Jacinda Ardern had a great Waitangi last year - will she repeat the trick?
Source: http://www.stuff.co.nz/news/110312435/-

2019-02-02 00:49:50

ANALYSIS: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had a pretty great Waitangi last year.

The Government was still new, she had just announced her pregnancy, and her party was about to get its highest poll rating in 15 years.

Ardern opted to visit Waitangi for almost a week instead of just Waitangi Day. She hosted an informal barbecue instead of a stuffy hotel breakfast. She became the first woman prime minister to speak at the Upper Marae.

This year, Ardern will attempt to repeat the trick. She's up north for five days again (although not across a continous span). She's speaking at the Upper Marae again. She's bringing 29 other Labour MPs, alongside five or six MPs from each of the support parties.

But things will not be as easy this year. New governments are near-empty vessels for people to fill with hope and ambition. This Government is no longer new. Ardern explicitly asked last year that she be held to account when she returned. And she will be.

Labour, of course, has a very strong historic relationship with Māori. They hold all seven Māori seats, having vanquished the Māori Party - a Labour offshoot in itself - at the last election.

But the relationship has not always been on great footing for the last year.

There was very little Māori-focused funding in the last budget, with health programme Whānau Ora receiving no new funding. This is likely the result of NZ First's historic aversion to Māori-targeted funding. Labour MPs will argue that other broader policies like criminal justice reform and the families package help Māori a lot. This is a solid argument, but not a bulletproof one. Criminal justice reform is still in its infancy, and while the Māori suicide rate is a lot higher than the Pākehā one, the Government's overhaul of mental health services is still months away. And on housing, a key issue for Māori, the headlines have not been kind.

Deputy Labour leader Kelvin Davis told Stuff Ardern would have plenty to show when she speaks to audiences over the week.

"You can't fix all of New Zealand's problems in 18 months. There's a lot of issues that need to be addressed and we don't claim to have fixed them all but we know we are going to have improved things."

"Look at the outcomes. Are people's lives improving? Are Māori lives improving? We're targeting poverty, we're increasing the minimum wage, we're targeting mental health. We've got the lowest unemployment in years."

National leader Simon Bridges was not so sure.

"Last year Māoridom  and all New Zealanders were in a 'wait-and-see mood'. We saw a lot of working groups," Bridges said.

"This year Māoridom will be seeking more. New Zealanders will. That will be my theme for Waitangi."

The big opportunity for party politics comes on Tuesday at the Parliamentary pōwhiri at the Upper Marae on the Treaty grounds. About 70 MPs are expected - well over half of Parliament. Much like last year, all party leaders will be allowed to speak and all MPs will be singing a waiata for each speaker. (That means Ardern will sing a waiata for Bridges and vice versa.)

This is a new way of doing things that began last year with the location change - from Ngāpuhi's Te Tii Marae to the "upper" marae built in 1940. Earpieces with simultaneous translation of the speakers will also be provided.

"To show we are a united country we need to show all of Parliament is doing things differently," Davis said.

Davis believed this sort of organisation and inclusion of other parties would help dull the notion that Waitangi Day had become a "protest-fest". That notion helped keep former prime minsters John Key, Bill English, and even Helen Clark away in their day.

Bridges, who will be in his electorate of Tauranga on the actual day, said he thought it was important to visit the actual place the Treaty was signed. But he also understood why English and Key had stayed away.

"It was a more febrile time back there. They made understandable decisions given the state of play," Bridges said.

But the pōwhiri is just one of many events planned over the week. Announcements are planned all over Northland, including a Sunday morning event at Otamatea Marae, where pioneering Labour MP Paraire Paikea is buried. These announcements will be a good place for the Government to flex its fiscal muscles - particularly for NZ First MP Shane Jones, whose provincial growth fund is likely to get a look in. NZ First MPs generally see Northland as their best chance of securing an electoral seat and thus some safety should the party dip below 5 per cent at the next election.

Meanwhile, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson will be addressing a hikoi (protest) on Wednesday aimed at reducing pollution of the Hokianga Harbour. from nearby holiday homes.

"Hokianga is my homeland, I grew up swimming in and eating from the harbour. Every year I return home and feel how deeply precious its water is. It is our lifeline," Davidson said.

"I'll be at Waitangi to represent the tangata whenua and Hokianga locals who are calling for help to save the precious waters of the harbour."

This issue perfectly combines the environment and treaty issues for the Green Party.

But treaty settlements are also a bit of a vexed issue for the wider Government. The biggest prize - a settlement with Ngāpuhi - remains out of reach for Minister Andrew Little. He can hardly be blamed for this, as the giant iwi cannot settle their own differences and settle on a negotiating mandate. But he will have to be a part of the solution, and he started off his tenure as minister confident his new plan for negotiations would be successful.

Little won't solve that problem this week but he does plan to "engage" with Ngāpuhi while he is visiting their land.

"We're keen to do whatever we can do to make progress," Little told Stuff on Wednesday.

"I wouldn't describe it as 'parked up'. It's an issue I deal with daily - exploring next steps and alternatives."

Then there's the even bigger challenge lapping at the Government - how to fix water issues without upsetting the bicultural constitutional balance by deciding if someone "owns" water. Thus far Environment Minister David Parker hasn't had too much luck with that.

Issues like water and the ongoing problems with the Tauranga Moana settlement could see more protest enter the fray this year. (There wasn't really much last year.)

But Ardern has made clear such protest would not see her follow her predecessors and avoid the area in years to come. Indeed, she said last year she saw it as a key part of the national day.

"I will always maintain that we should not seek perfection on our national day," Ardern said.

"Speaking frankly and openly is not a sign of failure, but a sign of the health of our nation - and a sign that we must keep pushing to be better."

Back to the top ^

Related Articles (30)