Kelvin Davis, Maori Seats, and Labour’s failed promises

The roots of Maori disadvantage go deep and are woven into the flawed premises of some of our most important institutions. Only a party committed to radical revision of these institutions can bring about the change we need – Labour is not that party.


Today Gareth Morgan and The Opportunities Party revealed their number one ‘bottom line’ – no deals with any party who is committed to abolishing the Maori seats. This is an and honest and decent stance for a number of reasons.

TOP is demonstrating an understanding that the Maori seats were established to ensure Maoridom had fair representation until such a time as it is no longer required. The Maori seats are a means of affirmative action to protect Maori society until that day.

Furthermore, they raise the very valid point that it seems incongruous for parties such as Labour and the Greens to stand candidates in Maori seats, despite the fact that on occasion party policy may conflict with the interests of Maori in that particular electorate.

This could lead to a bit of a conundrum for the Labour or Green representative in these seats. What are they to do? They can tow the party line, or they can remember where they’ve parked their behind – a Maori seat provided to them by Maori voters who put them there to best represent their needs. They can rationalise it however they want (and they do) but to the clear-eyed observer that’s called a conflict of interest, and we should generally try to avoid those in politics.

This is precisely the concern Hone Harawira raised in the media with his call for ‘Mana-Maori Motuhake’ – the idea that having Maori representatives in Pakeha parties does not necessarily ensure Maori-friendly policies are enacted, as Pakeha policy has an historical tendency to come first.

This all came to a head in February when Labour accused the Maori Party of acting purely in the interests of ‘elite Maori’ due to its coalition with National. This sparked harsh rebukes from across the political spectrum, but in particular from the Maori Party and Mana. It also came on the heels of the Labour decision to remove its candidates sitting in Maori electorates from the List. It was a one-two punch from Labour to denigrate the Maori Party and attempt to shore up its position in the those seats. This was trumpeted as “courageous” and as showing how confident Labour are of winning Maori seats. It is anything but.

What Labour did was what politicians have done for a long time to the severe detriment of Maori – they have put party politics first. This was a clear attempt to drive a wedge between Maori in order to win votes, and in this case, Maori seats. Seats that  should really only be contested by members of parties with a Maori focus, to avoid a potential conflict of interest in the future.

Labour’s “courageous” decision not to include those sitting in Maori seats is actually a pretty sly, tacit acknowledgement that what it is doing is not really fair or right. Again, as with most Establishment parties, there is a disappointing absence of principle in their motivations and actions.

Kelvin as Winston’s Padawan

Kelvin Davis, the new Deputy Leader of the “Let’s Do This” brigade (do what exactly?), topped off this whole episode with some unfortunate comments about his beliefs and intentions that should concern voters. He accused the Maori Party of playing “the race card” when they were told by Andrew Little the best way to advocate for Maori. He claimed that:

“as soon as they are challenged by a Pakeha, they drop the race card…they aren’t exempt from criticism just because they are Maori.”

Marama Fox, Maori Party Co-leader, responded to Kelvin’s comments, stressing that:

“we have a common enemy, and it is not each other. Our enemy is homelessness, it’s poverty of mind, hand and wairua, it is to address the burden of disparity.”

The Mana and Maori Party soon after announced an agreement to work together this election, Harawira stating that they are:

“taking up the call to bring the Maori seats back into Maori hands.”

Kelvin’s response?

“what he is saying is that he can’t make a difference in a Pakeha party, but I can and I have.”

I’ll leave it to the reader to decide who sounds more invested in Maori progress, and who in their own career.

Also, let’s remember how the Maori Party was formed – after Tariana Turia resigned in protest at the Foreshore and Seabed Legislation and helped organise a 10,000 strong Hikoi. In her own words:

“Maori should never forget it was the Labour Party that lost the last piece of Maori customary land.”

Or as AUT Professor Paul Moon, Treaty expert puts it:

“Maori have invested a lot in Labour…with little gains in 15 years.”

Of course, the media has been breathless about Kelvin’s ability to “galvanise Maori voters”. Along with Jacinda, he is in many ways a core part of Labour’s focus on personality over policy. But we shouldn’t forget his antipathy towards accommodation with the Greens, nor his connections and ongoing respect for Winston Peters – who helped him oust Hone Harawira from the Te Tai Tokerau seat. If Winston is Kelvin’s political mentor, we should all be worried.

