On one level, the Maori Party’s dealing with National is smart work. Key needs to look inclusive even though he doesn’t need the Maori Party’s support to govern. In return, the Maori Party can cement its future by getting the Maori seats entrenched through a government bill, rather than hoping a private members’ bill gets drawn from the ballot, and show its constituents that it can deliver by getting the Foreshore and Seabed Act reviewed. In other words, the Maori Party succeeds in getting National to do things it wouldn’t otherwise do in return for support it doesn’t need.
On the other hand, if the Maori Party votes for National’s anti-worker, anti-public service legislation or continues to support it on confidence and supply once these measures have been passed its supporters will punish it. And rightly so. What really matters to most Maori is what really matters to other workers – employment, decent wages, health and education for the kids. It’s nice to get the Foreshore and Seabed Act reviewed but it is worthless if the Maori Party then helps National/Act take away Maori workers’ rights, pay, and social wage.
If the Maori Party does support a government that attacks workers rights, it will confirm that it is the party of the Maori elite, not ordinary Maori. From Turia’s statements so far, it seems she thinks that it doesn’t matter what they do, the Maori people will continue to support the party. She refuses to even acknowledge that the Maori elite has different interests to Maori workers.
The Maori Party should be careful not to take the people’s support for granted. Maori showed in the 1990s that they are willing to take a punt on a Maori party – they elected Tau Henare from New Zealand First to the Northern Maori seat in 1993 and all four Maori seats went to NZF in 1996. But they also showed that if that party supports a rightwing government in its anti-worker polices shared ethnicity is not enough to maintain their support. In 1999, after NZF had supported National against Maori voters’ expectations, all the Maori seats returned to Labour. If the Maori Party wants to avoid a similar fate, it needs to abandon the fantasy that the class interests inherent in capitalism don’t apply to Maori, and it will have to be very careful that the blame for National’s anti-worker polcies is not placed at its door.
Supporting a government that will hurt Maori workers in exchange for largely symbolic gains is playing with fire. If they don’t oppose those policies, they are liable to get burned.