Political year starts; parties jostle for position ahead of 2023 election

By James Perry

The political year has had a stuttered start with the cancellation of events that usually mark the end of the long summer break for MPs but one commentator says that doesn't mean kaupapa Māori will have been left in the shadows.

With the annual Rātana celebrations and Waitangi Day commemorations cancelled due to Omicron cases, Māori, in particular, have not the usual kanohi ki te kanohi chance to discuss issues with the country's political leaders.

But Māori political commentator and Auckland University political science lecturer Dr Lara Greaves thinks that hasn’t stopped Māori leaders from getting their messages across to the government.

“I think it’s been a really interesting Waitangi Day, and I think it speaks to what everyone's been saying all along, that tikanga evolves, and has evolved with Covid.

“But I think one thing I do know about our Māori political leaders from studying political science and political history is they know how to get in ministers' ears. They know how to do things, they know how to get things done. Our Māori political leaders are creative and they’ll figure out some way to make up for having the events in person.

Smaller voices heard

Waitangi Day 2022 taking a break from its usual series of events has also allowed the smaller parties in Parliament an opportunity for their voices to be heard.

“We've seen on the left with the Green Party announce policies about being able to do Treaty claims on private land, which has been an interesting step there. We’ve seen the Māori Party talk about divorcing the Crown and constitutional reform, so we’ve seen those parties come through with particular policies,” Greaves told Te Ao Tapatahi.

Greaves says while Act or National didn’t make any major policy announcements this weekend, Christopher Luxon in media interviews on Waitangi Day gave an insight into where the party could be heading.

“It was quite encouraging because it was showing National is taking a kind of new soft-right position and is open to listening to Māori issues and more open than previous leaders like Judith Collins has been.”

With the next general election due in 18 months' time, Greaves thinks Māori, and in particular, Māori leaders will be starting to pay attention to what is offered.

“The other thing we need to look for next time events are held at Waitangi is how Māori evaluate Labour at that point because Labour will be six years in.

Backwards-looking

“Ardern's speech this year was more looking back at what they’ve achieved for Māori, than forward-facing or what they will do next. They were reflecting on Matariki and the Independent Māori Health Authority.

“In 2023, election year it really will be an opportunity for Māori to challenge Labour on their record. But also it’s going to kind of depend on how Māori and Māori leaders feel Labour has done for Māori and with the Covid response as well.”

Recent political polls in the media show while Labour is ahead, and could still probably form a government with the Greens, it is trending downwards, and Greaves says it is to be expected.

“I suspect this will continue, just because one thing we have to point to is that Labour was at record highs. Looking back to the 90’s no one expected that under MMP we’d have a single-party majority government. So we do expect them to go down over time, especially now Christopher Luxon and National present more of an alternative government than the previous iterations in the past couple of years National has presented.”

As for Luxon, Greaves says he’s off to a good start as leader of the opposition but still has a lot of work to do to get his feet under the desk of the ninth floor at the Beehive.

“Still 37% of people who still don’t know him well enough about him to say whether they supported or rated him or not. He’s still got to build that public profile. So far he’s off to a good start.

“We’ve got to also realise that he benefits from being a Pākehā man with business experience. So everyone will automatically assume that he is more competent than he is. That’s the flipside of sexism and racism. So he’s got that on his side, and he’s got a good economic record and that’s what people think.

“And ultimately it’s really important to have a strong opposition and have an opposition that has its act together because it is the one firing back at the government on the covid response. And that’s what we need in a democracy in the Westminster style democracy that we have, it’s an important constitutional role.”