Labour is a big time election loser, but is not the only one. Labour will now have to re-build, while it has two strong competitors on its left – The Greens and The Maori Party. Given Labour’s natural position as a major party, this is much more difficult than it is for the niche parties. I became Labour Leader Bill Rowling’s press secretary, after they were truly smashed by National’s Muldoon 1975, so I know how hard it is with a much smaller caucus.
The other group to lose was the Parliamentary Press Gallery, which is broadly left of centre and operates within the Wellington bubble. Given the Greens hold two of the three Wellington electorates and Labour maybe the third seat, it’s perhaps hardly surprising they have shown themselves to be so out of touch with wider public opinion.
In a sense the journalists live in a bubble within a bubble. I noticed as a lobbyist the political journalists mostly confined themselves to the Parliamentary precincts and did not reach out much to those who worked in Wellington and actually know a fair bit about what’s going on. But Wellington City is a bubble itself, as is Canberra, the only area to vote for The Voice – all states and the Northern Territory voted against The Voice.
It’s time for them to do some serious soul searching. One area that has particularly irritated me over the past three years, is their reaction to those who have questioned the modern radical interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Treaty settlements over the past 30 years are broadly accepted by most New Zealanders, whose grasp of the country’s history is very modest, but most know there needed to be some redress for property taken and there be respect for the Maori culture.
Former Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson documented this with his book, “He Kupu Taurangi” which outlined the discrete co-governance agreements he made with iwi during his term. In the February 18, 2023 Listener he presented his views on the rationale for the settlements and praised Christoper Luxon for his speech at Ratana this year.
That perspective is quite different from seeing The Treaty as an agreement to equally share power and decision making in central and local government, as some seek. This is what has caused extreme concern amongst many, because it is seen as anti-democratic and dangerous. I know of no country where power is allocated on the basis of tribe or race, in which I would care to live in the event I was forced to find another country. What the history of the human race has shown us is that the market economy and a quality democracy has produced better results than all the alternatives.
You might think political journalists would be interested in preserving a quality democracy and in finding out why some people including the ACT Maori MPs, Winston Peters, Shane Jones, the National Maori MPs and others, don’t support the concept of equal partnership. I have spoken with ACT Maori MP Karen Chhour and looked for profiles on her, but yet to find any. I guess they exist somewhere, but have not appeared on my radar. Maybe she is just seen as not important or out of touch.
Instead of genuine inquiry we have had the likes of Judith Collins, David Seymour and co, labelled as “racists” or “dog whistling”. There has been a determined attempt at shutting down any serious questioning of the partnership concept, or even why Maori is often used instead of English with government agencies. I have seen no serious attempt at analysing the issues in depth. It has become a no go zone for mainstream media who now won’t run the likes of Graham Adams, or former Labour Minister and historian, Dr Michael Bassett.
The NZ Herald is making a belated attempt at some balance, with its recent creation of ZB PLUS, an online site, headed by Auckland lawyer Philip Crump. I hope it succeeds.
I have also noticed how the media always runs to Don Brash of the Hobson’s Pledge group, instead of the co-founder Casey Costello. Why? The problem I suspect is Casey is manifestly Maori, and thus she doesn’t fit the media stereotype. As an old white male Don Brash is much better.
For those who don’t know, Casey is now a NZ First MP, where I expect her to make positive contribution to Parliament. She is a former Police officer who has worked in Parliamentary Security and was on the Board of the NZ Taxpayers Union when I was chair.
While they reflect on the election results the Press Gallery might like to think about engaging with people outside the Parliamentary precincts and then venture further afield outside Wellington, to engage with a broad range of Kiwis. I know that is hard when you have day to day commitments in Parliament, but its bubble won’t yield all the answers.
Maybe also it’s well past time when electronic media had conversations with politicians, instead of the “gotcha interviews” they are so fond of, but yield little in the way of insights or real information. And finally, when thinking about the 2026 election just abandon so called leaders debates, which I have not watched for decades because they don’t work anymore.
Barrie Saunders blogs here