Waitangi Reveals Key Still a Hollow Man
Key welcomed the Maori Party as a coalition partner and in exchange for its support over the past six years, inequality has increased and Maori unemployment is up 4.6 % to 15.6% since 2006. Maori still dominate our crime and prison statistics and the relationship has largely seen the demise of the Maori Party, which now has only two MPs.
Key and the National Party have cleverly kept the support of the Maori Party by stringing it along with a series of cheap baubles. Symbolism is important to Maori but means little to Key, as long as the real power remains with him and his Party. Being able to fly the Rangatiratanga Flag from the Auckland Harbour bridge appeared to be a substantial gesture by Key but he knew it cost little and bought grateful support.
When the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly in 2007 143 member states supported it. At the time there were only four opposing votes and these came from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Key Government, signed it retrospectively. While this was a huge thing for Maori, Key quickly explained in Parliament that the declaration was just "symbolic in nature" as "New Zealand laws took precedence". As far as he was concerned nothing was really going to change.
While the National led Government did revisit the Seabed and Foreshore legislation that was shockingly passed by Labour in 2004 (and caused Turiana Turia to leave and form the Maori Party), the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 still blocked Maori from the legal rights they were hoping for. Many Maori felt the same as Metiria Turei:
"It is a repeal and replace with effectively the same bill that Labour put up, mixed with the Ngati Porou negotiations that occured a few years later."
"...the Maori Party and National members decided that not one change would be made to the bill. What that means is that for every single Maori person, every single whanau, hapu and iwi who came to that select committee, not a single word they said made any difference...because the Maori Party and National denied them the right to have any changes made in this legislation. That is exactly what Labour did in 2004."
Key rarely recognises Maori culture or uses te reo in his public appearances and it was particularly noticeable when he spoke at the opening of the Rugby World Cup.
Whanau Ora is supposed to be the Maori Party's crowning achievement through their coalition with National, according to Turia (who was made a Dame in 2014). This scheme didn't even meet the radar of Jamie Whyte, the leader of National's other important coalition partner and has struggled to get off the ground with limited funding and poor oversight. The fact that a disproportionate amount of the funding went to Turia's electorate also raises flags.
John Key and his Education Ministers have continuously claimed that they want to lift the so called 'tail of under-achievemen' in our education system and have identified Maori and Pasifika children as overly represented in this tail. They have called them 'priority learners' and the teaching profession has been blamed for failing these children. Much pressure has been placed onto schools to specifically lift the achievement of Maori, but with little extra funding or professional support. Programmes with proven success at lifting achievement have been cut, the majority of special needs support has been funneled to elite private schools, bilingual units and full emersion schools are struggling financially and even the flagship Charter Schools have failed Maori.
With the slow demise of the Maori Party, and the shift in Maori support to Labour and the Greens, it seems that National has given up any pretense of chasing Maori votes. It was especially apparent when Key made the startling claim that New Zealand was settled peacefully and that Maori would have appreciated the influx of capital.
The most pressing issue mentioned by Key at Waitangi this year wasn't anything about improving the relationship between Maori and the Crown, or lifting the socio-economic status of Maori, but about his passion for establishing a new flag (and whether it should feature a silver fern). He used his main speech to promote the sending of troops to Iraq to support the fight against the Islamic State. It is ironic that while Maori make up around 14% of New Zealand's population they make up 22% of our army personnel. A disproportionate number of Maori lives will be at risk through any military involvement.
John Key has generally been careful to distance himself from the blatant anti-Maori rhetoric used by his predecessor in his infamous Orewa speech, but his actions say otherwise. Key pretends to support the interests of tangata whenua, but in reality his words are hollow, he is still a Hollow Man.