Indigenous | Labour Party

Why did Māori turn on Labour?

The once mighty Māori Labour Caucus from September 2022.

For those still left among the once formidable and largest Māori caucus in Labour’s history, there will be some major head-scratching to understand how it all ended so badly.

Leading up to the election, Willie Jackson, rightly crowed about the gains he and the Māori caucus had achieved for Māori. So significant were the activities of Jackson and co that commentators on the right regularly criticised the government for being controlled by the “powerful” Māori caucus.

In this year’s Budget as Minister of Māori Affairs, Jackson announced $850 million in funding for Māori, and last year it was $1 billion.

During its term in government, Labour Launched Te Aka Whai Ora / Māori Health Authority, and what would become the contentious, and soon to be repealed, Three Waters Legislation, which embraced a co-governance model that sought to work in partnership with iwi Māori.

The Labour government oversaw a period where more Māori became judges. In 2020 for example 10 of the 21 new judges were Māori, eight Pākehā, one Māori/Chinese and two Samoan.

More te reo Māori

In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the use and prominence of te reo Māori, with government departments now using dual names, such as Waka Kotahi for example, now generally being understood by most people across Aotearoa.

Cultural advisers have proliferated across the public and private sector as have the number of Māori on governance boards, as organisations move to incorporate aspects of Te Ao Māori into their strategy, and better reflect tangata whenua across their leadership and workforces.

Judge Miharo Armstrong of the Maori Land Court.

Interestingly, just weeks before the election, then Prime Minister Chris Hipkins pledged to continue calling out racism and to defend Te Tiriti. A key focus during campaigning was elevating fears among Māori at the prospect of an Act/National government and the likelihood that this would lead to a major change including a referendum on the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, proposed by Act.

And yet despite this and a period of significant high-level gains for Māori, the results across the Māori electorates have been a disaster for Labour and a boon for TPM that even the party’s staunchest supporters probably didn’t anticipate.

Te Pāti Māori won all but one of the seven Māori electorate seats while slashing the party vote majority for Labour by 8901 votes in Te Tai Tokerau, 9139 in Tamaki Makaurau, 9871 in Hauraki-Waikato, 13,343 in Te Tai Hauauru, 10,117 in Waiariki, 6019 in Ikaroa-Rawhiti, and 10998 in Te Tai Tonga.

How did what should have been seen as a golden period of partnership with Māori, end so badly for Labour?

While commentating on TV One on election night, former Green leader Metiria Turei was asked why TPM was doing so well.

He Puapua?

She responded that she believed it was because Labour had abandoned promoting He Puapua, a report described as a roadmap to achieving Vision 2040, and objectives to realise the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples here in New Zealand.

Yet it seemed like something much more significant than a report I suspect most Māori have never heard of was occurring.

It is more likely Māori voters did what most voters do leading up to the election: asked themselves whether their lives and the experience for their whanau and community had improved under the current government, or not.

Whether change would improve things or make things worse. This would be measured against the very immediate impact on everyday life, including the cost of living, rent/mortgages, crime, access to quality health and education.

Māori voters did this, as did almost 80 per cent of voters and the result for the Labour Party, the first in the MMP era to gain a majority in an election, was unequivocal. Labour were bundled out after just six years in government.

Jon Stokes.

Though Te Pāti Māori reaped the lion’s share of the gains, the number of Māori who voted for National in the Māori electorates increased at the last election, as it did for the Greens. The numbers remained around the same in the party vote for NZ First.

The election result is a powerful example that Māori support must never be taken for granted.

Greater time and effort need to be invested in understanding what the priorities for Māori are.

It is a chance to reflect and better understand what it is Māori want and need, and to implement policies and target funding where they are most needed and wanted.

Jon Stokes (Raukawa, Maniapoto) is a Māori strategy and communication adviser with more than 16 years’ experience working with iwi and Māori organisations. He is a former Māori issues reporter for the NZ Herald.