Prima facie, this is a valid concern, however saving the Maori language is not a partisan issue. Most Maori cultural issues are, sadly, wedge issues. But te reo is not - in my opinion at least – the issue enjoys broad public support.
Between now and the election the government must keep Maori onside, especially Maori Party supporters. It is widely accepted that any post election arrangements will involve the Maori Party; therefore the government needs to ensure Maori Party supporters feel comfortable with the idea of a second term National government. To do this the government must build the perception, among Maori only, that the Maori Party is receiving substantial gains rather than casual sops. The government cannot risk offending or alienating the Maori Party parliamentary wing either. There is a problem in been seen to be placating the Maori Party. Firstly, because the party is the Maori, key word Maori, Party. Secondly, any further sops for pet projects or intangible cultural projects could be seen to be inconsistent with the austerity narrative the government is running. Look what happened with the plastic waka for instance. Hopefully, the Maori Party runs hard on this issue. In my eyes any success in this area is a redeeming factor for the Maori Party. Of course it is not wholly redeeming, but a positive step and one I would respect.
On a side note, Pita Sharples is walking into a minor backlash following accusations that he attempted to gag members of Te Taura Whiri, the Maori Language Commission. Apparently Sharples directed, through a letter to the commission, that he would be the “point man” for the government response to the issue. This is concerning, but somewhat fair. Sharples is the minister and I understand he would want to keep tight control over how the report is presented to the public and the government. However, Te Taura Whiri is an independent statutory body entirely separate from the minister’s office. Sharples has no control over the commission and should not be issuing directives. It is constitutionally offensive. Te Taura Whiri has a right to comment and should, as the Maori language commission, comment. I disagree with some accusations that Sharples gagged the commission - that is an overstatement.
Pita Sharples is not the most effective politician in my opinion. Having said that, he doesn’t need to be. Saving te reo is in the government and the country’s interest.