Analysis by Dr Bryce Edwards.
Political Roundup: Labour’s fraught battle to retain the Māori vote
Labour’s poll results are trending down. Yesterday’s Curia poll put the party down two points to just 33 per cent, while National is up three points to 37 per cent. When it comes to next year’s election, a key constituency for Labour will be Māori voters, especially in the Māori seats which are facing a strong challenge from Te Pati Māori.
Yet Labour’s support amongst Māori also seems to be plummeting. A poll earlier in the year by Horizon Research for The Hui, showed Labour’s support had dropped from 54 per cent in 2020, to just 37 per cent this year. The seventeen-point drop was a sign, according to Te Pati Māori’s co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, that in Māoridom, “The red wave is well and truly over”. National’s Shane Reti also pronounced “the Māori love affair with Labour is well and truly over.”
Has Labour let down Māori?
When Labour won 50 per cent of the vote in 2020, with a historic majority in Parliament, there was a belief amongst commentators that Labour would now be able to deliver for their Māori constituency. There was a belief that this triumphant result, and winning back all the Māori electorates in 2017, was in part due to Māori voters trusting Labour to deliver on their promises of better housing, healthcare, and reduced economic inequality. Such a focus on lifting living standards was especially appealing to working class Māori.
Unfortunately, those results haven’t been delivered. Under Labour there continues to be a growing disparity between rich and poor, and poverty and inequality have been exacerbated. For example, the housing crisis Labour inherited from National, has now morphed into a “housing catastrophe”, and Labour seem largely uninterested in doing anything about this. On top of this, we now have a cost of living crisis, and wages are not keeping up with rising prices.
The powerful role of the Labour Māori caucus in government
One of the reasons that Māori might have believed Ardern’s Government would deliver in the areas that poor and working class Māori care about, is that the Māori caucus in Labour is the biggest ever. Commentators said that the fifteen Māori MPs in Government would have strong leverage over Ardern and her fellow ministers. What’s more, six out of the 20 Cabinet ministers are Māori – which is proportionally much greater than wider society.
Have the Māori MPs and ministers delivered? There is no doubt they have been highly influential. As leftwing commentator Martyn Bradbury says, “The Maori Caucus inside Labour are now the largest and most powerful faction” in the party. The Prime Minister and her colleagues have therefore not been able to ignore the demands and priorities of Labour’s Māori caucus.
In fact, some commentators paint a picture of Ardern as being held hostage to the agendas of the senior Maori leaders such as Nanaia Mahuta and Willie Jackson. Journalist Graham Adams, for example, has written about how Ardern doesn’t show any great enthusiasm for, or belief in, her Government’s controversial Three Waters reform programme, and as a very cautious and poll-driven leader, “would normally back away from any policy as widely disliked as Three Waters soon after the poll results arrived on her desk”.
Adams argues that the Māori caucus has pursued many of the most important and controversial reform agendas of the current Government – this “includes setting up a separate Māori Health Authority, easing the path to Māori wards, handing more power to iwi in the conservation estate, in local government, and the Resource Management Act”.
Have Labour’s Māori MPs focused on the right issues?
Generally, the Māori caucus in Labour has been focused on constitutional and cultural reforms. But are these the right ones? Unfortunately for Labour, the main concerns of Māori voters – especially those who are struggling – are more materialist, such as housing and employment.
Much of what the Labour Government has been delivering for Māori often looks more like symbolism and bureaucracy. And in many cases, it’s been about assisting more middle class Māori supporters, especially those in business. Hence last year Willie Jackson convinced his government to make 5 per cent of their $42 billion procurement budget available to Māori businesses.
This all raises the question of whether Labour’s Māori MPs have focused on the right issues. Or, perhaps the question is whether Labour has become too focused on more elite or middle class Māori concerns.
In a sense, the caucus is having to respond to the more radical Te Pati Māori, which is increasingly Tiriti-focused and wanting constitutional change, rather than concerned with traditional Labour issues. Labour MPs therefore have to follow that agenda too. They need to convince Māori constituencies that they’ve won some big concessions off the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
If not, then what have the Labour Māori MPs got to show to their voters when it comes to the next election? If they can’t show progress on housing, standards of living, improved healthcare etc, the hope surely is that they can at least point to advances in te reo, the school curriculum, more visible Māori in leadership and business, and so forth.
