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The Death of the Māori Party

Ka mate kāinga tahi, ka ora kāinga rua. When one house falls, another shall rise. (Photo: Māori Party)

Politics is hard. I commend anyone with the tenacity to enter the system, because much like working in the sewers, you can do good and important work, but it is hard to keep ‘it’ from sticking. Māori Politics is harder. It’s like working in the sewers when people are still flushing, and it can be hard to tell which pipe ‘it’ is going to come from. The political landscape is also changing, and I am of the belief that the Māori political landscape is changing in a way few have looked into.

Let’s start with the September 2017 election when, for the first time in the Māori Party’s 15-year history, the party had failed to win a single seat in parliament. This then begs the question, is there a Māori voice in Parliament? This essay hopes to answer this question while also examining the Māori Party, why the Māori Party did not win a seat and ultimately, what the future is for the Māori Party and Māori in Parliament.

Māori Party Co-Leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia in 2013. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

First established in 2004, the party’s original co-leaders were Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples. The Māori Party first entered parliament in 2004 when Tariana Turia won the Te Tai Hauāuru by-election. Driven by the 2004 foreshore and seabed controversy, the Māori party established guidelines to help the party embed itself within Aotearoa New Zealand. Today, the party’s constitution outlines the following guiding principles;

  1. The Māori Party is for the benefit of all citizens of this land, Aotearoa New Zealand.

  2. Its policies and practices are derived from kaupapa tuku iho, which are enriched and refined by new insights and discoveries.

  3. Aotearoa New Zealand is a nation of cultural diversity and richness where unity is underpinned by the expression of tangata whenuatanga by Māori.

  4. Commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the founding document of this nation and to whakapapa.

While in coalition within the 2011 National Government, the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 repealed the earlier Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. Ultimately, the Māori Party succeeded in its goal (the minutiae of the repeal are still be debated). Regardless, why then in 2017 did the Māori party win no seats? The answer is very simple.

Your vote is your say; it is your voice in politics. Simply put, not enough people voted for the Māori Party. In both the local electorates and overall party vote, not enough people voted for the Māori Party.

Having lost the electorates, the Māori Party would have needed 5% of the party vote. The highest percentage the Māori Party has ever received in the party vote was 2.39% in ’08. I’m now going to go deeper into the Elections NZ numbers to see what we can find. As a note, I do not have complete data on Māori Party voter demographics (in particular age & languages of the participants) however I have supplemented this with anecdotal evidence from interviews. I believe my data-based assumptions are fair.

In 2017, the Māori Party received 16.89% (or 19,774 votes) from the Māori Roll, and combined with the general roll, it garnered 30,580 votes, or 1.18% total popular vote (the general roll consists of non-Māori and is optional for Māori). 476,798 Māori were enrolled to vote in the 2017 general election on either the Māori or General Roll. If we assume that only Māori voted for the Māori Party, then 9% of Māori used their party vote on the Māori Party. Anecdotally, I know Pākeha who voted for the Māori Party, so this percentage is likely lower. So, if less then 9% of Māori support the Māori Party, is the Māori Party the voice of the Māori Voter?

This extrapolation is slightly more abstract, but if true, it is perhaps more troubling. What if we assume that this 9% of Māori support that the Māori Party received was entirely consisted of Reo Māori speakers? Approximately 21% of all Māori speak Te Reo. However, the Māori Party only received 9% of the Māori vote. This would mean that barely half the Māori speaking population supports the Māori Party. So, then the Māori Party may not be an accurate reflection of an ‘actual Reo Māori voice'? Those identified by the Māori Party as their supporters may not be as numerous as the party hopes. I’ll leave this point hanging and return to the certain now.

