Politics | Tama Potaka

Does Tama Potaka have the ‘mongrel’ to fight back?

Te Ao With Moana host Moana Maniapoto tonight asked National cabinet minister Tama Potaka if he had enough “mongrel to fight against” his colleagues and coalition partners.

But Potaka told her he was a “results and outcome-driven person.

“There’s time to be a very strong advocate like the lawyer that I was. There’s the time to be a negotiator.”

He told Maniapoto he had to be mindful of the coalition agreements National signed with Act and NZ First when it came to debating matters like the Treaty Principles Bill.

Potaka’s portfolio is long: He is the MP for Hamilton West, Minister of Māori Development, Māori Crown relations, Conservation, Whānau Ora and Associate Minister of Housing (social housing).

Maniapoto asked him how much influence he had among other ministers about Māori development.

She cited the removal of the Smokefree legislation and the reimposition of referendums for recent Māori created Māori wards, which critics have called “undemocratic”.

“I think my advocacy both privately with ministers but also publicly in press releases that I have and the mahi that I’m doing suggests that I do voice my concerns,” Potaka said.

Is the coalition helping with Māori development?

Many Māori leaders and activists have called out the coalition government for some of the laws and rule changes it has had impacting Māori.

Maniapoto questioned whether some of the controversial policies had helped with Māori development.

He responded by bringing up outstanding settlements among iwi and how he had worked with Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Paul Goldsmith to try to finalise some of the settlements.

He also mentioned inequalities Māori faced, particularly in education, health and housing.

“This government’s very focused and ruthlessly determined to help address some of those inequalities of opportunity.”

Te reo Māori

Part of the National and New Zealand First’s coalition agreements required all public service departments to have their primary name in English, with the exception only those relating to Māori.

Public Services Minister Nicola Willis also told Radio New Zealand last December she and the coalition government didn’t support public sector staff receiving bonuses for being experts in te reo and tikanga Māori.

For Potaka, te reo Māori is part of Aotearoa’s DNA. It is the “past, present and future.

“In a very personal level, I’ll continue to speak te reo Māori āpōpō, in the morning and night and all the way through.

“I’ll continue to advocate for te reo Māori in te reo Māori and te reo Pākehā,” he said.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

National’s first coalition partner, Act, has stirred up some controversy over Te Tiriti o Waitangi, with its Treaty Principles Bill, which aims to replace the many existing principles developed over five decades with three new ones.

Act leader David Seymour also told RNZ earlier this year that Act doesn’t regard Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a partnership between Māori and the Crown.

Potaka has a law degree from Victoria University and while studying for it, he concluded te Tirit was “foundational for our country”.

“That’s my view and I think it’s the view of many people.”

When Maniapoto asked about the risk of the principles bill going beyond the select committee, Potaka referred to what Prime Minister Christopher Luxon had said about it: “A referendum would be very unhelpful, that we are supportive as the National Party for the bill to be draftef by the Act Party to be taken through to the first read in the select committee.”

Māori wards

Potaka told Te Ao with Moana the Māori wards referendum was in the coalition agreements with both NZ First and Act party.

“There were some very clear material in both of those coalition agreements around the direction.

“The materials regarding the Māori wards has come through a variety of portfolios that I’ve had, and there’s been a pretty robust discussion around that.”

When Local Government Minister Simeon Brown announced the coalition government was to introduce a bill that restored the ability to require referendums on Māori wards in local government, he had made a public Facebook post calling the wards “divisive.”

Potaka didn’t respond but said the coalition agreements had “set out the pathway” which the government is going down.

He did want to acknowledge that he had seen a “massive increase” in Māori councillors around Aotearoa.

Fast-track laws

Potaka expects Māori, iwi and conservation interests to receive “elevation” when projects are being fast-tracked.

He felt confident there would be space for iwi to “lead projects that seek consent and also be involved in projects as co-investors or maybe co-designers”.

“[For them] to participate in projects that Iwi are not investing in or investing through but to have input or to have engagement through those processes.”

Cabinet ministers Chris Bishop, Simeon Brown and Shane Jones will be the three people in charge of the fast-track law but for some projects, Potaka will be involved as the minister of conservation.

“I’ve been involved [with the bill] along with my office and various agencies “in shaping, in drafting, in engaging for appropriate wording for that bill,” he said.

The bill targets making projects receive approvals faster, while reducing costs of consenting.

RNZ reported $1.3 billion was being spent each year on consenting of projects and the time taken to get a consent had doubled within five years, according to the Infrastructure Commission.

“I think what you find is over the past few years a number of projects have really failed through RMA (Resource Management Act) processes or conversation processes or other things. There’s been a bit of bureaucratic molasses.”

The benefit and emergency housing

Under the National, Act and NZ First government, public transport subsidies for young people have ended, including free rides for five to 15-year-olds, smaller increases established for the minimum wage, and benefit increases aligned to inflation rather than wage growth.

Maniapoto asked how the government was expecting people to work when people couldn’t afford to do “basic things.”

Potaka acknowledged people were doing it hard during the cost of living crisis, especially Māori.

“About 380,000 people are on main benefits and 140,000 of them are Māori.

“I think there is a bit of work that we need to do,” he said.

Last week, the prime minister announced nine targets for the government to deliver for the next six years, one of them a 75 percent reduction in households in emergency housing.

“The expansion of emergency housing to the state that it is in today, and has been for the last couple of years, is a social, cultural and moral disaster.

“At the moment, there are about 3000 whānau, adults and 3000 tamariki in emergency housing, over half of whom are Māori.

“For me that’s not good enough for us as a government and we have to take steps to not only encourage people to find opportunities for people to move into proper houses but also help build houses to house those people,” Potaka said.