25 Sep 2017

What happens without a Māori voice?

10:38 pm on 25 September 2017

Analysis - MMP promised a more representative government giving minorities more of a voice. But what happens when there isn't an independent Māori voice, asks Shannon Haunui-Thompson.

Tamati Coffey, left, and Te Ururoa Flavell

Tamati Coffey, left, won the Waiariki seat from Te Ururoa Flavell, right. Photo: Supplied

On Saturday night I was in Russell with Winston Peters but it was what was happening in Rotorua that had me holding my breath.

While watching the numbers coming in for Waiariki it soon became clear the Māori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell, who has held the seat since 2005, wasn't going to win.

One poll during the campaign indicated the race for the Waiariki seat was going to be close. Labour's internal poll had Tamati Coffey behind by one point. However, Māori Television's polls had Mr Flavell at 60 percent and Mr Coffey on 40 percent.

It was always going to be a race but I'm not sure anyone, other than the Labour Party, actually thought Mr Flavell was going to lose the Waiariki seat.

Mr Coffey won by 1321 votes and overwhelmingly Labour got 57.7 percent of the party vote in Waiariki as well.

Labour made a clean sweep, winning all the Māori seats back and effectively taking the Māori Party out of Parliament.

It was an emotional loss and you could see it hurt - Mr Flavell was struggling to hold back his tears as he thanked his many supporters and spoke of the disappointment he felt that Māori had lost faith "in ourselves and our own political movement".

Facebook was full of messages thanking him and calling him hard-working, relentless and kaupapa-driven. The same sentiments were echoed by some of his now former parliamentary colleagues.

Social media was also echoing some peoples' disappointment, concern and even anger that there will no longer be an independent Māori voice in Parliament, which in the spirit of MMP is a scary thought.

MMP promised a more representative government giving minorities more of a voice. What happens when that isn't happening? What happens when there isn't an independent Māori voice?

The Māori Party was formed when Dame Tariana Turia left the Labour Party because of its foreshore and seabed legislation.

In 2005 they won four of the seven Māori seats, in 2008 they got five, however in 2011 they only retained three seats after Hone Harawira left the party and won Te Taitokerau for the Mana Party.

In 2014 Mr Flavell was the only Māori Party candidate to win his electorate seat and Marama Fox came in as a list MP. The era of the Shark and the Fox had begun, but their support base was getting thinner and thinner.

Marama Fox singing with whanau, friends and supporters at Te Rangimarie Marae in Masterton.

Marama Fox singing with whānau, friends and supporters at Te Rangimarie Marae in Masterton. Photo: RNZ / Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

Being at the table with the National Party hurt the Māori Party. It was always a risk and they knew it.

Mr Flavell has said he won't be back and has resigned as the co-leader of the Māori Party.

Ms Fox is set to stay with the party and has said she would continue to fight for Māori from outside Parliament.

Labour have 13 Māori MPs after Saturday's result. That's plenty of Māori representation, and seven of them won the Māori electorates because Māori voters decided it was them they wanted.

But the Labour Party isn't there just for Māori. And will they be in government?

Kelvin Davis told The Hui Māoridom have chosen Labour and the party will work hard to repay them whether they are in government or not.

But what kind of Māori representation will Māori get from a National-NZ First coalition deal? National have eight MPs with Māori whakapapa and NZ First have six. However, they are not in parliament specifically for Māori either.

Winston Peters has said he'll make a decision based on what is best for New Zealand.

Now we all wait.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs