Silence might imply what you want to avoid

With the first massive fallout from the release of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics Judith Collins has finally tendered her resignation as a Minister.

As Matt Nippert reports, her resignation was:

“sparked by a Fairfax investigation into a smear campaign by bloggers apparently backed by controversial financier Mark Hotchin” who “secretly paid bloggers Cameron Slater and Cathy Odgers to write attack posts undermining the Serious Fraud Office, its director Adam Feeley, and the Financial Markets Authority, who were probing his collapsed Hanover Finance in 2011 and 2012”

Many commentators, pundits and journalists have extensively reported on what was uncovered in Hager’s book, and I presume most readers would have a fair idea about the extent of the claims and the subsequent evidence that has emerged since the books release, so I won’t re-cover it.

Interestingly, many predicted the release of the book would likely see a rise in the polls for the left bloc, but what has emerged is somewhat intriguing – NZ First (~6.3%) and the Conservative Party (~4.6%) [as reported on The Nation TV3] suggesting the possibility that both parties may exceed the 5% threshold to enter Parliament. Whether these results are related to Dirty Politics or a reflection of the success of both parties campaigns is arguable.

But the polls aren’t my concern in this post. My concern is about those parties who have remained to a large degree silent on Dirty Politics. NZ Labour, NZ Greens, New Zealand First, InternetMANA and the Conservatives have all been very vocal about cleaning up the  state of NZ politics through an independent inquiry and more robust processes to keep politics transparent and free of the collusion that appears to have taken place.

It might be expected that the ACT Party and United Future would keep a relatively low profile, given they have openly stated a preference for working with the National Party post-election. Notwithstanding, that both parties claim to be principled and support the role of an open and accountable government. But the big silent elephant in the room is the Māori Party and this has not gone unnoticed by the public at large. Critics and many supporters (potential and actual) are left wondering why, a party that claims to be an ‘independent Māori voice’ in Parliament has been absent from the general media coverage on this issue. However, Te Ururoa Flavell, Co-Leader of the Māori Party and Waiariki candidate, told the Rotorua Daily Post that:

 I can’t comment on the book because I haven’t read it. But what I do know is that there are individuals across the political spectrum in New Zealand that engage in dirty politics. It’s not something that the Maori Party has ever done or condones. Manaakitanga (respecting and looking after others) is one of our foundational values and we have always conducted ourselves in a way that reflects this principle. We’re interested in party policies and how we can work with others to effect change. The hacking of emails is not a new phenomenon but it compromises the interactions between MPs and constituents and is a breach of privacy. In that regard we are deeply disturbed”

It is a fair comment given that Flavell hasn’t actually read the book. However, he implies an argument that has been met with much resistance for good reason: that it happens across the political spectrum.

Most would agree that attack politics and possibly even this dirty politics is pervasive, but that in my mind is even more reason to make a statement in strong opposition to its practice. The hacking of emails too is an important issue, but the more pressing issue missed in Flavell’s statement was the collusion and corruption between a Minister of the Crown, bloggers, and other public officials. This may just be a result of not having read the book and not having the contextual grounding to form a stronger opinion or to take a firmer stance.

Flavell also indicates the party’s resistance to commenting in any detail on the claims made in the book also centres around the party’s strategy to reorient the election focus on promoting policies. His mention of manaakitanga, suggests the party want to avoid being part of the dirty politics machinery so are intentionally distancing the party and candidates from being caught up in the negativity of the dirty politics media coverage.

However, an important part of any political campaign involves responding to issues of public importance, such as the very serious claims that are still emerging following the books release. It is possible to make a strong statement that censures the behaviours of dirty politics without being drawn into the negativity while still focusing on promoting the party’s policies. That is part of the balancing act required by political campaigns. Because no matter how well-intentioned the Māori Party are in steering clear of the ‘dirty politics’ coverage, it has brought into question for many potential Māori Party voters whether or not the party are an ‘independent voice’ for Māori or whether they are the silent friend of National. One of my worries is whether there exists an unspoken sense of obligation to the National Party because of the invitation to work in government despite not being ‘needed’ (in a numbers sense anyhow) to form the last two National led governments.

In my view,  it would be incredibly unwise if such a feeling existed because it would undermine the credibility of the party’s ‘independent voice for Māori’ message. Sure, it is a tight rope to walk when you are a party who has openly expressed its willingness to work with whichever party can form the government and not wanting to rock the boat so much that your own waka capsizes. But being independent means being just that: standing on your principles and holding to account those who have wronged no matter what political party is responsible or implicated in the wrongdoing.

For supporters of the party navigating conversations on social media has been particularly difficult absent the strong guidance from leadership on this issue.  In my view, if the Māori Party want to overcome the perception that their silence is an act of support in favour of the National Party, then they will need to make a clear and firm statement that they oppose collusion, corruption and abuses of state power and perhaps even offer some guidance as to whether the party will support an inquiry and other measures to help purge our political system of all anti-democratic practices.

