Political Integration vs Mutual Co-operation

The Māori Party attracts considerable criticism from across the political spectrum. They are ‘separatists’ or ‘brown troughers’ to the Right and ‘irrelevant sell outs’ to much of the Left. There is no expectation that the Māori Party would be immune from criticism, and although I firmly believe democracy requires accountability that is often achieved through constructive criticism, sometimes criticism cannot be characterised as constructive on any account.

However, Morgan Godfery wrote an interesting – constructive piece entitled Politics Beyond the Veil. It traces the Māori Party from what he sees it as growing out of – the Māori renaissance i.e. a movement strategy, to what he believes it has become – an institutional strategy. But while it is constructive, I’m not persuaded that the Māori Party are engaging in what he has phrased ‘the politics of integration’ and this post sets out an alternative conception – the ‘politics of mutual co-operation’.

Morgan writes that ‘politics beyond the veil is where the political class rule the void’.

I don’t disagree with that argument in principle. I do disagree with the way it’s unpacked to dismiss the Māori Party (referring to Morgan’s concluding remarks ‘do we even need them?’) but absent a critique of the architects of political class rule in Aotearoa New Zealand, i.e. the National and Labour parties. It’s worth reminding readers that the political class does not simply encompass Tories and right-wing political parties (I’m not suggesting that this is what Morgan implies, I note it here simply for clarity).  The political class includes every party and their associative lobby groups with the capacity to influence how society is organised and how resources are distributed, irrespective of the interests of the groups they oppose or with whom they have no representational interest.

My discomfort with Morgan’s remarks on the political class and the Māori Party is that in crafting his argument he appears to cautiously avoid discussing the wider political class participants, particularly Māori MP’s that operate within Pakeha dominated parties that preference State intervention.

As mentioned above, Morgan argues that the Māori Party are engaging in the politics of integration. I appreciate his reasoning  and I admit to having previously held that same position. Driving the idea of integration is thesitting at the table’  rhetoric adopted and used unwaveringly by Māori Party MP’s, which has in effect created the conditions that have enabled mis-characterisations of the Māori Party position to prevail.

The strategy may have been sufficient as a response to criticism during their first term (even then it is still questionable) but as an ongoing response Morgan is correct in his implication that it doesn’t reveal anything meaningful about the direction of the Party.

However, his claim that being at the table is both the means and the ends envisioned by the Māori Party is unfounded given the explicit statements to contrary provided by the party. The Whanau Ora policy framework is committed to seeing Māori as decision makers in their own right and as Tariana Turia opines the Māori Party objective is ‘to get the government and all future government out of Māori lives as soon as can be managed’. Therefore, rather than engaging in the politics of integration I think a more accurate characterisation is that the Māori Party are engaging in the politics of mutual co-operation.

Integration implies the incorporation of Māori institutions into the apparatus of the State. In this sense, the State either retains or increases its control over Māori affairs thereby determining how Māori communities and institutions are organised and resources distributed in that respect.

Mutual co-operation on the other hand, implies incentives to co-operate where gains to the negotiating groups are mutually satisfactory i.e. where Māori can achieve control over their communities and institutions and determine for themselves how resources are distributed.

On the basis of the Māori Party policy framework, mutual co-operation seems the more likely scenario. The Māori Party are incentivised, by the rational self-interest of the party i.e. to further the aspirations of Māori, to engage in mutually co-operative arrangements. The reciprocal nature of this relationship ensures the other party (parties) attract reputational advantages that can work to increase their popularity because of the mutual toleration inherent in co-operative relationships.

Moreover, given mutual co-operation is a tool of our tūpuna engaged to negotiate rules and resolve disputes within and between whānau, hapu and iwi this is more consistent with the policy framework pursued by the Māori Party than the politics of integration suggested by Morgan, which in my view better characterises Māori institutions within parties that preference the State apparatus over Māori rights and aspirations.

