level political intimidation. And there is no line at all between the thuggery that  has occured by people supported by Hone, even in his presence, directed toward our highest elected officers. These incidents involved prime ministers Key and Clark, finance and treaty minister Cullen and perhaps Holyoake, either as P.M. or G-G.

Hone has been rather too supportive of violence directed at these most senior elected officers. This is my biggest unease about Hone personally, and the Maori Party generally.


by Phil Lyth on January 17, 2011
Phil Lyth

Tim, it is almost as if you had foreknowledge of Harawira's column in yesterday's Sunday Star Times http://bit.ly/e1F2nb.

He lays down a strong challenge to Turia and Sharples and promises more columns to come. I have been surprised at the lack of reaction from the usual suspects.

by Tim Watkin on January 17, 2011
Tim Watkin

Thanks Phil, I hadn't see nthat. Saying tha party is "off-track" is certainly contentious. Imagine if Shane Jones said that about Labour or Sue Kedgeley said the same about the Greens. People might say, 'it's just Hone'. That seems to be missing the point, which is that an influential member of a government coalition party is challenging his own leaders and government.

Interesting, re my debate with Chris, that Hone claims to represent all Maori, but then goes on to praise the diversity of views amongst the people... Sounds like he's not quite clear on who the party stands for either.

He's one to watch this year, alright.

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