Labour is insisting no row took place between the Housing Minister and the Māori caucus over a lack of targeted funding. Regardless, it’s achieved what the leaker set out to do, writes political editor Jo Moir.

The Māori seats are no safe bet.

Nobody knows that better than Te Paati Māori, who got thrown into political exile before flying right back into Parliament again – all in the space of three years.

Headlines this week claiming Labour’s Māori caucus pushed back on senior Cabinet ministers’ lack of delivery on housing shows they’re willing to fight on more than one front.

What do you think? Click here to comment.

Not only is the caucus prepared to go the extra mile to secure a political win, but more importantly, put an end to generations of inequities unresolved by successive governments.

On Monday night, Newshub broke a story there were ructions in the Labour Party between Megan Woods and the Māori caucus.

The report said the caucus was so enraged no money had been set aside for Māori housing in the Government’s $3.8 billion announcement in March that the row almost got elevated to the Prime Minister’s office.

On Tuesday, Labour’s Māori caucus was doing what it does best – singing from the same song sheet, denying there had been a scrap.

Nobody was ever going to take responsibility for the leak, and it’s largely redundant where it actually came from because its intention has already been achieved: multiple media outlets questioning senior Cabinet ministers about whether they’re doing enough for Māori.

Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson was at a pre-Budget speech on Tuesday morning announcing he’d found an extra $1b for the Covid recovery, but much of his media conference afterwards centred on whether he was doing enough for Māori.

A short time later, Woods stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Māori/Crown Relations Minister and Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis on their way into caucus, where both denied the dispute had taken place.

Woods was forced to make crystal clear Māori housing is a priority.

Those in the executive who hold Māori seats held the line that Woods wasn’t a block to Māori housing development, but were also quick to point out there was plenty more that could be done when it came to improving Māori inequities.

Last term Labour was at times criticised for its lack of targeted funding for Māori, which to be fair was hampered by its coalition with New Zealand First – a party opposed to race-based policies.

But after losing a seat to Te Paati Māori after only just vanquishing it three years earlier, Labour’s Māori seat-holders know it’s more important than ever to deliver for its people.

It’s actually National that has been hogging the Māori inequity headlines, but for very different reasons.

Leader Judith Collins has been on the warpath declaring a Māori Health Authority, as announced by Health Minister Andrew Little, is separatist and would create a two-tiered system.

She warned this was only the beginning of Labour’s big plans to implement a raft of policies as proposed in the 2019 He Puapua report.

The only flaw in this so-called secretive policy roll-out was the fact Little has never actually read the report, so would struggle to have been inspired by it (although the fact the Health Minister and Treaty Negotiations Minister has never read the report is in itself surprising).

Labour should be making hay with its support base while National runs lines claiming “the Māori Health Authority will tear regional New Zealand apart’’, as was declared by Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey on Tuesday morning.

Instead someone, or some people, within the Labour Māori caucus are running a side operation that puts an even brighter spotlight on the needs and inequities faced by Māori.

It means Jacinda Ardern can’t completely leverage off National’s separatism distraction, because people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones.

And while Ardern’s problem isn’t a separatism one, it would be politically unwise to harp on about National failing Māori when there are reports and speculation MPs within her own caucus think her Government is falling short as well.

The leaker might have taken away an easy political win for Labour, but they’ve also started a bigger conversation that is long overdue.

That conversation began on Tuesday night with Newshub’s 6pm bulletin running the issue of Māori inequities in three of its four top stories.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

Leave a comment