Shane Te Pou explains why he wants to see the strength and diversity of Labour’s Maōri caucus better represented at the next Cabinet table
When Joe Biden tapped California Senator, Kamala Harris, to be his vice-presidential running mate last week, it was in part the outcome of a sustained campaign to better recognise the vital contribution of Black women to the Democratic Party. Of course, Harris brings considerably more than gender and race to the ticket – she’s accomplished, charismatic and, as a gifted prosector, the perfect foil for Trump, Pence and the cabal of cronies running the US Government at the moment.
But Biden clearly understood two things: first, that he only won the Democratic Primary, and can only win in November, with the overwhelming backing of African-American women; and, second, that these voters deserve and expect a seat at the top table in return. (He’s already committed to putting a black woman on the Supreme Court).
Labour in New Zealand would do well to take note from the Democrats when it comes to the Māori vote. There’s little chance the party will lose much, if any, support from Maōri voters this time around. In fact, they look likely to improve their standing.
But Labour would be naive to interpret this as a wholesale endorsement of its agenda from Maōri. In fact, I hear more expressions of muted frustration than enthusiasm. For many, Labour is the default choice when more appealing alternatives fail to materialise. If the next term is merely a continuation of this one, and Māori keep seeing minimal progress on the big issues affecting our communities, the next election could be a different kettle of fish altogether.
We bring centuries of experience to the task of looking after kids and families in trouble. We ignore that to our profound detriment.
That’s why I hope to see the strength and diversity of Labour’s Maōri caucus better represented at the next Cabinet table.
Willie Jackson, Peeni Henare and Kiritapu Allan are three obvious candidates for swift promotion. Far from tokenism, each merits a Cabinet spot on talent. Jackson is an adept communicator and skilled negotiator, who runs the Maōri caucus like a well-oiled machine. Henare is smart and incredibly well connected into Maōri networks. Allan is a bundle of energy and ideas. Each, in their own way, won’t merely better represent Maōri views at Cabinet; they will make it stronger and smarter.
Personnel is only part of the equation, of course. Policy is where the rubber really hits the road. To that end, if re-elected, Labour has a lengthy ‘to-do’ list – and, to make meaningful strides, the tinkering of the past three years won’t cut it.
Maōri want to see a transformational approach that makes real progress on child poverty, criminal law reform, equitable healthcare and better education outcomes. We need to eradicate lingering pockets of deprivation that have no place in a country as prosperous as ours, and well-meaning incrementalism has failed.
One area where the next Labour-led Government should act quickly is on reversing Judith Collins’ disastrous 2013 bail reforms. Due to the Coalition’s failure to act, the number of people on remand has risen from 27 to 40 percent of the total prison population. No surprises that this affects Māori out of all proportion.
Addressing health inequities among Māori can’t be left in the too-hard basket any longer. As the Government implements long-awaited DHB reforms, they need to look beyond organisational tinkering and find ways to work with hapū, iwi and urban authorities to deliver health services in a more targeted and culturally appropriate way.
As part of broader prison reforms, Labour should explore ways to shut down the dole-to-prison-to-dole merry-go-round, provide community-based alternatives to incarceration, and actively engage with – and properly fund – hapū and iwi to help deliver these solutions.
Likewise, Māori leaders inside and outside Cabinet must take the lead on desperately-needed reforms at Oranga Tamariki, the failures and callousness of which hit our communities the hardest. We need to reimagine the way we treat our most vulnerable tamariki, and place tikanga Māori at the heart of the solution. We bring centuries of experience to the task of looking after kids and families in trouble. We ignore that to our profound detriment.
Addressing health inequities among Māori can’t be left in the too-hard basket any longer. As the Government implements long-awaited DHB reforms, they need to look beyond organisational tinkering and find ways to work with hapū, iwi and urban authorities to deliver health services in a more targeted and culturally appropriate way. Critically, this must come with adequate funding and linked to clearly established national targets. Whanau Ora may still be the best policy vehicle, but it needs a new injection of funding, policy authority and accountability. Peeni Henare is the man for the job, but needs to be empowered to drive innovative solutions in his own right, not as a junior health minister picking up the pieces.
I expect Labour to be returned to office with a robust mandate. Few outside diehard National Party loyalists think otherwise. So the question that looms for me isn’t who will win in October, but whether Labour’s victory will bring about much-needed and long-overdue reforms that will improve the lot of Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders alike.