Pita Sharples

The minor parties – some thoughts & questions

The Greens

They ran a blinder of a campaign. Their polling numbers were looking great, as they closed on 15% in some polls. Then they got just 10.02% on the night (although their vote share is likely to rise by at least a small amount once the special votes are counted – Graeme Edgeler estimates to 10.5% if they got the same proportion of specials as they did in 2011).

What happened? Is it a voter turnout issue? Did the Greens actually slump abruptly in the final days of the campaign? Or do the polls have a bias towards the Greens?

Going forward, the Greens have some big decisions to make. They’ve loudly declared on many an occasion that they want to supplant Labour as the major party of the Left. So do they try for a more centrist approach to grow their vote? There were elements of such an approach in their policy of personal tax cuts to offset the effects of their planned carbon tax. If they want to supplant Labour, that’s what they’ve got to do, but will their membership allow it?

For much of the last term, the Greens were the de facto opposition in Parliament, with Labour failing to fire. Yet in the build-up to the campaign, the Greens offered to campaign together with Labour. The offer had a dual purpose: to show a Government-in-waiting, and to try to reduce the relevance of Winston Peters. Do the Greens go hammer and tongs for Labour’s vote share, or do the two parties attempt to work together to present a united front of opposition?

NZ First

Winston Peters is getting old. For most of last term, he was an embarrassment, lurching from one badly contrived attack to another, each one failing to fire; a collection of not-so-smoking guns. The campaign itself seemed to have rejuvenated him. He certainly saw off the young pretender, Colin Craig, and raised the NZ First vote in the process.

Is he good for another election campaign or will this have been his swan-song? If this is his final term, he’ll be leaving after a comeback of six years without baubles. Winston likes baubles, no matter what he might publicly say, so does he try again in 2017 in the hope of one final Ministerial stint?

The other thing Winston wants is for NZ First to continue on after he’s gone. It’s always been Winston First – no succession plan, no contrary views allowed. He’d like nothing better than to prove wrong all of those critics who for twenty-one years have said that once Winston goes, so too will NZ First.

Ron Mark is back and is being touted as a possible successor. However, if Andrew Williams’ allegations about deputy-leader Tracey Martin are correct, then woe betide anyone who sees themselves as competition to her right of succession! Life in NZ First could get interesting…

The Conservatives

Colin Craig got played by John Key, strung along for just long enough, before being thrown under the bus. Nonetheless, right up until the final few days, Craig and his party ran a remarkably focussed, relatively gaffe-free campaign. Despite being out-manouevered on occasion by Winston Peters, the Conservatives grew their vote share to just over 4%.

It wasn’t enough to get them in to Parliament, but it wasn’t a bad result on a night when National made over 48%. If Craig can keep his core team together, then they’ll have a good shot at breaking 5% in 2017.

The Maori Party

The critics said they were finished in 2014. With Turia and Sharples retiring, Mana were going to wipe out Te Ururoa Flavell, and the Maori Party would perish. Well, Flavell’s still there, with a relatively comfortable majority, and Mana is no more. And, assuming the special votes don’t do something odd, Flavell’s brought in Marama Fox with him, so it won’t be an entirely lonely three years.

If Flavell wants it, National would probably give him the Maori Affairs portfolio. Key doesn’t need to in order to govern, but he’ll be looking to keep Flavell on-side through to 2017. It’ll give the Maori Party some policy gains and keep Flavell’s profile up, and the party will look to remain competitive in seats like Tamaki Makaurau and Te Tai Hauauru.

Internet Mana

And that took care of that then…

The Internet Party was nothing more than a vehicle for Kim Dotcom’s ego and vengeance, and with Dotcom admitting that his personal brand poisoned the combined Internet Mana vehicle, the Internet Party will soon be no more. Dotcom certainly won’t be pouring his money into it, and there’s no real reason for anyone to stick around. Laila Harre’s pay cheque disappears, along with what’s left of her credibility.

Likewise, with no party leader funding for Hone Harawira, and precious few alternate sources of income, the Mana Movement is dead. Harawira took a gamble, sick of being a one man band in Parliament, and it all turned to custard. Annette Sykes did her best in Waiariki, but still came up well short, despite having a full three year campaign and Dotcom’s cash. It’s over.

ACT

Duncan Garner summed it up best when he described David Seymour as being like a five year old about to start High School. Despite winning Epsom (and by all accounts, Seymour put in the hard yards door-knocking to do so), it’s going to be an awkward and ineffectual three years for ACT. Jamie Whyte remains the leader outside of Parliament (for how long though remains to be seen), with Seymour the fresh-faced novice being the voice inside Parliament. Who do the media go to for comment? No one knows…

How do they rebuild? Lord only knows. Their natural constituency is minuscule, and they hold a seat on National’s whim. It’s not a great basis for growth.

United Future

The writing’s on the wall for Peter Dunne. Despite running against new candidates from both Labour and National, and despite having John Key’s personal blessing, Dunne’s majority is just 930. The only MPs with smaller majorities are Nikki Kaye in Auckland Central (648) and Trevor Mallard in Hutt South (378).

The glory days of United Future are long gone. Once upon a time, the worm turned at Captain Sensible’s whim. Now, the Dunne brand is that of a strange political vampire living out some political half-life.

Rebuilding United Future is a laughable proposition. The only question is whether Dunne goes out on his own terms or waits for the inevitable stake through the heart from the good people of Ohariu.

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Kohanga Reo Trust in denial (still)

The government has announced that it will not be renewing its $2.56 million contract with the Kohanga Reo National Trust. This stuff.co.nz story sets out the general contents of Hekia Parata and Pita Sharples’ letter to Trust board:

In a letter to the board, the ministers said they had become “increasingly concerned with the serious criticisms raised about the effectiveness, responsiveness and transparency of the trust board”.

