by Finlay MacDonald
When it comes to dealing with Hone Harawira, the options for the Maori Party aren't great. But whatever the outcome of the suspension hearing, the schism Harawira emblemises won't go away, because there is a fundamental divide opening up within what is rather simplistically referred to as "Maoridom". It's the divide between the haves and have-nots.
Harawira's problem with his party is usually portrayed as being about his dissatisfaction with their role in supporting and legitimising a National-led government. Thus the dispute can be characterised as one between pragmatism and idealism. As Pita Sharples put it, "If the Maori Party cannot establish itself as a bona fide partner in a government, then our chance is gone and probably there will never be another Maori party."
In other words, Harawira is risking the very future of co-ordinated, self-determining Maori representation in parliament with his radical rhetoric and uncompromising style. Getting a lot less attention, especially in the mainstream (dare one say Pakeha?) media, is what the Maori Party itself is risking in the process of trying to behave like a "bona fide partner in a government".
For starters, the party has been all too often willing to sign up to weak and implausible right wing dogma masquerading as policy, from the disgusting march to privatise prisons to the laughably stupid "step change" paper on commercialising education produced last year by Act's Heather Roy and her "inter-party working group for school choice".
The Maori Party's legitimate scepticism of orthodox solutions to its constituency's social and economic failures notwithstanding, buying into this kind of neoliberal brown-washing rightly upsets many of its thinking supporters.
Far more crucially, though, the party has appeared to become something of a conduit between the Key government and the powerful but woefully opaque "National Iwi Chairs Forum" (NICF), an affiliation of elected hapu and iwi chairpeople that branches into various "iwi leaders working groups" around specific policy areas and issues.
Despite the nominally democratic structure of the forum – members seem mostly to be elected representatives of the iwi organisations formed around asset distribution under the Sealords deal – there is every reason to view it as a self-styled board of directors from the top tier of corporate Maori interests.
It's perfectly logical, even reasonable, that such an organisation would coalesce out of the institutions and businesses created by the Treaty settlement process. The suspicion is, alas, that the forum has come to be seen as truly representative of all Maori interests, as well as mandated to speak on behalf of all Maori, when it comes to direct negotiations with the government. As Harawira has said, it's highly unlikely flax-roots Maori Party supporters would have envisaged or endorsed this.
In her Bruce Jesson memorial lecture last year, lawyer and activist Annette Sykes provided perhaps the most detailed and critical analysis yet of the NICF. She said the "culture that the new Maori elites have adopted increasingly demands that Maori entities be run on business lines, mirroring the model of the Treasury and Business Roundtable", and went on to detail what she called "the complicity of the Maori Party".
The party, she alleges, has effectively ceded the initiative on matters such as the foreshore and seabed to the iwi leaders, allowed the forum to "determine the Maori Party's position on fundamental issues, and the Maori Party had acted as a doorman to allow them access to the key cabinet strategy committee on Treaty issues ..."
(The "doorman" analogy comes from an interview in which Tainui leader Tukoroirangi Morgan spoke of the "very few Maori who can knock on the PM's door and it will open, whatever the issue".)
Like Sykes, Hone Harawira is a veteran of a Maori struggle that has undoubtedly seen huge gains, but has also led to the corporatisation – the Pakehafication, if you will – of the original "kaupapa". Perhaps also like her, he acknowledges some unwitting complicity in that process.
Now, like so many New Zealanders in general, ordinary Maori wait for the financial benefits of commercialisation to trickle down. What Hone seems to be telling his party – as a genuine representative of his people – is that they should be after more than just crumbs from the cabinet table or the brown table.