Deals on the left... Candidates dipping into their own pockets... culture versus class... there are high stakes at play in the Maori electorates this year 

We all know it could be a fight to the death in the Maori seats this election, but it's startling to think that some candidates are borrowing money off their mortgages just to be able to stand at this election.

It seems the appeal of public service may not be dead after all.

Te Ururoa Flavell said on The Nation that the Maori Party has people "who are paying out of mortgages for houses; they have to fund their own campaign so those people don't enter that lightly".

Now you might wonder whether that's spin to emphasise the fact that his main opponent, Mana, is swimming in Kim Doctom donations. The party that has been accused of forgetting Maori at the bottom and being captured by the "brown mafia" can now play the under-dog. Mana, while it has spending limits in electorates, can pour hundreds of thousands into its volunteers, branded jackets and even the wood to hold up its hoardings (the signs come under the spending limits, but not the frames).

Mana leader Hone Harawira tried to out-poor Flavell, saying he and his wife Hilda had paid for the Mana bus and "we don't have the money, we don't have the resources to stand in all of those seats and do extremely well".

Now that should be taken with a decent hill of salt as well, but the fact that Mana have chosen to focus on Te Tai Tokerau, Waiariki and Ikaroa-Rawhiti is interesting. Flavell has told me the Maori Party wants to win Hauraki-Waikato, but that's a true long shot. And Harawira didn't mention Tamaki Makarau. Which is curious.

The seat has no star candidate and is expected to be very close; Willie Jackson has turned down the invitation to stand for Mana, although he's confident he could walk in if he stood (and he's got a point). Yet Mana is due to announce a candidate by August 4, so perhaps it'll get added to the spending list in the next week or two.

On the other hand, the suggestion has been that Mana might tread softly in Tamaki Makaurau in return for Labour not trying too hard in Waiariki. It seems to serve both parties to let the other win in those seats. Matt McCarten wrote in a Herald on Sunday column just six weeks before becoming David Cunliffe's Chief of Staff that "cooperation to take Waiariki away from the Maori Party is critical".

Labour sources have told The Nation that it's confident of a win in Tamaki Makaurau so long as Mana doesn't stand a strong candidate. Yet with that announcement not yet made, we're yet to see.

Te Tai Tokerau? It seems the parties are leaving that to be a genuine contest, albeit with Kelvin Davis in a very winnable list position. (Though I'd note both Davis and Harawira need Labour's vote not to collapse as National's did in 2002, or Davis might miss out on the list and Tokerau voters might have to make a clean choice between the pair).  

As for Flavell and the mortgages, however he might be using the story to make a point, he won't be making it up and it shows just how brutal the fight for those seats is.

Mana people have told me its prime goal this election is to "kill off the Maori Party". Which I guess makes political sense for a party dependent on the Maori seats; there are only seven and so its own growth is dependent on its opponents failing.

But it also shows that Flavell and some commentators have a point when they say that Mana is a class-based party rather than an ethnicity-based party. Tariana Turia in her valedictory speech said the Maori Party has tried to avoid the rhetoric of right and left to put Maori first, second and third. I've always been dubious of politicians trying to avoid the left-right spectrum. You can't. But is has tried to maintain a different kind of independence; along with New Zealand First, it's the only party in parliament prepared to work with either major party.

The loss of that would be disappointing.

Mana, instead, implies that Maori politics is left-wing politics and the Maori seats must be retained by the Left. It wants to cleave Maori voters (or at least the Maori seats) to a certain class as well as a certain kaupapa. It's good politics for the left in the short-term. And with its commitment to attracting younger and newer voters (Harawira: "Labour and the Greens... should leave Internet-Mana to focus on getting in the new voters"), it's buying time as it seeks to keep younger New Zealanders on the left of politics.

When National does lose, it could lose big given the multiparty strength on the centre-left with Labour, the Greens and (Internet-) Mana. But longer term, as Maori move into the hip-pocket-driven middle-classes, I suspect it's a tactic that will run its course. Prosprity will always move a chunk of people to the right.

But for this year, those Maori seats are more uncertain and more critical than they've been for a long time. Te Tai Tonga and Hauraki-Waikato seem to be pretty safe for Labour, and despite Mana's hopes I haven't come across anyone who thinks Labour will lose Ikaroa-Rawhiti. Most think the Maori Party will lose Turia's Te Tai Hauauru. Harawira and Flavell, while both vulnerable, are expected to keep their seats. Just. Though having said that, there's more mixed opinion on Waiariki.

The real shot in the dark is Tamaki Makaurau. The Maori Party's Rangi McLean is well-known in the electorate, but is hardly a "name". Labour's Peeni Henare is more a name, but I'm told is not very active in the community. Labour's favoured now mostly because of the machine it has at is disposal, the Maori Party's decline at the previous election and in the party vote polls, and the belief of some, after the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election, that the Maori vote is trending back to Labour.

Of course these seats only matter to the general election if Labour can start improving dramatically. But whether they count nationally or only in the fight on the left and the between the Maori MPs, there will be mortgages (and mana and egos) on the line. Certainly ones to watch.

Comments (6)

by Katharine Moody on July 26, 2014
Katharine Moody

Prosperity will always move a chunk of people to the right.

