29 Nov 2023

'Challenging few years for some' - Māori weigh in on new government

9:47 am on 29 November 2023
NZ First leader Winston Peters, National Party leader Christopher Luxon and ACT Party leader David Seymour at the formal signing ceremony on 24 November, 2023.

NZ First leader Winston Peters, National Party leader Christopher Luxon and ACT Party leader David Seymour at the coalition deal signing ceremony. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

As the dust of the new coalition government settles Māori experts are looking ahead to what the next parliamentary term will bring.

Victoria University associate professor in politics Lara Greaves said it will be the most right wing government since MMP was introduced in the 1990s.

"It's going to be a challenging few years for some Māori who, under the past government, perhaps felt more listened to," she says.

Te Tiriti legislation - 'politics of resentment'

National, ACT, and New Zealand First have committed to endorsing a Treaty Principles bill, up to the select committee process. However uncertainly looms over its further progression and the possibility of a referendum.

The proposed legislation, should it pass, pledges a comprehensive examination of all laws, excluding full and final Treaty Settlement Acts, with the objective of eliminating current mentions of "the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi" from legislation.

Māori journalist and commentator Mihingarangi Forbes said any act reviewing Te Tiriti should be examined carefully.

New Zealand is only starting to reach a point where the wrongs of colonisation are being righted, she said.

"What's being proposed I think puts Māori back into the dark ages of where we've really just begun to climb out of and I'm not convinced there won't be a referendum at the end of the select committee process."

Forbes said debate around the bill was likely to be dominated by the "politics of resentment".

"This process will be particularly hard on Māori as the debate is rolled out in public, and in the media, and through the opinion pieces, and through the think tanks, organisations with lots to lose if our country actually honours Te Tiriti.

"We'll be seeing the whipping up of the politics of resentment as we do every Waitangi Day and on every other discussion around power sharing."

ACT's policy of a Treaty referendum garnered some controversy during the campaign, with accusations of race-baiting aimed at the party's leader David Seymour.

Greaves said in the past, public submissions to the select committee have tended to favour a more right wing perspective, and she said referenda tend to be the same.

"If you look around the world for indigenous people referenda just generally never work out very well, I think there's quite a body of literature on referenda now that shows that it's not a good time.

"If you look at the Chilean Constitutional referendum, the Voice to Parliament referendum in Australia you see a lot of disinformation and misinformation targeting indigenous groups and ultimately not a positive experience for anyone."

Greaves said there would still be a lot of movement around Treaty Principles even without a referendum.

Ministerial positions

On Monday morning, Christopher Luxon was officially sworn in as New Zealand's 42nd prime minister by Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro.

Dame Cindy also appointed the rest of the executive council, which includes 20 Cabinet ministers, eight ministers outside of the Cabinet, and two parliamentary under-secretaries.

Of the new ministers, eight have whakapapa Māori; National's Tama Potaka and Shane Reti, ACT's David Seymour, Karen Chhour, Nicole Mckee, and NZ First's Winston Peters, Shane Jones, and Casey Costello.

Greaves said there was an interesting mixture of Māori in cabinet, with many taking on roles that are not necessarily associated with just Māori issues.

But she said there was a reasonable Māori representation in Cabinet.

"There's always that classic Professor Mason Durie quote 'There's many diverse ways to be Māori,' and I guess we're going to see the conservative right wing Māori view take its seat at the table this time round and we'll see if that's something that the voters want."

Forbes said it was interesting to note which portfolios were sitting outside of Cabinet, including the minister of children, who oversees Oranga Tamariki, and the minister of climate change.

"These are our tamariki, our most vulnerable tamariki in Aotearoa and it's interesting that they've decided that that portfolio will sit outside of Cabinet," she said.

Māori health

All three parties in the coalition have agreed Te Aka Whai Ora, the Māori Health Authority, will be axed.

Forbes said it would be interesting to see what they planned to replace it with.

"I don't think the inequity is going to go away after that, Māori will still be dying seven and a half years before their Pākehā brothers and sisters.

"I think it's fair for all New Zealanders to be able to say 'What is the plan, how are you going to deliver services to Māori that begin to address some of those inequities?'," Forbes said.

Prior to the election, the National Party said it would replace it with a Māori health directorate which would sit within the Ministry of Health, but no commitment has been made since.

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