ADDENDUM: 

I’ve been receiving feedback from various comment streams about my approach in this post. And I agree that I haven’t here placed as much emphasis on manaakitanga as is necessary to understand the Māori Party’s position. For a full outline of Māori Party kaupapa see: Ngā Kaupapa o te Pāti Māori

Manaakitanga is behaviour that acknowledges the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one’s own, through the expression of aroha, hospitality, generosity and mutual respect.

By such behaviour, all parties are elevated and our status is enhanced, building unity through humility and the act of giving.

The Party must endeavour to express manaakitanga towards others – be they political allies or opponents, Māori or non-Māori organisations – taking care not to trample mana, while clearly defining our own.

Tikanga of the Māori Party derived from Manaakitanga

To be recognised by Māori as a political organisation that does manaaki the aspirations of Māori.

To ensure that relationships between the Party and whānau, hapū, iwi, and other Māori organisations are elevating and enhancing

To promote a fair and just society, to work for the elimination of poverty and injustice, and to create an environment where the care and welfare of one’s neighbour is important

To ensure that members agree to work together, treat each other with respect, and act with integrity in their party work

To involve all peoples in the process of rebuilding our nation based on mutual respect and harmonious relationships.

I maintain that public opinion/perception is important but my main concern is that threats to democracy in NZ must be dealt with head on because without democratic processes, such as accountability, then the political parties and the people they represent cannot be guaranteed free and fair representation under the Westminster system we have.

In my view, Māori have been on the receiving end of a history of dirty politics particularly through intentional breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, our culture and rights as indigenous people being legislated against, ongoing institutional racism, and the manipulation of public opinion that has oppressed us as a people. It was the fight of our tupuna that allowed us to be heard and the fight of our many activists (in their many forms) that gave Māori the strength and ability to assert kaupapa Māori politics to counter the forces that work against us. That fight is not over and the struggle goes on.

I do consider that manaakitanga is very important and I wholly commend the Māori Party’s commitment to that kaupapa. My personal view, is that a fair and just society requires (as mentioned in the post) accountability and I truly believe this can be done without ‘trampling the mana’ of others but through co-operation with others to build an environment that is ‘based on mutual respect and harmonious relationships’.

One of the key things that I believe would assist in helping others to understand kaupapa Māori politics is more education on the concepts and providing practical examples. I do think the Māori Party show us how kaupapa Māori works, but I wonder if the public might be better informed if there were more coverage of these concepts, what they mean to Māori and how they can enrich the lives of Pakeha too.

I appreciate that the relative silence I talked about in the post is an expression of manaakitanga, and also resultant from a lack of media interest because the party’s comments that have been made weren’t perhaps as controversial as other parties. I just personally feel manaakitanga can be expressed in other ways too. I don’t here presume to speak for all Māori, this is my opinion, and I wholly respect that others may disagree with my views on this matter and many others.

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One comment

  1. PLEASE NOTE: THIS COMMENT HAS BEEN MODERATED

    Others may find it interesting that Maori Party leader Mr Te Ururoa (James William Ben) Flavell is silent on this issue of “dirty politics”, but I’m not.

    … [see Editors note below]

    When I complained to Mr Flavell, he gloated that what they did was no different than what Pakeha had always done.

    And so when I see his quote in the Rotorua Daily Post:

    “I can’t comment on the book because I haven’t read it. But what I do know is that there are individuals across the political spectrum in New Zealand that engage in dirty politics. It’s not something that the Maori Party has ever done or condones. Manaakitanga (respecting and looking after others) is one of our foundational values and we have always conducted ourselves in a way that reflects this principle. We’re interested in party policies and how we can work with others to effect change. The hacking of emails is not a new phenomenon but it compromises the interactions between MPs and constituents and is a breach of privacy. In that regard we are deeply disturbed”

    I would suggest the only issue Mr Flavell is concerned about, is his emails being hacked because it would expose him for the weak patsy puppet he really is behind all that crap he spoons up to a gullible public. My dear friend Sir Peter Tapsell had no time for him whatsoever.

    As for the dirty tricks going on, welcome to the type of typical dirty techniques I encountered doing business in New Zealand. As a senior member of the CIA once said “NZ has the appearance of clean green innocence yet behind that façade was well oiled sinister evil.”

    [Editors note: The commenter sets out the background to a complaint he raised with Te Ururoa Flavell in 1999 regarding Matakana Island and his particular grievance with respect to that issue. This part of the comment has been edited out because the Editor considers it an inappropriate place to comment on that particular issue as it is not relevant to the context of this post, i.e. the “Dirty Politics” book written by Nicky Hager]

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