“. . . we remain concerned that the trust board has not publicly, expeditiously and adequately addressed the allegations of misuse of money.

“As a wholly owned subsidiary of the trust, with shared directors, it is reasonable to expect that the board should have explained these matters publicly. Instead the Government has had no choice but to refer the matter to other agencies to get accountability.”

The ministers called for an end to lifetime appointment to the board, for board representation to be more democratic and for the board to be “open to scrutiny in all respects and is publicly auditable”.

TPO was also “no longer tenable” and new arrangements needed to be made “to improve transparency over support to kohanga reo”.

The ministers said they would not be renewing the $2.56m annual contract, which pays for the operation of the trust, once it expires on June 30, though a new arrangement would be looked into.

The trust was not providing adequate support to kohanga reo, the ministers said.

That seems entirely reasonable to me. The Trust board have obfuscated for months about the allegations of financial impropriety relating to its wholly owned subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO). Then when the microscope was turned on the dodgy financial practices of the Trust itself and its board members, the Trust’s response has essentially been an angry assertion that it can do whatever the hell it wants.

It has now received a fairly blunt object lesson that it cannot in fact do just what it wants. Refusing to renew the funding contract is about as blunt a lesson as the government could deliver. Of course, funding on an equivalent scale will end up being provided to kohanga reo, but at this stage there is no certainty about just how the funds will be distributed.

The government’s decision to axe the funding contract is all about leverage. It has taken the involvement of the Maori king for a hui to be organised to discuss changes to the Trust board and the way it is run. Of course, there’s no guarantee that anything will change, which is why the government has acted now, just ahead of the weekend’s hui. It leaves those who attend in absolutely no doubt that substantial changes must be agreed on (and presumably, some substantial changes in the personnel involved in running the Trust) for funds to continue flowing to the Trust. Otherwise, the government will simply find a fresh organisation to take over the soon-to-be-former role of the Trust.

So what sayeth Derek Fox, the Trust’s spokesperson?

But trust spokesman Derek Fox angrily rejected the criticism.

“It’s pretty disappointing, I suppose, in that the matters she refers to and the matters she referred to the Serious Fraud Office are matters that have all been dealt with by the board,” he said.

The Ernst & Young report ordered after the original allegations showed there was no misuse of public money, though it did not address allegations of misspending at TPO, which Fox maintained is a private company.

“She [Parata] welcomed that report and expressed satisfaction with it so I’m not sure why she continues to write letters saying that these matters haven’t been dealt with.”

The board had also addressed the allegations of misspending, commissioning an inquiry which led to the sacking of the person at the centre of the allegations.

Fox asked what accountability were critics seeking. “What are they really looking for . . . hangings, or would they like heads on pikes?”

All the ministers’ letter did was “create more uncertainty” in the kohanga movement ahead of the hui this weekend at Turangawaewae Marae, where changes to the trust and the way it operates would be addressed, he said.

“This looks like huge interference from the Government in the kohanga reo movement, it looks like a power struggle, that the Government seems to want to control the kohanga reo movement.”

A power struggle? Certainly. The government wanting to control the kohanga reo movement? Not so much. The government simply wants accountability over public funds. If the Trust can’t or won’t provide that, then the government will find an organisation to distribute kohanga reo funds that can.

 

The Maori seats

Morgan Godfrey, at his blog mauistreet.blogpost.co.nz, makes a call on the Maori seats – the incumbents will retain their seats. That means Mana retains Te Tai Tokerau, the Maori Party retains Waiariki, and Labour retains Hauraki-Waikato, Ikaroa-Rawhiti and Te Tai Tonga.

The remaining two seats are those that will be vacated by Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia. Mr Godfrey predicts that Tamaki Makaurau will fall to Labour, while Te Tai Hauauru is anyone’s guess.

In terms of my Poll of Polls, that largely allies with my assumptions, with Labour taking back Tamaki Makaurau. At this stage, I’m still keeping Te Tai Hauauru in the Maori Party column (at least, until electorate-level polling comes out there that shows something different).

Mr Godfrey’s analysis of the current state of Maori politics is interesting – that after the upheavals of Don Brash’s Orewa speech and the Foreshore & Seabed legislation that resulted in the birth of the Maori party, Maori politics has largely returned to stability. With stability, the Maori electorates return to type – back to Labour:

But the bigger picture is important too: conflict characterised the last decade in Maori politics. Think of Closing the Gaps, Orewa and the Foreshore and Seabed Act. The cruel irony is that the Maori Party has resolved much of that conflict – Whanau Ora has replaced Closing the Gaps, National has abandoned its Maori bashing tactics and the Foreshore and Seabed Act has been repealed and replaced – yet Labour will be the beneficiary.

That’s terribly unfair. But while stability returns to Maori politics, the Maori electorates appear to be reverting to type: Labour-led. Maori politics runs through cycles of uncertainty. When uncertainty and instability arises the Maori electorates turn against Labour. It almost happened with Matiu Rata while it actually happened in the 90s with New Zealand First and the 2000s with the Maori Party. The Young Maori Party was born amidst uncertainty and low confidence among Maori, but when certainty and confidence returned Labour and Ratana swept the Maori seats.

There was a window of opportunity when Mana and the Maori Party might have challenged that cycle. But I think that window has passed. The best they can hope to do is retain what they have.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Tariana Turia’s mana keeps Te Tai Hauauru in Maori Party hands this election, or whether the tide really has swept out on the movement.