A younger, newer brand of politics is about to become a feature of the New Zealand Parliament.
With special votes still being counted, the interregnum provides time for the country’s political parties to reflect on their election performance. For Labour, in particular, that is proving to be a painful experience.
Hipkins emerged from his party’s caucus meeting last Tuesday saying, “We’ll spend plenty of time digesting the result and understanding that but it's clear from the end of 2021, we saw our support numbers drop quite significantly and nothing that we did in the two years that followed really rebuilt those numbers.”
Asked about caucus, Hipkins responded, “I think everybody will understand that it was pretty rough.”
That would make a change from the typical Labour Party caucus meeting. Labour MPs recount in private that during the Ardern years, caucus was generally a time for genuflection and deference. Questions were routinely used by MPs and Ministers to praise and flatter the party leadership in a manner than one MP described as “North Korean”. On the rare occasion that MPs did try to raise concerns, they were brushed aside by Ardern amidst a chorus of “tsk tsk” and shaking heads.
That aloofness from the public was also characteristic of some senior MPs. Nanaia Mahuta is one Minister who was seldom seen at electorate events during the term of this government. In her defence, Mahuta had several senior ministerial portfolios and was overseeing some of the most controversial reforms implemented by Labour. But that counted for nought at the ballot box, where the young firebrand Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke defeated Mahuta in Hauraki-Waikato becoming the youngest elected MP in 170 years.
That trend of young tyros defeating experienced performers was repeated elsewhere with Tākuta Ferris defeating Labour’s Rino Tirikatene, Cushla Tangaere-Manuel defeating Meka Whaitiri, and Tamatha Paul taking Wellington Central. This young cohort of new MPs will undoubtedly have an influence in the House and on political discourse in the country. The self-described kōhanga reo generation promises to be vocal and controversial. To borrow Rawiri Waititi’s phrase, they represent the “unapologetically Māori” perspective that he and his co-leader, Debbie Ngawera-Packer championed over the course of the last government.
It’s a strategy that has paid dividends for both Te Pāti Māori and the Greens in this election cycle, and has seen both Hipkins and his Minister, Willie Jackson, express their disappointment that Labour was not rewarded in a more fulsome manner for their government’s work progressing Māori issues over the last six years.
Much of that disconnect must be put down to co-governance. Whilst the term proved massively unpopular with the public, for politically active young Māori, co-governance is not an aspiration and certainly not a final destination given that it falls short of self-determination which they consider to be enshrined in tino rangatiratanga. It is, therefore, a concept that only retains popularity amongst Wellington’s political establishment. For both National and Labour it has been a useful mechanism to resolve some Treaty disputes, but it must be becoming clear to even its most vocal supporters that it has limited utility.
Iwi leaders, such as Tūhoe’s Tamati Kruger, have been very clear about this point in the past.
“Co-governance is not our term. Mana Motuhake is our term. So, we are committed to washing away dependency on the Crown and raising maximum authority for Tūhoe people.”
“I don’t see it as the final destination. I don’t see co-governance as the answer. But I think it’s the next bus stop in a journey that has to be made. It’s everyone’s journey. It’s like gravity, you can’t defy it. It’s on its way”, Kruger said last year.
With Te Pāti Māori and the Greens now having larger representation in Parliament this view will have a louder voice in Wellington. If anyone was in any doubt, then last week’s induction for new MPs provided the wake-up call.
An induction welcome was held for new MPs but to the surprise of some, large contingents from Te Pāti Māori and the Greens beyond their new MPs also attended. After some speeches by local iwi, the event was, in the words of one MP, “hijacked” by Tākuta Ferris who gave a “belligerent” speech that other MPs described as “horrendous”. It was seen by some in attendance as Ferris laying down a marker, in particular, to ACT MPs, that Te Pāti Māori intends to take a confrontational approach to Treaty issues.
Speaking to Te Ao with Moana last week, Greens co-leader Marama Davidson confirmed her party’s approach to opposition saying, “We’re going to rark it up. We’ve worked really well with Te Pāti Māori. It’s clear that out people have been inspired by an unequivocal voice on Māori issues and vision, and so that mahi, and I’m talking to our whānau at home to keep that hope, because that mahi stays and it grows.”
With this new generation in the House, some of the older generation find themselves outside Parliament after many years of service. Most notable is Nanaia Mahuta who finds herself out of Parliament for the first time in 27 years. In her concession call to Maipi-Clarke on election night, Mahuta stressed her desire that the gains that had been made for Māori over her term were not lost.
Mahuta has a significant legacy to protect and still retains a formidable power base in Waikato-Tainui. How she chooses to spend her time in the next few years will be interesting to watch but she may prove to be just as staunch a defender of Māori issues outside Parliament as she was as a proponent of them on the inside.
This article was first published on Newstalk ZB Plus.
Thomas Cranmer (aka Philip Crump) writes at Cranmer's Substack