Will these be enough? Leftwing commentator Chris Trotter suggests not: “Creating Māori wards is not the same as creating jobs. Building support for profound constitutional change in Aotearoa-New Zealand is not the same as building houses.”
The changing power of Labour Māori caucus
This week the Herald’s Audrey Young has written an evaluation of the Māori Cabinet ministers, some of which is quite critical. For instance, she labels Kevin Davis “Pedestrian”, pointing out that he got “the new portfolio of Māori-Crown relations in the first term but has been almost invisible in promoting the Government’s overall strategy to the public.” Young also labels Peeni Henare as “Sheltered” in the Cabinet, saying he “has not been tested politically and shows no signs of boldness.”
Probably the most critical is her evaluation of Nanaia Mahuta, who Young labels “Distracted”. Young says Mahuta is “distracted by Three Waters reforms and a series of stories about public sector contracts awarded to her consultant husband. They have reached such a pitch that she herself should refer the matter to the Public Service Commission or Auditor-General to get an independent opinion and draw a line under it.”
Willie Jackson and Kiri Allan receive more positive evaluations – the latter is said to be a “potential deputy Labour leader” and a “firm favourite of Jacinda Ardern.”
But it’s Jackson that is acknowledged as the real leader of the Māori caucus in Labour – Young reports that: “Insiders confirm appearances – that the most active and influential member of the caucus is Cabinet minister Willie Jackson.” She adds that he’s “the only one actively promoting and defending co-governance.” And elsewhere, Young has explained that Jackson is “still the go-to guy for hands-on co-ordination within the Māori caucus and within Māoridom peak groups and iwi leaders.”
The Māori Labour MPs need to keep their government delivering
With Labour’s post-Covid popularity steadily on the decline, there are many on the left who want Labour to revert to more traditional and popular leftwing policies, and jettison the strong pursuit of cultural and constitutional change.
For example, the Three Waters reform programme has become an albatross around the Government’s neck, which few are willing to defend. It will continue to cost Labour popular support. But should Labour pull back on the more controversial parts of the programme, such as giving half of the control over water assets to iwi?
The problem is that to do so would be to give Te Pati Māori a huge stick to beat Labour with. It could seriously jeopardise Labour’s hold on their Māori seats next year. Likewise, pulling back on the Government’s co-governance agenda would create havoc for the Māori caucus. A Māori caucus rebellion in Labour would be guaranteed.
Therefore, Ardern is in something of a bind. She will have to continue juggling the demands of the powerful Māori caucus while also being aware that some of that agenda might be making her government unpopular.
But Ardern would be wise to realise that when it comes down to it, most Māori voters are quite similar to non-Māori voters in caring more about the delivery of the basics – especially an improved standard of living. In this regard, Ardern should take note that the Horizon poll of Māori voters earlier this year pointed to why Māori voters were leaving Labour: “As inflation begins to bite, 72 percent say the cost of living is the main issue they will vote on, followed by housing and health.”
