The Maori Party handling of rebel MP Hone Harawira has been a complete mess. Harawira and the Party leadership have been fighting a public war for the heart and soul of the party, a struggle which the Party now portrays as Harawira’s “incidents of ill discipline stretching over the past five years”. During this gradually escalating process the Party has looked indecisive and ineffectual, has alienated much of its activist base, and has managed to risk alienating its strongest electorate.
The latest bizarre chapter in this story is the brute force gagging of Harawira by forbidding him to talk to the media. This has apparently now been extended to “a complete media ban will be strictly observed by the Maori Party including Hone Harawira on all aspects of the disciplinary disputes process until the formal hearing into the complaint has been concluded.”
A complete media ban? An MP forbidden from representing the views of his constituents? I’m trying to recall any precedent for such an extreme gagging of free speech by a political party. In recent memory the Nats’ rebel MP Brian Connell was suspended from caucus, but never prevented from speaking. Labour’s rebel Chris Carter received the same treatment. In fact, as Matt McCarten points out, Tariana Turia herself enjoyed even greater freedom:
If you read Harawira carefully, all his criticisms are not about policy differences but are based around tactics and strategies. What’s the crime in that?
Ironically, what Tariana Turia did when she was in the Labour Party was far worse. As a Cabinet minister, she actively opposed her government’s policy on the seabed and foreshore legislation. Was she expelled or even sanctioned? No. In fact, she was granted permission to speak and campaign against it. She eventually resigned to form the Maori Party but Labour never stopped her saying what she thought.
I’m sure that during this time Tariana Turia valued her ability to speak her mind and do her best to represent her people. She of all people should know better than to remove the same rights from Hone Harawira.
In short, this media ban reveals a nasty authoritarian streak in the Maori Party. It is at odds with the principles of the Party’s constitution and it is at odds with the expectation of free speech in a democracy. Does anyone in what is left of the Maori Party care enough to resist?