On Monday night I attended the Native Affairs Tāmaki-Makaurau debate in Newmarket and, true to form, here is my timely review of proceedings.
First off, I am not overly concerned with who “won” this debate, or any other debate for that matter. I went with the intention of focussing on what was said, and to witness a contest of ideas and not a battle over who is the better speaker. Oratory will only take you so far in politics, true change comes from effectively following through with your promises.
That said, all four candidates put their case for election strongly, and Tāmaki-Makaurau is one of only two Māori electorates to have four quality candidates campaigning (the other being Te Tai Tonga).
The main topic of discussion of the night revolved around rangatahi Māori, specifically focussing on policies dealing with the harmful effects of child abuse within Māori communities. Across the four candidates, the focus was on reducing poverty as a way of ending child abuse. While this is a noble aim, it further perpetuates the idea that child abuse is caused by poverty. While no doubt there is a strong correlation between poverty and child abuse, the argument that the former causes the latter is not as strong. It is an apt repeated truism that correlation does not equal causation. To simplify the argument, to state that poverty causes child abuse is a gross insult on those many thousands of Māori struggling day-to-day to support their whānau who have the good sense not to harm a young child.
Politicians have a tendency to reduce a complex problem down to one or two talking points (or “solutions”) which, conveniently, correspond with the very policies that they are campaigning on. For the Māori Party, it is about strengthening Whānau; for Labour, the emphasis is on supporting children; and for Te Mana and the Greens, the focus is on improving financial support to those at the lower bounds or our economic system. While each party’s policy encompasses a range of all three themes, it was clear on the night that each of these was their core policy platform.
Child abuse is a complex problem, and arises in the context of what I call the Economics-Education-Community matrix. Economics encompasses sufficient resources for each whānau to provide comfortable for their needs; education refers to the general level of skill, knowledge, ability, and ethics of our people; and community encompasses the shared support that is required to raise a child. Any empirical study of child abuse is likely to show that the risk to a child increase when 2 or all 3 of these elements are lacking.
This is not to deny the role of economics in leading to child abuse, merely noting that it is but one factor. There remains, however, the wider and more systemic issue of poverty in New Zealand. Thousands are struggling to support themselves and their whānau from day-to-day, even with the strong Governmental support coming in the form of our benefit system and Working For Families.
In all honesty, there was a lot of common ground amongst the four candidates on this issue. All supported an increase in the minimum wage, all supported more financial resources being directed towards those in need, and all failed to adequately address the implications of their policies.
The point was strongly made at the end of the debate that while raising the minimum wage was needed, where is that extra money going to come from – especially when you consider that many of our small businesses are facing the same financial struggles as the people are.
Raising wages is definitely a good thing, but what support can we provide for those businesses who have to wear the extra cost? Not to mention the inflationary effects of such a dramatic, and immediate, rise in the minimum wage, as advocated for by the four parties. A higher across-the-board wage rise will bring an increase in prices, perhaps by as much to offset the rise in wages. Yet, this analysis and debate was sadly lacking and we should expect better from our aspiring political leaders.
Another point I commented on during the night was the almost exclusive focus on providing more Government support. Only once was the need to foster entrepreneurship raised, and even then Dr Sharples quickly moved on. The key to lifting Māori out of poverty is through the creation of jobs and the sustainable development of our people and resources. Instead of discussing these aspects of each party’s policy, the candidates instead engaged in a disappointing game of “my handout is bigger than your handout”.
The Māori Electorates
If recent polls are anything to go by, then Saturday’s election will result in a massive sea-change in Māori politics. For the first time, we are likely to see the end of the Labour Party dominance of the Māori electorates. While the Māori Party has secured 4 and 5 seats at the last two elections, Labour continued to dominate the party vote amongst Māori electors – indicating a high level of split voting amongst Māori. That trend is changing. The independent hold of the Māori electorates by the two Māori focussed parties looks to remain into a third electoral cycle (contrast to New Zealand First who, despite winning all 6 Māori electorates in 1996, lost the all again in 1999), and Labour’s share of the party vote is slowly being eroded away by Te Mana.
Contrary to many on the left, I feel that all 7 Māori seats will be retained by their incumbents. While Rino Tirikatene promised much in Te Tai Tonga, his campaign has shown that a family political dynasty is no longer enough to win support in our modern political system. In fact, the most recent poll of the electorate shows that Tirikatene’s support comes mainly from the older age groups – the very people who remember the work of his Grandfather and his Aunty; whereas support for Rahui Katene is coming mainly from the younger generations. The other closely-fought seat, that of Waiariki, will remain with Te Ururoa. Annette Sykes is proving to be too divisive a figure for such a conservative Māori electorate. However, with Te Mana likely to register at least 1.5% of the party vote, she will still make it into Parliament and will be a welcome addition to Parliament.
Which brings me to 2014. The retirements of Parekura Horomia, Tariana Turia, and Pita Sharples will be a big loss to the Māori caucus in Parliament. Looking at the three parties, the succession planning will be crucial over the next three years. With Hone being relatively young, and demonstrating strong leadership as leader of Te Mana, succession will be of little concern to them. The party facing the most difficulty is the Māori Party, and the future survival of the Party likely rests on the ability of both Flavell and Katene to retain their electorate seats. Should they both win, then expect to see a transition of leadership to this pair. But that is not the end of the challenge faced by the Māori Party. Replacing both Tariana and Pita at the 2014 election will be a challenge, and it will take two extraordinary candidates to retain their two electorate seats. However, with the fortunes of Na Raihania on the rise, the loss of Tāmaki-Makaurau in 2014 could potentially be offset with the capture of Ikaroa-Rawhiti. As for Labour, any chance of running a strong showing in the 2014 election relies on their ability to convince Shane Jones to remain in Parliament.