Substitute 'prosperity' for 'debt' and I might be more inclined to agree.  

by Chris Webster on July 27, 2014
Chris Webster

Kia ora Tim. 

It is interesting that Lisa did not raise or question the vexed issue of declining numbers of people on the Maori roll. Or on the conservatives desire to rid the Maori seats from our political landscape. 

 Recently MOMA Sharples (Representation in a democracy is a basic human right!)  commented on the 2012/13 financial review of the Electoral Commission which had reported only about 58 % of Maori citizens had turned out to vote in the last general election. Apparently about 462, 000 Maori citizens are of voting age & are eligible to vote ... BUT < 270, 000 took up that wonderful democratic right & ticked a ballot paper .. & 40,000 disappeared at the enrolment table ..

 MOMA Sharples thinks that the government should be concerned about this by promoting public awareness of elections as part of its responsibility for preparing & conducting general elections. He also reckoned that the statistics of Maori citizens NOT voting are deplorable .. It transpires that a crown entity has a revenue budget of $27-million bucks. But in the 2012/13 year it spent only $22-million - returning a $5-million 'surplus'.

 MOMA: This $5-million could have more usefully been spent in investing in the challenge to increase Māori electoral turnout & in doing so improve the effectiveness of our democracy.

 The 2011 voter turnout (is not only a feature of Māori voting preferences] has been described ‘the saddest day for democracy in NZ’.  In fact the lowest official turnout was in 1887 (well before women attained voting rights).

 MOMA Sharples:  Voting is of paramount importance to the running of a healthy democracy. It is about the people being empowered to take action to cast a vote & make their voice heard.  We need to be out & proud. Casting a vote is our right, it is our duty. It is our responsibility. The power of voting is the power of change! It is the power of voicing views & making a mark in history. The Māori Party .. has drafted legislation to enable all Māori to be automatically entered on to the Māori roll with an option to transfer to the general roll.  This would take the complexity out of the Māori electoral option campaign given that the majority of Māori are enrolled on the Māori roll, it would make sense to make that roll the default roll & provide individuals with the choice to opt on to the general roll if they see fit.

 Question is .. how is making anything - compulsory - democratic?

by Tim Watkin on July 28, 2014
Tim Watkin

Chris, yes the Maori turnout was low in 2011 and is a perennial problem; we've covered that on the progamme before in a more general look at who the non-voters are. I'm not sure what you'd have wanted asked. Both men are on the record as wanting more Maori voters, more Maori on the Maori roll and as Hone did say, I-M are targetting the non-voters and hoping Labour and the Greens let them get on with it.

Your final question is not one just for Maori... Voter turnout generally is falling, and it seems you're asking if we should consider conpulsory voting as in Australia. Doesn't sound like you're a fan, but it has kept their turnout higher.

As for the Conservatives, we did have a question about that, though we may have run out of time. Flavell's clearly not keen, but has been part of a government that has had ACT and its similar policies in it. And he does tend to say that the Maori Party doesn't do formal coalition (thus avoiing being tarred with that brush) and by staying at the table it might mean it can fend off the Conservatives (if they even get in) and ACT.


by Tim Watkin on July 28, 2014
Tim Watkin

On extra thought about the Maori Party... Mana may want to kill off the Maori Party, but that may have a terrible unintended consequence for it. The death of the Maori Party could also mean the death of the Maori seats.

With no Maori Party at the table to convince National to stay away from its former policy of abolishing the Maori seats, and with ACT and the Conservatives potentially pushing National to return to its old ways, the seats could go. National certainly would be motivated to kill off I-M and any swing back to the left in those seats. So Mana might want to be careful what it wishes for!

by Alan Johnstone on July 28, 2014
Alan Johnstone

National will not abolish the Maori seats until registration in them falls to < 40% of all Maori.It's a settled position.

To do so in the face of opposition would earn them a shitfest to no material benefit, one thing I'ev learned about John Key is he doesn't pick pointless fights.


by Chris Webster on July 29, 2014
Chris Webster

Tim: I accept that we (all citizens) must enrol to vote.  Agree that enrolling & voting numbers are an issue across all demographics ..  I did not view the episode you  refer to - any chance of a transcript?  And Australia fines you also if you do not. ..

I did not pose my question carefully enough .. the bits of what MOMA Sharples proposed .. are what disturb me ..

1) is the registration of Maori citizens by compulsion to a dedicated roll. It is  his reasoning .. (enable all Māori to be automatically entered on to the Māori roll with an option) .. how is this 'compulsory bit' - democratic?  

2) (take complexity out of the Māori electoral option) .. What - after all the expensive legal battles ..  it is now deemed complex?

I prefer the current choice to opt on to either roll as seen fit by the individual..

Either way it would probably fail the sniff test of s7 NZBORA.

I agree with Alan ..  what government would have the shutzpah to pass it? .. it has similarity to the hated pass laws of south africa ..

'death of the Maori Party could also mean the death of the Maori seats'

I don't think that would happen. The Maori electorates have existed since Eve used Apple  .. & will probably remain with the status quo .. 

And another thought  - should the Maori Party push this draft bill .. it may well toll the bell for its survival .. it too must be careful for what it wishes ..

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