Feb 23, 2011

Part 1: WWG Report and The Maori Party

In this post I want to address two events which understandably fell under the radar yesterday. The release of the Welfare Working Group’s report and, in a separate post, The Maori Party Disciplinary and Disputes Committee recommendation to cancel Hone Harawira’s membership.

A small number of New Zealanders will feel, as John Key so aptly put it, “queasy” when digesting the recommendations of the WWG. We all assumed the report would recommend options for radical reform, but what we received was beyond radical – it was militant, violence in paper form. I do not want to throw around strong words indiscriminately but the report is heinous and depraved. I sit here wondering how, how the hell can any feeling person, any person with even the slightest hint of humanity, recommend that, for example, women be penalised for the most native human characteristic – reproduction. Homo Sapiens are genetically programmed to reproduce. It’s so fucking repugnant to suggest financial incentives, or should that be penalties, can suppress nature. 

I was also struck with how profoundly unimaginative the report is. We all know Rebstock et. al. do not have the capacity for original thought, or perhaps more accurately the capacity to follow logical reasoning pathways, but a single joblseekers benefit? Other commentators have already pointed out how nonsensical, inane and shallow this is so I will not repeat their points.

Ultimately, the report is plagued by stupidity, riddled with sloppy economic assumptions and absolutely malicious in intent. The sad thing is the government will rubbish the most extreme and moderate suggestions, as we have come to expect, while one breath later they will endorse the middle ground. Classic false compromise that this government is getting so good at. The fallacy of the middle ground. The lazy mind that is the New Zealand public falls for it every time. I hope the government will be so preoccupied with the Chch rebuild that this report falls to the wayside and we can vote them out before they get the chance to act. However, the Nat’s are the true masters of the game of politics and they will not miss such a golden opportunity to smash the deprived without scrutiny.   

But anyway I’m getting distracted. What I want to examine is the effect this report has on The Maori Party’s relationship with National.

The relationship between the two parties is already strained. The Maori Party are compromising on every issue and suffering the political damage as a result. The Maori Party has failed to exercise any power in the relationship. For example over the ETS. The Nat’s needed The Maori Party to pass the ETS, their showpiece climate change legislation, however even though the Nat’s were totally reliant on the votes of The Maori Party, they still caved. Even the concessions the Nats have offered as part of their supply and confidence agreement with The Maori Party, for example Whanau Ora, have resulted in compromise on The Maori Party’s part. The most recent episode to cause tension is the MCA bill. The Maori Party wants meaningful concessions that will quell discontent. However, they have not received any of the concessions they are seeking. Even the iwi leaders are angry that their concerns were ignored at Waitangi. The relationship simply cannot continue if the Maori Party is going to take all the political hits. One hit too many and the Nat’s will sink their best chance at governing post election.

The final hit may come in the form of the WWG report. The Maori Party simply cannot support the report or any government that does. Tariana has already come out saying she opposes attacks on mother and attacks on beneficiaries in general. However, what is more interesting is that merely a press realease later she says she supports moves to get the unemployed into work earlier. Perhaps this signals she will toe the National Party line and take up a middle ground position? Doing so will be a fatal mistake. In the wake of the UN report highlighting the extreme disadvantage Maori face Tariana cannot, or at least be perceived to be, entrenching that disadvantage.  It could be argued that the Maori Party would survive any hit to beneficiaries because beneficiaries do not vote. This is true but it misses the fact that every Maori, and I mean every Maori, will know at the very least one beneficiary, and furthermore many Maori will know what it is like to struggle as a beneficiary. What it is like to be stigmatised, made to run around in circles and ultimately receive crumbs as a result.

If the Nats do follow through, even with the most moderate recommendation, The Maori Party must pull back from the coalition. Remaining with the Nat’s will be seen as lending legitimacy to the government and will feed the narrative that The Maori Party is working against Maori interests. The discontent is out there, and supporting more anti-Maori policy will surely ignite that discontent. If the Nats follow through The Maori Party is left with two straightforward options;

  1. Pull back immediately, with mana intact, and renegotiate post-election. Hope that electoral damage can be mitigated.
  2. Remain and attempt to soften the government’s stance but risk electoral oblivion as a result.  

I prefer the first option. If The Maori Party pull out Maori may be inclined to forgive them. The Maori Party can lay claim to some integrity. The only outcome in taking the second option is, as I said, oblivion. So will The Maori Party realise that the WWG report is one compromise too far and their relationship with the Nats can take no more strain. Hopefully. And will the Nats realise they will sink their only viable long term coalition partner if they force the Maori Party to support their plans for welfare. Probably. So I am hopeful that the Maori Party will say no to the WWG report.

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