We need Māori voices in parliament who aren’t beholden to the major parties, writes former Green Party policy co-convenor and candidate Jack McDonald (Taranaki, Ngāti Haupoto).
I was one of those kids that was always interested in politics. I have early blurry memories of excitedly watched election night results. In our primary school leaving book, my teacher wrote “Green MP” in the section where they predict your future job.
My whānau wasn’t particularly political. Knowledgeable and opinionated, passionate about kaupapa, absolutely. And through learning our whakapapa, I was grounded in an indigenous and anti-establishment world view. But they were never party political nor were they activists; we didn’t go on marches when I was young like the children of many left-wing people do.
That was until I was 12, when my mum and my nana took me out of school for the day to join them on the Foreshore and Seabed hīkoi on the final leg from Te Papa to parliament. That day was a defining one in my early life, and it politicised me like nothing else could have. I will always remember arriving at parliament and seeing the Green Party’s Pākehā MPs holding their “Honour Te Tiriti” banner on the forecourt.
I also learned about the Māori Party that was emerging out of this movement, and the hope of an independent unified Māori political voice. From that day on, I knew that when it came to my passion for politics, I had to support either the Green Party or the Māori Party.
But as a radical and idealistic young person that choice was made for me when the Māori Party decided to go into government with the National Party in 2008.
I joined the Greens when I was 16, and less than two years later in 2011 I was asked to stand for the party in the Te Tai Hauāuru electorate. While I look back in amazement at the audacity and self-confidence that I must have had to stand for parliament as an 18-year-old, my candidacy was significant in that it was the first time the Greens had stood in the electorate.
I would go on to stand in the 2014 and 2017 elections. I really love campaigning in Te Tai Hauāuru and te ao Māori. At its heart, Māori politics is about whanaungatanga.
I always had a positive relationship with my Labour and Māori Party counterparts, and we would focus on issues, not on attacking each other. We rarely even criticised each other’s parties.
I’m deeply honoured to have always had strong support and encouragement from the people of this electorate. During each of my campaigns, I relentlessly campaigned for the party vote only. Each time our party vote result outperformed the Greens nationally, but I also received more candidate votes than Green party votes. In 2017 I received 2798 votes, nearly triple the 1,039 vote margin that incumbent MP Adrian Rurawhe was re-elected by.
In that election I came close to being elected off the Green list, but after Jacinda Ardern’s elevation to the Labour leadership, the Green vote collapsed, and I missed out by a few places.
Following that I decided that I won’t stand in what would have been my fourth election. I need a break from frontline politics to refocus and pursue new opportunities.
Today I am announcing that I am endorsing my whanaunga, Māori Party candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, for the Te Tai Hauāuru electorate in 2020.
I couldn’t be more impressed with Debbie, whether it’s through her work as CEO of Ngāti Ruanui, as an environmental advocate or as a grassroots indigenous activist.
It may be surprising to some people that after having been in Green Party politics for a decade and having helped lead their kaupapa Māori work for most of that time, that I would now endorse a Māori Party candidate.
As a Green I have a long history of positive cooperation with the Māori Party in this electorate, particularly with Whaea Tariana Turia and Chris Mckenzie. Whaea Tariana was always supportive of my campaigns and gave me such lovely encouragement. In 2014, she went as far as to say that “if people aren’t going to give their party vote to the Māori Party, they should actually vote for the Greens, because if there’s a party that’s genuine about its commitment to Māori people, it’s the Greens.”
We also have worked alongside Debbie and Ngāti Ruanui. In 2017, we stood alongside them in opposition to seabed mining and announced a proposal for a South Taranaki whale sanctuary. Many in Ngāti Ruanui supported my campaign that year.
I’m still a member of the Greens and intend to give them my party vote this election, as they are still the party that best represents my progressive politics.
I want to use this as an opportunity to model a different way of doing politics. In Te Tai Hauāuru we demonstrate that you can work cooperatively alongside aligned parties to push forward shared kaupapa, in a way that does not undermine either party.
This term, more than ever, I am convinced of the need to have strong kaupapa Māori voices in parliament who aren’t beholden to the major parties.
I really like Adrian Rurawhe and have always had a positive relationship with him. It would be hard to meet a kinder or more decent man.
However, it must be said that he has not been a strong representative for our electorate. Even though he’s not a minister, he hasn’t led on any of our critical local issues. For example, when Megan Woods announced the government’s decision to open up another onshore oil and gas block offer covering nearly the entirety of Taranaki, Adrian not only didn’t speak out against the decision, he actually defended the government position.
This is indicative of a much wider issue in the Labour Party. They have the largest Māori caucus in parliamentary history. And yet time and time again, on major issues such as the occupation at Ihumātao, the Oranga Tamariki crisis and the recent Whānau Ora claim, they are failing to deliver on kaupapa Māori.
Marama Davidson has been a lone voice in Parliament on holding the government to account on kaupapa Māori, particularly at Ihumātao and on Oranga Tamariki. If she decides to take a serious crack at Tāmaki Makaurau this election, then she would have a good chance at unseating Peeni Henare.
But we still need more independent Māori MPs to both hold Labour to account, while working with them to get more across the line in government.
The new leadership of the Māori Party under Che Wilson and Kaapua Smith represents a younger and more progressive generation of Māori leadership.
This is evident in their approach to working in government. Che Wilson recently said “I think the most important thing is our people prefer us to go with Labour. So, it’s whether Labour would be interested in working with us.” This proves the party has learnt the lessons of the past, and that they would be much more inclined to work with the left, if they’re invited in the door.
The Māori Party has far more policy and values alignment with Labour and the Greens than it ever will have with National, a party that has always been deeply unpopular in Māori communities. But if they want to return to Parliament, then they need to continue to express a strong preference for working with Labour and the Greens, because our people won’t elect MPs who would seriously consider making Simon Bridges the prime minister.
If you care about climate action, social justice and indigenous rights, then the best you can hope for after the 2020 election is a Labour-Green-Māori Party government.
That’s why I have decided to do everything I can to ensure that Debbie is elected as the MP for Te Tai Hauāuru. I will be supporting her campaign with strategy and communications and this week I’ve started getting out in the rohe with Debbie to encourage people who might have supported me in previous elections to get behind her campaign (I will still be encouraging people to Party Vote Green).
Debbie is a grassroots leader, immersed among her people on a daily basis, but she is also highly intelligent and savvy, and is an extremely effective operator at an executive and political level.
Her burning passion for our environment and our people, particularly rangatahi and whānau who are struggling, shines through in everything she does.
Over the last three years Debbie and Ngāti Ruanui have led the opposition, in the courts and on the streets, to Trans-Tasman Resources risky seabed mining proposals off the South Taranaki Bight.
She has been a leading Māori voice on taking real and urgent action on the climate crisis. And she has a strong commitment to education, hauora and social development, with a relentless focus on investing in rangatahi.
I know that Debbie will hit the ground running in Parliament. She would be the most effective MP Te Tai Hauāuru could have and will help inspire a new generation of Māori politicians.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer demonstrates what kaupapa Māori leadership can and should look like. We need her in Parliament.
Jack McDonald is a voluntary strategy advisor to the office of Māori Party candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Te Runanga o Ngāti Ruanui.