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New Colour for the National Party?

The National Party logo. (Photo: The National Party)

In a recent interview, deputy leader of the National Party Nikki Kaye said “The reality is we need to do more as a country in terms of diversity and representation, but we have been clear that we need to have the most competent group of people, and we have made decisions on that… We are fighting hard to win an election, and we have to have the best team put forward on that.”

Until only three weeks ago, this most competent group (supported by the National Party) was headed by two Māori. Now, the highest ranked Māori is Paula Bennett (of Tainui) at 13th and our highest ranked whanaunga is Paul Goldsmith (not Ngāti Porou (perhaps Ngāi Epsom)) at 4th. The media thus far has focused entirely on the lack of Māori representation in the top 12, however it is also important to note that there are no Asian, Pacific, Middle Eastern/Latin American/African or any other minority ethnic groups within this leadership group. The result of this “diversity” is a lack of ethnic representation of 42% of New Zealand’s population. Furthermore, the top 12 also makes for an extraordinarily difficult game of ‘Guess Who.’

National Party Top 12. (Photos: The National Party)

Where do National’s key priorities lie? The following are a selection of the spokesperson roles and which rank of candidate the National party has left that role too;

Amongst some of the roles that missed out on the top 12 include;

Rank #13 – Women.

Rank #17 – Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.

Rank #20 – Children. Pacific Peoples. Disability Issues.

Rank #25 & #27 – Ethnic Communities.

Rank #35 – Youth.

Rank #37 – Māori Development.

Rank #39 – Crown/Māori Relations. Māori Tourism.

It is important to note that the entire National caucus is not Pākehā. There is diversity amongst the ranks. However, I do distinctly remember deputy leader Nikki Kaye saying ‘the country needed diversity…’ Just not within the party leadership. You can view the full list on National’s website.

Leading the new National Party is MP for the Bay of Plenty, Todd Muller. Almost immediately following Muller’s victory over Simon Bridges (Ngāti Maniapoto) it became public knowledge that Muller had collected a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap and a Hillary Clinton pin from his time in the US. These items were proudly on display in Muller’s office and were planned to move into his new one. I think Muller is ignorant to what that cap means symbolically. For those who don’t know or need reminding, that slogan, ‘MAGA’ was popularised by a man who does not understand leadership.

  • That man supported the separating of children from their parents and locking these children within cages without blankets, soap or toothpaste.

  • That man called Mexicans ‘rapists and murderers.’

  • That man calls neo-Nazis ‘fine people.’

  • That man denied a US veteran status as a war hero because he was a prisoner of war.

  • That man pardoned known racist, Sherriff Joe Arpaio who had his officers racially profile citizens.

  • That man mocked a journalist for their physical disability.

  • That man called Haiti, El Salvador and some African Nations, ‘shit-hole’ countries.

  • That man pardoned a US war criminal described by soldiers as ‘freaking evil’, who posed with the corpse of a teenage Isis captive whom he had just stabbed repeatedly to death.

  • That man has supported white people with guns protesting against COVID-19 restrictions and is now ordering his own troops to “dominate” peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors.

And when Muller was questioned as to why he had that man’s cap with him, Muller giggled. If Muller is such a fan of the American politics, surely, he would be aware of that man’s actions, rhetoric and what that cap represents. Furthermore, we know Muller collects souvenirs from both parties, so where then is Muller’s memorabilia of one of the most significant presidents in United States history, of Barack Obama? Regardless, I don’t want any Aotearoa New Zealand MPs looking up to ‘that man.’

(Photo: @toddmullerBoP)

National’s shiny new group of decision makers appears to have made the decision to hit the ground running, and talking. Talking quite a lot actually on the ‘ground-breaking’ economic policies that will allegedly revive and sustain New Zealand business, post COVID-19. When Todd Muller was questioned by John Campbell on what the Nats’ actual economic policies are, he choked harder than Eminem in the 8 Mile. If the conversation was a game of table tennis, the score would be Questions-1 and Answers-0.

In Parliament Question Time, Todd Muller petitioned Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on whether or not the government would assist National in employing the National ‘Job Start’ employment policy as soon as possible. Jacinda then fully addressed his question and spoke at length on Labour’s many policies to maintain employment levels. Muller then repeats his question, to which Ardern replies with the same answer. In fact, Ardern speaks to the very similar policy which Labour has already developed (Mana in Mahi) which has caveats that cover some of the potential loop-holes within National’s ‘Job Start’ policy. Muller repeats his question… again, and Jacinda answers… again. Muller continued asking various forms of the same question and Jacinda continued to answer. It is rumoured that this session of Question Time is still going...

Todd Muller questions Jacinda Ardern during Question Time. (Photo: Dom Thomas/Pool)

While reasonable people can still debate the issues surrounding economic policy post-COVID, Muller seems to be fixated on talking for political points and not listening. Meteorologists are beginning to consider if National’s current ‘all talk’ strategy is the cause of high winds in the Wellington area.

