November 29, 2023

The political debate National and Labour can’t agree on

The political debate National and Labour can't agree on

Labour and National’s leaders came to Waitangi agreed on which areas need more investment in election year. But as political editor Jo Moir writes, the country is going to see a big debate on how Māori should benefit from it

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins used his speech at Sunday’s pōwhiri to say he won’t accept a health or education system that delivers disparities, nor will he tolerate a criminal justice system that disproportionately affects Māori.

National’s Christopher Luxon identified the same areas in his remarks at the Treaty Grounds but framed them through a different lens.

It is these issues that Labour and National will campaign all year on, and completely disagree on how best to fix.


*PM will now speak at Waitangi

*Fresh fighting over MPs’ speaking rights

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The Government’s major overhaul of the country’s health system is the clearest example of Labour’s vision for reforming the public service to try fix inequities.

Its answer in July was a separate Māori Health Authority that gives control and resource to Māori to deliver health services in their own way – for Māori by Māori.

That’s exactly the type of solution to a problem that National rails against, saying it will repeal it if in power and describing it as separatist, an example of an attempt to create a two-tier system.

Luxon told those gathered at Te Whare Rūnanga that economic success for Māori was the same as for all New Zealanders. Likewise, health, law and order, and education were the same issues for all New Zealanders.

Contrast that with Hipkins who framed it from the paepae as “the future prosperity for Māori is prosperity for everyone”.

While they almost sound the same, Luxon is coming from a position that if everyone is invested, then Māori are too, while Hipkins is pointing out that Māori are already so over represented in the negative statistics that the focus needs to lie there.

The Government looks set to continue a path it has been carving for the past five years of targeted investment for Māori, coupled with infrastructure and systems for Māori to deliver services how they see fit.

National and Labour find it easy to agree on where the investment is needed, but they’re worlds apart on how to provide it and to whom.

That’s not particularly new but is becoming starker as Labour puts into action the targeted investment it has been increasingly providing in Budgets over the past five years.

Health, education, justice, water services – they’re all areas Labour is concentrating on improving inequities in a way National fundamentally disagrees with.

As the election draws closer and the race tightens ahead of October, there will be a big debate about whether the approach from Labour is working, and if voters think it isn’t, then what’s the alternative.

If the alternative is the tried-and-true service delivery of old, then any analysis will show it is Māori who have been disproportionately left behind.

National under Luxon’s leadership is yet to explain exactly how it would deliver in those areas, other than to say it won’t be the way Labour has.

Running alongside that political debate is the role of co-governance.

The Government has already accepted it has done a poor job explaining what it means and the benefits.

If Labour is going to take the public along with it on its targeted approach and partnership with Māori, its first hurdle is sorting out what it’s trying to say.

Hipkins seemed to be trying to use his speech at Waitangi on Sunday to cull some of the fear he thinks New Zealanders have over the co-governance narrative that has formed particularly around Three Waters.

He talked about the uncertainty and fear he’d had about Māori culture, language, land, and debates while growing up.

“With the uncertainty of the past I can now acknowledge there is no fear,” Hipkins said.

While he was nervous attending Waitangi for the first time as an MP 15 years ago, he said the images he’d seen on the television didn’t match the experience he had.

Hipkins says New Zealanders need to confront their history, and that should happen more often than just one day each year.

Much of this was addressed by iwi chairs at the annual forum in Waitangi on Friday where the challenge was laid down to the Government not to fear co-governance nor throw Māori under the bus in the process.

Luxon didn’t meet iwi chairs despite a standing invitation, and ACT leader David Seymour said he’d like to be part of the discussion again in the future.

Both agreed Waitangi commemorations and the political events across the weekend tended to focus on the Government – though Seymour felt all party leaders got a more equal opportunity from the paepae this year than in previous ones when Jacinda Ardern was leader.

All party leaders were in the firing line of the Waitangi National Trust later in the day for not turning up to the separate moderated political debate and for speaking to the media before the conclusion of all the events.

After an earlier warning there would be no welcome or kai following the pōwhiri next year if political leaders didn’t show up to everything and accept the tikanga, they could all be in for a frosty reception next year, whoever the government happens to be.

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