Other items of interest and importance today
GOVERNMENT AND PARLIAMENT
Jason Walls (Herald): Government paid private Three Waters consultants $16 million last financial year but DIA defends spending
Peter Dunne (Newsroom): Labour has just 44 days before election for its legislative agenda
Jane Clifton (Listener/Herald): How the Government missed its chance to take on the big Aussie banks (paywalled)
Claire Trevett (Herald): National confirms Chris Bishop as campaign chair, Covid-19 role gone
Benedict Collins (1News): Labour’s Lorck ‘doing my best’ to improve behaviour after new claims
Josie Pagani (Stuff): Don’t jump the gun on the monarchy. There’s a Treaty to consider
Sarah Jocelyn and Professor Andrew Geddis (Newsroom): How NZ could become a republic
Adam Pearse (Herald): Māori leader Esther Jessop calls taihoa on republic debate as royals grieve
Newshub: Queen Elizabeth’s death: Why NZ’s public holiday isn’t on same day as UK funeral
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to meet King Charles, Prince William
Heather du Plessis-Allan (Newstalk): I can’t see that Marama Davidson did anything wrong
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ELECTIONS
Todd Niall (Stuff): Auckland mayoralty: Viv Beck withdraws from race
Tony Wall and Todd Niall (Stuff): Auckland mayoralty: The hints Viv Beck left about withdrawing from the race
Matthew Hooton (Herald): Super City’s two-horse race between Wayne Brown, Efeso Collins (paywalled)
Tim Murphy (Newsroom): Advantage, Collins but it’s far from match point
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Auckland mayoralty: Efeso Collins plans to ditch his car one day a week – he wants others to do the same
Glenn McLean (Stuff): Facts not being delivered in New Plymouth mayoral race
ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT AND INEQUALITY
Felix Walton (RNZ): Rising cost of groceries could drive unhealthy choices
Richard Harman: Robertson has plenty to worry about (paywalled)
Jenée Tibshraeny (Herald): GDP figures hit the sweet spot for Grant Robertson politically (paywalled)
Melanie Carroll (Stuff): Which parts of the NZ economy are out of whack
Anne Gibson (Herald): Horrific construction fatalities and injuries: But is building really the riskiest job? (paywalled)
Nina Santos (Herald): Myth-busting gender and ethnic pay gap excuses (paywalled)
Herald Editorial: We’re paying more for airfares, time to boost passenger rights (paywalled)
Jonathan Killick (Stuff): Auckland’s housing affordability by the numbers: A story of haves and have-nots
Felix Desmarais (Local Democracy Reporting): Rotorua on a ‘precipice’ as mayor meets with ministers about motels
RNZ: Majority of suburbs in main centres experience slide in property values
Newshub: Aotearoa’s property values continue to fall, 80 percent of suburbs record a drop in value
Matthew Brockett (Bloomberg): Jacinda Ardern’s Feted Covid Response Could Yet Be Her Undoing
Duncan Greive (Spinoff): New Zealand is now as it was – but nothing is the same
David Welch and Michael Plank (The Conversation): With most mandatory public health measures gone, is NZ well prepared for the next COVID wave?
David Seymour (Herald): Why we need an independent Covid response inquiry (paywalled)
Mike Hosking (Newstalk): Time to get on with a Covid inquiry
Lillian Hanly (1News): Little met with silent protest over nurses’ pay equity agreement
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Andrew Little gets applause – for the wrong reason – at nurses’ conference
Emma Houpt (Herald): Hundreds of Bay of Plenty children waiting for dental surgery
Emma Houpt (Herald): Bay of Plenty’s Trinity Koha Dental Clinic provides more than $600k worth of free dental care
Lee Kenny (Stuff): Fresh blow to mega polytech Te Pūkenga as finance boss resigns months into the job
Herald: Government announces $44m to increase teacher numbers, support students affected by Covid
Caroline Williams (Stuff): Massey University lecturer told Māori students they ‘don’t look Māori’
RNZ: Rate of sea-level rise around New Zealand doubles in the past 60 years – Stats NZ
Rob Stock (Stuff): Is New Zealand’s plan for ‘green’ government bonds just smoke and mirrors?
Brent Edwards (NBR): Concerns about the Government’s emissions reduction plan (paywalled)
Paul Callister and Robert McLachlan (The Conversation): NZ has announced a biofuel mandate to cut transport emissions, but that could be the worst option for the climate
Marc Daalder (Newsroom): Climate crisis: The monotony of the extremes
Tim Hunter (NBR): Biomass: the burning question (paywalled)
TE REO MĀORI
Damien Venuto (Herald): Is it time to change the name of New Zealand to Aotearoa?
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Has Te reo elitism become Professional Managerial Class brownwash?
Joris De Bres (Spinoff): The ‘McMāori’ saga and the business of te reo
Rawiri Waititi (Herald): From a kohanga sandpit to playing in New Zealand’s biggest playground