Todd Muller later argued that the Black Lives Matter protests made a mockery of COVID-19 alert levels. His point here is that all citizens should respect the rules of the land. To some extent, I can understand where this belief comes from. However, let’s not forget the mockery of humanity made by that Minneapolis ‘Police’ soldier when, for eight minutes and 46 seconds he crushed George Floyd’s neck under his knee. Nor forget the countless other Black people and children who were killed by those whose duty it is to ‘serve and protect.’. We were able to go out and protest because we, collectively, have done so well as a nation to fight (and to continue to fight) the peril of COVID-19. We also are obliged as humans to fight for common humanity. Muller’s aim here is to score political points with those who agree, however he is also distancing himself and therefore the National party from those who protested. This is the distancing of voters who believe that they are striving for peace and justice. With Muller last in the news media for a MAGA cap, it may prove to not have been wise to reject so openly the BLM protests. The conclusions that one may draw regarding Muller’s character from these could be less then flattering.

And, so what of “Mullermania?” The latest UMR poll shows no change to the National Party’s current standings (post National leadership spill) at around 30%. Ironically, Todd Muller named Bill English as one of the most influential politicians in his (Muller’s very short) political career. This is ironic really, seeing how Bill English took over the National leadership in 2002 and brought National one of its greatest defeats in modern history at just over 20% of the vote. National in 1999 had over 30% of the vote. If Murphy’s law proves true, then National’s current polling should be very foreboding. The latest Roy Morgan poll paints an even worse picture than the UMR’s.

Roy Morgan Poll of the week of June 4, 2020. (Photo: Roy Morgan)

With the new National leadership announced, the media was quick to challenge the National Party for their lack of diversity within the leadership ranks. Nikki Kaye attempted to deal with the question through acknowledging Paul Goldsmith’s Ngāti Porou whakapapa. For a brief moment, I was of the belief that Paul Goldsmith was a whanaunga of mine. My whānau is very close to the Goldsmiths of Tikitiki. As it turns out, Paul Goldsmith may not be of the Ngāti Porou Goldsmith line. This great saga unfolded in the corridors of parliament in front of media. The Honourable Judith Collins in response to this returned the challenge to the media, asking “is there something wrong with me being white?” I’d expect more from someone with the title ‘Honourable.’ Not only did Judith Collins manage to make a wider National Party leadership issue about herself, she also ignored the issue of diversity in leadership and managed to be derisive and stoke racial tensions while doing so. Questions-2 and Answers-0.

Let’s now look to the National Party mountain. As this new blanket of snow settles upon the upper echelons of the National Party, it is important to look back upon that brown, stoney peak that was.

The one thing that’s really caught my attention since the ‘white wave’ (not to be confused with that funny wave the queen does) removed Bridges and Bennett from the party is how we as a Māori Society now openly call out National for their lack of representation of Māori, yet when Simon Bridges (Ngāti Maniapoto) and Paula Bennett (Tainui) were in those leadership roles, we often denounced them for their Māoritanga (or lack thereof) and some even attempted to strip them of their identity as Māori. We did this as people, our mass media did this and even our Māori media has done this.

The two former Māori Leaders of the National Party. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

If we can complain about the national (the country not the party (maybe)) consciousness that considers Taika Waititi as a Kiwi when he is successful and a Māori when his comments are ‘less favourable,’ why then do we do the exact same with our Māori members of parliament?

There is an important distinction to make here. There is a difference between blood and ideas. You are more than welcome to challenge Simon Bridge’s lack of inclusion of kaupapa māori into his policy and strategy, but you are not welcome to strip him of his identity. You have no more right than the teachers and police of old who beat English and identity into our tīpuna and kaumātua.

The messages we send have the exact same effect that it does when coming from colonialists and media, they divide. If someone’s best argument is to attack the person and not the idea, well, then they haven’t really got an argument. For those interested, this is called an ‘Ad Hominem.’

The future for New Zealand needs to be one of unity, togetherness and cooperation. A coterie of 12 Pākeha does not accurately reflect the ethnic or belief makeup of Aotearoa New Zealand nor in any way seem to address the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. The National Party was once the party of Apirana Ngata and James Hēnare, now the National blue is transitioning to a crisp white. Ironically, it seems the that National Party will go the same way as the Māori Party this election (just, you know, a whole lot whiter). For a party to succeed they must speak to the people, and speak with sustenance.

We’ve just cleared Aotearoa of recorded COVID-19. Let’s look forward to the future, to voting. Regardless of your leanings, this is the best way to have your collective input on issues here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Let’s rejoice in this success and now ready ourselves for the coming election.


He Kupu Mō Te Kaituhi:

Abel Johnston

“Koro” Abel Kururangi Johnston of Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau a Hinerupe is an advocate of Māori Advancement. He has lived and worked across Aotearoa, from Wellington, to Nelson and currently resides in Auckland. Kururangi is a student and teaching assistant at AUT, specialising in Māori development. His writings challenge established norms and provoke new perspectives and means of thinking.


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