While some critiques like that of Morgan’s are constructive and credible analyses, there is more often than not a distasteful dialogue that emanates from across the political spectrum in respect of the Māori Party. So in contrast to Morgan, who quite validly concludes by asking whether or not we need the Māori Party, I invite you to consider the following quote:

 “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”

– Mark Twain



  1. Thanks, Carrie. Fascinating and insightful. Though I feel like the distinction between integration and co-operation is one of framing. For any cooperation to occur, the Maori Party has had to submit, firstly, to the norms of liberal democracy and, secondly, to the structures of liberal democracy (ostensibly, Parliament and the executive). Put simply, integration is a pre-requisite for cooperation.

    The argument goes to the very nature of Maori politics: is it rights-based or emancipatory? The first view concedes the status quo – that is, the system is here to stay – the contest is over rights to land, culture and self-determination. The second view contests the status quo: system change first, rights within it second. Again, it’s not so much a conflict, but a question of descent. Do rights beget rights, or does the system beget rights?

    As an activist, I long for system change, but as a realist I appreciate that rights-based change is more immediate. However, that isn’t my critique. The point was that the Maori Party has abandoned movement politics. That’s to its own detriment and the detriment of Maori. The party has run a one track strategy: policy change in government. That’s all well and good, but it abandons other political tools. The split between Mana and the Maori Party never occurred over a leftist agenda versus a rightist agenda – which is what many argued – but over the one track strategy vs the two track strategy. Mana favours political organising as its best (only?) tool, the Maori Party favours – quite clearly – “sitting at the table” as its best (only?) tool. Preferably the split would never have occurred and the external (i.e. Mana) and internal (i.e. Maori Party) strategies would have co-existed and complemented each other. This was the very same situation that brought down the Young Maori Party: a heavy reliance on institutional strategies. The Ratana Movement – with its focus on political organising, that is, movement politics – revealed that a Maori political movement could not survive with a one track strategy.

    Having said that, I much prefer you’re point. Mutual cooperation is a much better characterisation than integration. I still think integration is a valid view – it must be given the party’s integration into political power structures – but it seems mutual cooperation takes integration one step further, or works as a counter-logic. Where mutual cooperation requires integration, the end is actually reclaiming self-determination (or self-government etc…). I think you’ve developed a new understanding here and it’s very helpful.

    (PS: it’s a given that every other party – even Mana – practices the politics of integration. I didn’t think it was relevant to explore given the thrust of the post was to argue that the Maori Party has abandoned movement politics. That’s to their own doom, it appears. There are uncanny parallels with the Young Maori Party).


    1. Thanks for your comment Morgan!

      With respect, I’m not persuaded co-operation requires submission. It certainly does require a willingness to negotiate which implies there will be compromises and concessions from the various groups involved, but that doesn’t in my view represent integration. While I agree that the Māori Party has chosen to operate within NZ’s liberal democratic structures, I think some caution ought to be applied when using integration only because any other framing would suggest there was an alternative form of genuine political participation where Māori could exact change (which there is not).

      But I do understand and completely feel your frustration that ‘Māori are still on the wrong end of 174 years of colonisation’ (as you wrote in your post)

      I apologise for not addressing your key point in my post about the distinction you were drawing attention to i.e. the movement vs institutional strategies. I absolutely agree that both strategies are stronger than the binary approach taken by the Māori Party. But I also think that dissent and protest can occur in more subtle forms than a public protest external to the system, e.g. negotiating down policies that would be particularly harmful to Māori, voting against laws that would disproportionately affect Māori, using a position of influence (i.e. as an MP) to speak publicly against the actions of the State etc But this is consistent with your argument about movement vs institutional approaches.

      I’m not sure about whether rights or emancipation come first either. I do think there are natural rights that exist whether or not the State recognise them as existing, but I also think when we are using the language of revolution that others have to recognise that certain rights exist in order for emancipation to succeed. But that’s an idea I’m still thinking about and not settled on! What I am sure of is that if there is to be some kind of emancipation or revolution (hypothetically speaking obviously), then I want to be sure that Māori are in a position to take care of each other without relying on government provided services which would likely be interrupted in such an event.


  2. I just came across that Mark Twain quote myself this week and tweeted/facebook it. Seems a good philosophy to me.


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