The bigger picture, one which is clear from the data, is a downwards trendline in terms of Party Vote. This downturn began in 2011. In twelve years, the Māori party’s support across the electorates has at least halved in every electorate (except the Waiariki, where it is down 30% from 2012-2017). There are a few reasons for this: the first is Mana, the movement, not the concept. When the

Mana Party began in 2011, the Māori Party lost half its party voters and has never recovered to pre-2011 party poll numbers. The fact the Māori Party was either in the opposition or ‘in bed with the enemy' -- the National Party -- did not help numbers either. Another is the retirement of popular candidates. The last, and perhaps most important, is the elephant in the article: the Labour Party.

While both Māori and Mana have been returning lower and lower numbers each election, Labour’s party support has constantly grown. In fact, since the Māori Party’s inception, it has never received more party votes in any electorate than Labour. In 2017, Labour in the Māori Electorates received at least 3x the votes of the Māori Party and in some regions, nearly 10x. The following graph compares direct number of votes for both parties across all Māori seats in 2017. If by chance, all enrolled Māori in 2017 had used their party vote on the Māori Party, it would have received 14.46% of the total vote or potentially 17 list seats.

Based upon this information it is fair to ask, is Labour the voice for Māori? Well... maybe. In the political sphere, the Labour elected candidates are the voice for Māori in the Māori seats. Beyond that, there something which we must come to terms with.

Most Māori do not speak Māori. Nor use Kōhanga Reo, or Kura Kaupapa. More than half of us see engagement with Māori Culture as being somewhat important or not at all. Many of us are not connected with our Marae. We are products of urbanisation and colonisation. This has reshaped the common Māori identity and belief system. So, a Māori Party targeting a minority of a minority will struggle to find support. Perhaps the best summation I have seen of this is by Graham Cameron who wrote, “those few of us whose lives are immersed in te reo Māori, tikanga, kawa, whakapapa, raupatu, wānanga, kura and kōhanga reo, have inadvertently created a closed community that cannot speak to the actual needs to the larger majority of tāngata whenua in a language that is understood.” This is the strategic-voting challenge posed to the Māori party within the Māori Roll.

How then can the Māori Party find success after the resounding defeat of 2017? It is said, “ka mate kainga tahi, ka ora kainga rua” or when the first house falls a second shall rise. I am fearful though that the foundations upon which the new Māori Party house is being built is no different to that prior to 2017. You wouldn’t build a second time in the Christchurch Red-Zone, would you? Let us leave the party of old to die, and more importantly, let’s change tack. To build the second house, we can use the current principles of the Māori Party constitution. And thus, my conclusion is addressed to the Māori Party.

(Photo: Māori Party)

Right now, you are all relatively unknown and/or unpopular (I base this upon interviews with whānau, whanaunga and hoa from every region and also from previous election losses). Furthermore, the party has unveiled no official policies or ideas. No one will vote for a candidate we do not know or a party whose policies are either unknown or do not address the needs of the many. We need information. More importantly, we need to believe in you. You are going up against perhaps the strongest Labour Party in history, and we the voters know nothing of what you’re bringing. I’m not saying you can’t still push kaupapa, but you need to speak to a majority and garner support from the masses. To align people and groups to a cause is literally the mahi of the “Rangatira”. Be radical and bold in addressing our issues. Our issues, us, the citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Here is my discovery, our new insight, so let it complement our kaupapa tuku iho. Bring diversity to the forefront. Where are our Māori Party candidates in the general electorates, and furthermore, our candidates who are not Māori? Why not bring in the likes and ideas of Meng Foon, Anand Satyanand, Andrew Beaucroft and Anne Salmond in to promote policy and values of the Māori Party in general electorates? What showcases diversity and treaty partnership more than that? And finally, remember this: ki te whiu matau, ka tarea e koe te hī tētahi. Ki te hao, ka tarea te maha. Fish with a hook, and maybe you will catch one fish. If you cast a net, you may then gather plenty. The rest is up to you, the next generation of the Māori Party whakapapa. Will you rebuild your house anew upon foundations new? Or was 2017 truly the death of the Māori Party?


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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