National | Louisa Wall

What Louisa Wall's final speech could mean for Māori voters

He Puapua, corruption, and mic dropping claims: retiring Labour MP Louisa Wall told Parliament she had left it all out on the field but the aftermath of her valedictory speech may have Māori voters reconsidering where their vote should go in the upcoming general election.

After 14 years, she's out but the accomplished politician said: "This was not entirely my choice."

But she decided not to leave quietly.

Political commentator Chris Wikaira says her speech "left me wondering. What could have been if Louisa and the party had been able to get on better, if they had been able to maintain some better relationships because I feel Labour lost an opportunity to have a really capable MP and Louisa herself probably lost the opportunity to achieve more because she and the party hierarchy were so far out of step in the end."

The woman responsible for leading the charge for marriage equality was flanked by friends and long-standing confidants Meka Whaitiri and Nanaia Mahuta as she thanked the many contributors to her long career.

But she also made some claims of corruption: "I was forced out of my electorate in 2020, by the unconstitutional actions of party president Claire Szabó and some members of the council. I was devastated. The president accepted a late nomination, did not share the fact of its late receipt with the council until questions were asked, and then retrospectively tried to justify and legitimise her actions.

Bitter memories

"But the devastation was not so much about the actions directed against me but about the devastation wrought on my Manurewa Labour electorate committee when their voting rights were removed to ensure that a central party vote would prevail."

No stranger to standing against inequity Wall made sure to make explicit her thoughts on co-governance and the place of Māori in Aotearoa saying "Māori are not another ethnic group."

She shared her regrets.: "One regret I have is we have not, as a party and as a government, had the courage to confirm in our Constitution Act the status of Māori as the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand."

She says her attempts to make changes to the status of Māori land went nowhere.  "I tried on a number of occasions to put the bill in the ballot but it did not get through the caucus. For a fleeting moment, when we came into government in 2017, there was talk of it being a government bill but no minister agreed to that course of action. I was then able to put it in the members' ballot but was directed to withdraw it before the 2020 election."

"As discussions of He Puapua, co-governance, and recognition of Te Tiriti o Waitangi become the focus of politicians and parties, having statutory recognition of Māori as tangata whenua and its first peoples would remove the propensity that allows people to ignore our reality as an indigenous people that continue to suffer the scourge of colonisation."

People 'making mischief'

Wikaira says these matters would make hard discussion points for the leaders of major parties who want to keep the majority happy the majority of the time, "These things make everybody else uncomfortable. And that's why we have had people being able to make a lot of mischief and, you know, say the sky is falling on He Puapura and co-governance.

"I'm a bit perplexed by how people think the word co-governance means separatism.

Wikaira says people can tell where a politician aligns, "Whether they're there for the party and they are party tūturu or if they are there for kaupapa Maori and who best aligns with my kaupapa Māori goals" but adds, "It's the leader of the party who calls the shots not the individual."

Maori voters strongly supported Labour in the 2020 election but  Wall may have exposed holes in the beast, and Wikaira says she may have confirmed how volatile the Māori vote is. Traditionally using a very strategic MMP vote, Māori have a history of turning the electoral tides.

"We've seen it since the introduction of MMP in 1996. We had a very clear vote for those New Zealand First MPS with, Tau Henare, Tukoroirangi Morgan and co when they came in. The Maori vote in the electorates was clearly for New Zealand First but the party vote was clearly for Labour.

"We as a people signalled very early on in those electorate seats that we expected a New Zealand First and Labour coalition," Wikaira says.  "And then when that didn't happen,  next time around 1999, there was a full swing back the other way. All of the electorate seats and the party vote went to Labour. So I think that volatility has been there for quite some time."

The playing field has reopened, and Wall may have poked enough holes in the strong Labour caucus on issues of representation to have the traditional Labour voter second-guessing at the polling booth. National and Te Pāti Māori, after all, are looking to make gains in the Māori electorates.