Politics | Labour Māori MPs

Labour makes a promise-free plea to Māori: ‘We are in the fight of our lives’

The Labour Party decided not to release any new policies with the launch of its campaign for the Māori electorates. Instead, its Māori candidates delivered a rallying call for what they called “the fight of our lives”.

The campaign launch focused heavily on the prospect of a National-ACT coalition, with party stalwarts such as Rino Tirikatene and Nanaia Mahuta urging the Labour faithful to rally more supporters to fend off a change of government.

The rhetoric aimed to re-energise the Labour Māori caucus and supporters, who didn’t shy away from the fact they’d had a tough couple of months.

It also acted as a defence, of sorts, to attacks from Te Pāti Māori – which says Labour’s large Māori caucus, the biggest ever in Parliament, hasn’t achieved enough.

With the defection of Meka Whaitiri to Te Pāti Māori and the resignation of Kiritapu Allan after her car crash, morale in the Māori caucus and among Labour’s Māori supporters has been damaged.

Coupled with polls increasingly going National’s way, Labour – but especially its Māori supporters – have had little to cheer about this year.

As he joined Labour’s Māori MPs and campaigners at Waatea Marae in Māngere, Labour leader Chris Hipkins discussed his thoughts on campaigning.

He said, “Election campaigns come down to three things: What we’ve done; what we want to do; and what’s at stake.”

His senior Māori MPs focused heavily on the third facet, arguing that not just six years of their policies but also decades of progress for Māori were on the line.

“Everything is at stake,” said deputy leader Kelvin Davis.

“We are in the fight of our lives,” said Mahuta, the MP for Hauraki-Waikato.

It was a right, Mahuta said, to avoid going “back”. With National’s “back on track” tag line, and NZ First’s “Take our country back”, Mahuta said the political right wanted to “take us back to the 1860s”.

“Look at the most insidious nature of what might drive this next government,” she said.

At the Māori campaign launch, Labour’s senior figures moved to predict what a Christopher Luxon-led coalition could include.

“On the other side of the divide we’re not faced with the John Key, Bill English, Christopher Finlayson National Party. We face more of the Don Brash National Party,” Hipkins said.

“A party that wants to drive a wedge between New Zealanders, a party that believes that the route to success is to divide Māori for non-Māori.”

Luxon pushed back on that charge, saying the current Labour was not akin to the Helen Clark and Michael Cullen era either.

Hipkins continued: “The other thing that should be worrying everybody about a potential change or government is the role of the ACT Party.”

Seymour’s recent enthusiasm to disband the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, following previous commitments to end various Māori focused departments and programmes, was held as an example for Labour to campaign against this year.

Labour’s Māori campaign chairperson, Willie Jackson, focused on those criticisms as he explained why Labour wasn’t presenting any new policy.

“We’ve been told we’ve had too many Māori policies over the last couple of years. We didn’t really feel that we needed to announce anything new,” he said.

Instead, as he kicked off the campaign, Jackson said to expect Labour’s Māori MPs to list off various projects they’ve launched that ACT or National have vowed to do away with. During the campaign, he listed things such as Te Aka Whai Ora – the Māori Health Authority, and free prescriptions.

But this argument would do little to negate Te Pāti Māori’s campaign line during debates for the Māori electorates.