Sometimes I’m accused of wanting to destroy the Maori Party; with that in mind it gives me some satisfaction to praise the party when they get right.
For the first time this year the Maori Party is leading on issues. For the first four months of this year the Maori Party found itself having to respond to issues. Take, as a few examples, the cuts at Te Puni Kokiri, attacks on Whanau Ora and cuts to Whanau Ora providers and the s9 debacle. In these situations the Maori Party was found wanting, especially from a communications point of view, as Mana, Labour and the Greens launched their attacks and fed the narrative that the Maori Party is failing Maori. As a result the debate wasn’t focussed on, for example, whether or not cuts at TPK were justified, but whether or not the Maori Party was selling out their own.
However, the last week has signaled a change in tone. The Maori Party is selecting issues and running with them. Tariana Turia has selected smoking as an issue and played her hand well. Over the past week Turia has covered the story from different angles, as a result ensuring the story provided a week of headlines. For example, Turia first muted plain packaging, this was followed with a call to increase excise tax, some time later she called for a ban on smoking in cars and then an outright ban. Covering a different angle each day ensured that the media had a new angle each day, as opposed to all recycling the same press release on the same day. It should be added, I think, that the smoking issue isn't just about ensuring the Maori Party has policy change and media coverage on the go - this is going to be Tariana Turia's legacy (along with Whanau Ora) so there's extra pressure to play it well.
Special mention must also go to Te Ururoa Flavell who, finally I think, seems to be leading on something. Flavell is leading calls for Maori seats on the Rotorua District Council and, more significantly, leading the Maori Party against the government’s plans for student loan payback and allowances. Again, this signals a change in tone. Flavell has remained silent following his botched attempt to secure the leadership. In my opinion, Flavell’s done his time in the sin bin.
The Maori Party’s activity is especially significant because it’s coinciding with uncharacteristic silence from Hone Harawira who, for the most part, leads on all Maori issues. It is, for the Maori Party, crucial that they remain active and formulate a strategy to counter the perception that they have sold Maori down the drain. Legislative wins coupled with supporting rhetoric is crucial, but it’s something that has been in short supply over the last four years.
As an aside, according to the latest Roy Morgan poll the Maori Party would hold the balance of power.