#OPINION Māori seats may be Winston's way back to Parliament

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

Winston Peters, ever the statesman, a man who will surely be remembered as one of Aotearoa's most iconic politicians of all time, is making a comeback on social media with the same level of wit and shade that made him a notorious member of the House.

It's a comeback his more than 95,000 followers seem to be enjoying. His comment section blows up when he posts things like "The country needs certainty and a plan at 1pm - not more propaganda and patsies."

But while the old hand posts about the government and his view on how it is tracking, we are left to wonder whether the man, who seems to have his own plan, has a comeback to Parliament on the agenda. 

There has been talk, suggesting that if National stays where it is in the polls and Labour continues to fall in the popularity ranks, then that would leave a gap for Peters' return.

However, the public's favourite opposition leader, David Seymour, has the space filled in enough to keep the right happy and the left on their toes. The space once occupied by the kingmaker seems well and truly in the hands of the ACT leader.

Now stay with me here. Peters may want to relook at the Māori electorates if he wants a foot back in the door and here's why and how. 

Real tussles

It is just over a year since the last election where the one thing that stood out for me was the fight for the Māori seats. It was a momentous occasion for Labour, which claimed a huge victory and an MMP first by being able to govern alone.

The red tidal wave that washed over the country was both phenomenal and predictable. The Māori seats, however, kept people on edge, with Tamati Coffey and Rawiri Waititi going head to head for Te Waiariki for the entire night.

The tussle in Tāmaki between John Tamihere and Peeni Henare didn’t disappoint either and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer did her best against Adrian Rurawhe who eventually took it out. So why am I talking about Māori seats?

Well, alongside Peters, NZ First also has another Māori on the books who is well versed in tikanga Māori, has wit, has owned his mistakes and since the election has been seen assisting and attending different kaupapa Māori across the electorate he lives in. Yes, I’m talking about Shane Jones and the Tai Tokerau seat.

While Jones didn’t do well in the Northland seat last time, he and his leader may find his skills are best suited to a Māori seat.

No doubt he will find solid opposition in the currently highest-ranked Māori minister and incumbent Kelvin Davis but, if there is a seat that could turn to the black and white, it could be the one in the North.

Good fight

Davis has been walking on hot coals for a lot of this term. His work as Minister for Children has meant he is the man at the top of the ladder tasked with tidying up Oranga Tamariki – not an easy job.

On top of that he also has to work as Corrections Minister on shrinking incarceration numbers that feature Māori as over 52% of the prison population.

Jones could be the one to turn back the tide for New Zealand First, which gathered only  2.6% of the party votes in 2020, well short of the 5% threshold needed to enter Parliament on party votes. To secure at least one seat, the party would only need to make the 1.2% needed to get another person, in this case leader Winston, back in the house.

NZ First has some of the most impressive minds in the business but they would need to reinvent the party. And by reinvent I mean go back to what the party once was.

Before you say that the party doesn’t do Māori seats, when NZ First was established in 1993 it also took out the Māori seats and became known as the tight five, before eventually experiencing a party rift.

Since then NZ First has steered clear of Māori electorates and in 2018 Peters called for a two-pronged referendum to ask whether Māori seats should be entrenched, or should go altogether.

Wily Winston may want to look at Māori seats again - the party may find its whakapapa could be the key to reopening the doors on Parliament.