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On every issue important to Māori this government is failing | World news

New Zealand is probably the only country in the Anglosphere where the Indigenous people make up a disproportionate share of the parliament. Māori make up only 16% of the country’s population, but make up 23% of our representatives, holding 27 seats in the 120-seat House. Māori lead every single parliamentary party as well, bar Jacinda Ardern’s Labour.

You might struggle to find a country where a minority exerts more governing power, and demographic defiance, than Māori in New Zealand.

Except this is where the good news ends. Despite our parliamentary success Māori remain at the wrong end of all the wrong statistics: unemployment (the Māori rate is almost double the national rate); incarceration (we punch above our weight making up half of the prisonmpopulation); and homelessness (again, a disproportionate share).

Even with Māori ministers making up almost a third of the current ministry the gaps between Māori and non-Māori remain more or less the same as under the last government, and the government before that, and the government before that. It’s a crushing reminder that systems are more important than mere “representation”.

Crushing because, well, you always hope change is as simple as voting for the right people. But even after voting for all the right people as I see it – party voting Green, mostly because of their Māori co-leader, and electorate voting for Labour’s Māori candidate – change seems as distant as it ever was.

On almost every major issue important to Māori this government is stalling. Even in reverse. No one can agree on what to do with the child welfare agency Oranga Tamariki. The government favours reform. Māori leaders prefer straight up abolition.

The last remaining “big” Treaty settlements, where the government negotiates redress and an apology for its historic wrongs against Māori tribes, are going nowhere. And the occupation at Ihumātao, the headland a little north of Auckland Airport, is still going strong.

True, a solution is possibly? close at hand. RNZ reports the government is in talks to loan Auckland Council the money it needs to purchase the controversial block from Fletcher Building, the company planning to develop a 480-home estate on the controversial site.

In one sense, this is proof activists can force governments to find creative solutions to secure a progressive and just outcome (returning stolen Māori land to its rightful owners). But in another sense it’s an indictment that it took this long – four years after the first tents went up and four months after a rolling contingent of cops went in to clear the occupiers.

That lag between the blow up and (possible) solution reinforces how much more important systems are than representation. The Labour-led government enjoys the largest Māori caucus in Parliamentary history. It holds all seven Māori seats, the electorates set aside to secure a minimum level of Māori representation.

Yet the government was still at sea on Ihumātao for four long months. Too cautious to just give the land back to the tribes with interests in it, fearing doing so could re-open the already settled Treaty settlements. And too afraid to do so for fear of offending people who don’t like it when Māori get their stuff back. In other words, no wants to change the system.

Of course in the government’s defence this is partly the outcome of coalition politics. The Greens are at Jacinda Ardern’s left flank, urging her and her Labour Party to go further than they otherwise might on the issue, and on the right flank is Winston Peter’s New Zealand First exercising a veto over anything that might suggest it’s part of a left wing government.

Peter’s party put paid to a capital gains tax, for example, protecting the profits of the elderly speculators who form part of its base while shafting the comparatively younger Green and Labour supporters struggling to afford rising rents and house prices.

Taking this all together I regret one thing from 2017: campaigning against the Māori Party. Like Labour and the Greens the party were dealt a bad hand in government. Five seats and decreasing every election from 2008.

But with that hand they managed to implement revolutionary welfare reforms (Whānau Ora, now standard across more and more government departments), re-orientate the country’s foreign policy (signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), and remove the worst part of the last Labour government’s legacy – the appalling Foreshore and Seabed Act.

It’s a bit late now, but only in their absence can I best appreciate their impact. On the issues that were important to them they went for system change.

It’s a lesson to this government. And one they might want to heed if they want to retain their seven Māori seats.

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