The Labour Party and Māori

Not an exhaustive list but remember that time when:

  • Helen Clarke rammed through legislation so that Māori couldn’t test customary title claims to the Foreshore and Seabed resulting in the Hikoi
  • Annette King then Minister of Police, organised Operation 8 culminating in the lock down of Ruatoki and the detainment of the entire community, including the holding of children at gunpoint
  • Trevor Mallard tried to claim that he and in fact all New Zealand descendents of early settlers are Indigenous (that was around the time of the Foreshore and Seabed Act
  • Labour refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and rejected the government signing it in 2010
  • David Cunliffe explicitly questioned the ‘mental health’ of a Māori protester for the act of protesting not long after he had proclaimed the Labour Party to be the Māori party
  • Labour ruled out working closely, i.e. constructively with either MANA or the Māori Party should they be in a position to form the next government

Lastly, remember how:

Oh, if you don’t remember that, it’s because it just happened. Don’t forget that next time you think that Labour have the aspirations of Māori at the forefront of their policy. Two Māori, two Pasifika and 13 Pākehā representatives comprise the top 17 list placings. Also, note that there are fewer women now down to five from seven.

To be honest, I was surprised that there wasn’t a greater Māori presence in Labour’s front bench line-up. But I’m not sure why given the tenuous history between Labour and it’s seemingly consistent attitude toward Māori. It’s not just a slap in the face for Māori. It’s also a kicker for those Labour Party supporters who have been active advocates for Māori and other marginalised groups. Additionally, if this is the team the executive believe can bring Labour out of destruction mode then it should serve as a warning to Māori that mutual reciprocity of support is not exactly forthcoming.[1]


[1] Note, the National Party and the Greens (the other two bigger parties), are not largely different in terms of Māori representation in their top 17 places. There are three Māori in National’s top 17 and four in the Greens. Although to be fair to the Greens they also have a history of advocacy for Māori that shouldn’t be ignored.

3 thoughts on “The Labour Party and Māori

  1. I understand some of the thinking behind this. Labour does need to do better and does need to do more to atone for the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. But I think a lot of this is pretty unfair.

    Firstly, 25% of Labour Party’s front bench are Maori (2/8). True, there is a noticeable lack of of Maori MPs in the remaining top 17(in the top 17 it is 12%). That is partly a reflection of the lack of experience of the new MPs. Meka, Peeni and Adrian are newbies and get some time to prove themselves before being promoted. Rino is also pretty new and is not a top-performer either.

    So Andrew has done okay with the caucus he has I think.

    I also want to take issue with some of the points you have made:

    * “Annette King then Minister of Police, organised Operation”. That is a ridiculous statement. The Minister of Police does not “organise” any Police operation, which would be an obvious violation of the independence of the Police. She would have had no say in the operation. She apologised for it and says we need legislation to prevent it from happening in the future.

    * The signing of the UN Declaration on the Right of Indigeous Peoples was more complicated than you are implying. There were difficult negotiations leading up to it. National’s position – which is that they can sign it, because who cares it isn’t binding anyway – is not better than Labour’s position – which was to take the wording of the declaration more seriously. It is not a sign that Labour does not take indigeous rights less seriously, it’s quite the opposite.

    I think it is wrong to pick out the few things Labour has done wrong (with the major one being the Foreshore and Seabed legislation, which ultimately is indefensible) and ignore everything Labour has done, which includes the Waitangi Tribunal and Maori TV etc. Obviously they can’t rest on their laurels, but if we are talking history.


    1. Thanks for your comments Rose.

      However, I disagree that the Māori MP’s need to prove themselves. Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe are all in the top 17. As you’ll know, both Goff and Cunliffe failed to win an election each as Leaders. Cunliffe delivering Labour’s worst general election result since pre-war. Shearer on the other hand was unable to hold the leadership due to lack of confidence (or whatever went on) from the Party and presumably its membership.In that sense, I wouldn’t say they’ve proved themselves fit for their roles either.

      The front bench rounds off at 10 not 8 so its only 20% of the front bench that are Māori. As alluded to above I’m not sure the tip to ‘experience’ matters. Many of those in the top 17 have been highly ranked in the party for some time and haven’t managed to pull Labour out of its quandary. Also saying Rino Tirikatene is pretty new and not a top performer? He won Te Tai Tonga. Twice. As did Meka Whaitiri with Ikaroa-Rawhiti. Jacinda Ardern is yet to win her electorate and Andrew Little and David Parker are also both list candidates, recalling Andrew only just made it back to Parliament.

      I admit and apologise that I have poorly worded the statement regarding Annette King as having ‘organised’ the raids, although I still stand by my view and the views of many others that she is complicit through her role as then Police Minister. Any politically sensitive operations particularly those considered a matter of national security would have been run past her office. Pablo at Kiwipolitico writes a convincing account here: The Uruwera Raids were conducted under the Terrorism Suppression Act therefore making it a matter of national security. Surveillance was carried out for a year before the raids. Noting none of the terrorism charges were made out. Also, King did not apologise for the raid or the ongoing trauma caused to the Ruatoki community. She said “I am very sorry the police undertook illegal activities. I had no knowledge of that, and the report has made it clear that there was illegal activity. I am very sorry for that”–police-2013052308 She apologised for the illegal aspects of the raid, not for the raid. She is also crafty in her apology that she had no knowledge of the illegal aspects, that doesn’t clear her of knowledge of the wider operation and the extent of it.

      With regard to UNDRIP, I wasn’t defending the National Party, especially since UNDRIP was fought for by the Māori Party who do take the document very seriously. Labour, Progressives, United Future, and Act all opposed the signing of UNDRIP. The Greens noted their reservations but supported the signing of the document. Moreover, in the context of the time when UNDRIP was first adopted by the UNGA, the Labour led NZ government were among a minority of (only 4) who refused to adopt it. In the background was the Foreshore and Seabed and the pending Uruwera Raids. Their concerns were over compatibility with domestic laws which favoured Pakeha, and during the draft stage the Labour led government proposed to restrict the meaning of ‘self-determination’ to ‘the right to autonomy and ‘self-management’ in matters relating directly to their internal and local affairs’ which was discriminatory [see ]. So I have to disagree that Labour took the declaration and rights entailed more seriously. Also, the ‘bindingness’ of UNDRIP isn’t based entirely on its technical legal significance. There are many ways in which compliance can be incentivised. The Special Rapporteur suggests “Whatever its legal significance….the Declaration has a significant normative weight grounded in its high degree of legitimacy” see: (Noting that many of the rights contained in the instrument already have customary law status).

      Overall, I don’t think my article was grossly unfair, aside from my poor choice in wording noted above. And yes you are probably right that I should have acknowledged the establishment of the WT and MTV under a Labour led government. However, I still consider these legislative initiatives led by Māori (Matiu Rata and Parekura Horomia) because both bodies were the culmination of Māori agitation over years. Finally, I wasn’t just ‘picking out a few things’ I considered that Labour got wrong – they were all (in my experience and discussions with many other Māori) ‘major’ events of significance for our people that highlight the tenuous relationship between Labour and Māori, the central point of the article.


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