Disunity as the year comes to an end for the Māori Party?

Te Karere reports that Tariana Turia is furious over Te Ururoa Flavell’s Whānau Ora housing decision:

“The newly-appointed Minister for Whānau Ora has come under attack from the person who setup Whānau Ora and the party he currently leads. Tariana Turia is angry that the co-leader of the Māori Party Te Ururoa Flavell has overturned a decision she made in July to give millions of dollars for social housing to Māori. Te Karere understands the money, intended to be managed by Māori, will now be administered by a government agency.”

Of note, the headline is a little misleading since the decision was not advanced by Flavell and after watching the interview, Turia seems disappointed more than she is furious.

The issue: Flavell has supported Housing Minister Nick Smith in abandoning the previous Māori housing policy which would have seen Te Pou Matakana (an independent Māori organisation) administer $25 million to coordinate Māori housing.

The decision: to transfer this responsibility of Māori Housing to Crown entity Te Puni Kokiri.

As the architect of the previous policy, it is unsurprising that this move has upset Turia. Mainly because it seems to contradict the objectives of Whānau Ora to create rangatiratanga for Māori as opposed to micromanagement by the State. And after scrolling through the feedback on this decision, Turia’s criticism appears to resonate with a sizeable proportion of Māori Party supporters and Māori more generally, including myself.

To be clear, I have much respect for Te Ururoa Flavell. This post is not about trampling on his mana. And I suspect that was not Turia’s intention either. Rather, it is acknowledging that as a Minister of the Crown, his decisions will be scrutinised even by his wider support networks, and that critique is a healthy part of the democratic process. One thing to be mindful of is that Flavell is bound by collective responsibility in his portfolios and must represent the government’s position in relation to his ministerial responsibilities.  This was made clear when the Party members and supporters voted in favour of the relationship accord. It is the primary reason the membership supported Co-Leader Marama Fox as an independent voice in Parliament. That outside cabinet position is intended to give Māori a voice and provide an avenue for criticism of decisions that Māori believe are not in our best interests and do not  steer us toward tino rangatiratanga.

Why the abandonment of Māori governance in favour of State management of Māori housing? Money.  According to Turia:

[If] they were worried about the amount of money, which is what they told me, worried about the amount of money for administration, they could have put that in the contract.

The reason supplied to Turia is a major cause for concern. It explicitly says that the Crown do not trust Māori to manage our affairs. In my view, it is both a condescending and oppressive attitude that intensifies ingrained views of Māori as ‘needing to be civilised’. Moreover, it imposes a view of Māori criminality (i.e. Māori organisations cannot be trusted to act legally or appropriately with significant sums of money) and is further evidence that the heavy chains of colonisation are still firmly in place.  There are, of course, clear instances of the mismanagement of funds within Māori organisations. However, this is not unique to Māori and flagging it as a reason for ‘State’ retention of control entrenches the perception that the behaviour of the few is reflective of the entire Māori population.

The government talks about its role  in creating an enabling environment for Māori. This is language drawn from international trade policy, in particular, the WTO. Unfortunately, the way it is being employed in NZ is eerily similar to the way the developed countries advocate the enabling of developing and least-developed countries but in reality have sidestepped their obligations.

 In response to Turia’s criticism, Māori Party President, Naida Glavish made the following comments as reported on Twitter by Te Kaea Journalist Maiki Sherman:

@MaikiSherman  writes:

Māori Party president Naida Glavish tells former co-leader Tariana Turia to “let go” following her public criticism of Te Ururoa Flavell.

“We would all hate to see Whaea Tariana detract from her own mana and spoil her distinguished record of service to our people and our party”

“It was her own decision to leave Parliament, which necessarily meant passing over the reins to her successors” – Naida Glavish.

Tariana Turia criticised a decision to change administration of funding for Maori social housing to Te Puni Kokiri.

Naida Glavish says the decision was made by Nick Smith, based on a Cabinet decision, on recommendation by the Auditor General.

Apart from the Māori Party’s embarrassing public spat, this also shows they’ve been railroaded by Cabinet. #RelationshipAccord

In my view, Turia’s criticism was not overstepping the boundary – it was a legitimate concern. As a founder of the Party and a key architect of Whānau Ora, it is understandable that she would express her views about its future in light of the decision made. The question asked of her: ‘What message do you have for Te Ururora Flavell?’ was provocative and seems to have baited the Party into a public war of words. Inadvertently implying a disunity that does not, in fact, exist.  The Party will need to mindful of how easy but also harmful it is to conflate legitimate criticism with personal attacks going into 2015 and beyond.

Addendum:

Link to Māori Party Press Release here re: Maiki Shermans commentary on Twitter.

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