- Māori Issues
For the first time since I began writing these reviews on Māori issues in 1994, I can provide a report that in total has more positive aspects than negative. The highlight has been the influence the Māori Party has been able to have on the new National-led government. There were also the benefits that are finally starting to flow to Māori after the Labour government, in its dying days, set out to win back Māaori support through Treaty of Waitangi claims settlements. New Zealand still has a very long way to go before Māori are accorded the respect owed us as the country's first nation. That includes recognizing and upholding our sovereignty as guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi and reversing the shocking statistical trends in all socioeconomic areas. Nevertheless, this past year looked like a good start in that direction.
The November 2008 election resulted in a landslide victory for the conservative National Party, which won 58 seats in the 120-seat Parliament. With support of the right-wing ACT Party's 5 seats, the National Party had sufficient numbers to form a government. However, the new prime minister, John Key, announced that he would lead a National minority government with confidence-and-supply [End Page 179] support from the ACT, United Future, and Māori parties. Although both major parties had been courting the Māori Party in the lead-up to the elections, it came as a surprise that National sought to include them when there was no need to do so. It was also in marked contrast to the Labour Party treatment of the Māori Party after the 2005 election when former Prime Minister Helen Clarke referred to them as "the last cab off the rank" (NZH, 2 April 2008). The Māori Party won 5 of the 7 Māori seats in the 2009 elections, with Labour's ministers of Māori affairs and local government each retaining their Tairāwhiti and Hauraki-Waikato seats (NZMJ 2008). The election delivered 6 members of Parliament who acknowledge their Māori descent to each of the Labour and National parties, and 1 to the Green Party, making a total of 18 members of Māori descent in the House. However, the only parliamentarians who represent Māori are those in the Māori seats. The rest represent their parties.
Within days of the election, the Māori Party announced that it was prepared to consider John Key's invitation to become part of his government, but that it would only do so after consulting Māori throughout the country. Forty hui (gatherings) were convened, and within the week, the party reported overwhelming support for its entering into an agreement with the National Party (Māori Party 2008a). The agreement covered many issues raised by the Māori Party in the previous Parliament (Māori Party 2008b), and calls for both parties to act in accordance with the Treaty of Waitangi. Although the National Party had sought to abolish the Māori seats in Parliament, under this agreement, it could not do so without the consent of the Māori people. Māori have long sought to embed the Treaty of Waitangi in a written constitution for the country. Under the new agreement, a group will be set up by early 2010 to consider constitutional issues, including Māori representation. The Māori Party was initially created to fight the confiscation of the foreshore and seabed by the Crown, and has a clear mandate to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act of 2004. Under the agreement, a review of the act was to be conducted before December 2009 and in the event that its repeal becomes necessary, protection would be put in place to ensure all New Zealanders have access to the foreshore and seabed. In reality, the review was completed in June 2009, six months early, and did recommend that the act be repealed (Durie, O'Regan, and Boast 2009). A government decision on how to proceed with the matter is now being awaited.
The most important outcomes of the agreement were the...