Kelvin has also made some pretty snarky accusations regarding Hone’s deal with the Internet Party in the last election, which in effect lost Hone the Northland seat. This arrangement was evidently political poison, for many unfortunate reasons – but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing to do. It depends on what your goal is. Kelvin was more than happy to deride the union, and the discussion around mass-surveillance it created, for political gain.

He derides that “saga” still. Remember that ‘saga’? The one where we found out the extent of John Key’s lies and our government’s subservience to illegal mass surveillance. That ‘saga’ where one of the most respected journalists in the world, Glenn Greenwald, visited to warn us in person of the covert impingement on our rights. That ‘saga’ where one of the real heroes of American disobedience – Edward Snowden – beamed in to double down on Glenn’s insights. Kelvin betrays a pretty disturbing capacity that is unfortunately routine for career politicians like him – shoot the messenger, and put getting power over fighting for what’s right.

There’s your Deputy Leader of the Labour Party everyone. And it goes to show why Labour’s pretence to best represent Maori and being the party of real progressive change is superficial.  I just hope that people can shield their eyes from Jacinda’s holy light long enough to spot Kelvin in the background.

So if you’re a young voter who thinks they care about Maori and are considering voting for Labour, you’re either ignorant or not as concerned as you say you are. There are better options. But you know…forget all that…Let’s Do This!

Policy and a Party that Respects the Maori Seats

TOP is a political party after all, and needs votes to put policy into action. That is why it has called for Maori to consider giving it the party vote. By not contesting Maori seats and raising the concerns about traditional parties sitting in them, TOP hopes to see those seats go to parties with a predominantly Maori focus and for that vital representation to continue. But TOP also believes that its policies, based on the evidence, have the best potential to change Maori lives for the better.

My message to Maori is then this – if on the Maori roll, then vote for a candidate from a Maori party and don’t reward candidates from Labour and the Greens who shouldn’t be contesting those seats anyway. Then give your party vote to TOP – choose the party who has done its homework and has the honesty, expertise and will to make structural changes in this country.

The roots of Maori disadvantage go deep and are woven into the flawed premises of some of our most important institutions. Only a radical revision of these institutions can bring about the change we need – and only TOP has the guts to be so radical.

In the next piece I want to turn to perhaps the most disastrous of these institutions – our Criminal Justice system.


Author: Todd

Hello, thanks for reading. My name is Todd and I'm a 30 year old NZ Maori trainee doctor in Psychiatry. I have a passion for Mental Health, particularly in low-resource settings, and the existential and humanist schools are what provide me with the organising principles to help understand my patients - their hopes, their fears, their dreams and the inner tyrannies under which they often suffer. I have a background in advocating for evidence-based policy solutions and have always maintained an active interest in NZ and international politics - in particular the dynamics between psychology, politics and dominant power systems. Central to my belief is the sanctity and inherent mana of all people and the need be eternally wary of ideologies that reduce them to simple nodes within enormous and fundamentally dehumanising systems. I feel that the history of modern politics and individual and social psychology is the constant tension of this dialectic. We are "human, all too human" and the affirmation of our essential humanness is the common thread in my work. When I was once overwhelmed by the terrible things people can do to one another, someone important to me said, "don't scream at the darkness, light a candle." I hope these pieces are each a candle - all part of the many I hope to light on this wonderful journey. Many thanks and happy reading Todd

9 thoughts on “Kelvin Davis, Maori Seats, and Labour’s failed promises”

  1. Well, it takes a hell of a lot to convince me, but honestly through my observations I may seriously re-consider my options. My failure to act promptly with my decision originates out of years of unbroken promises, unfairness, disrespect and hegemonic tactics that have continued to perpetuate Maori as the lesser, disruptive, only good for hard labour duties or prison and nothing more, when in fact this is far from the truth. Maori are astute in all areas, but the ability to express this higher level intellegence has either been stolen and used to advance others or confined through mainstream media who will only highlight Maori negativity and nothing more. The Maori voice deserves to be heard properly it has always been about humanity including the environment as a whole and not just parts of it. To which you somewhat appear to be aware of, assuming however, that my analysis of your policies is correct. Althougb there is still room for improvement.


  2. Kia Ora
    My understanding of the formation of the four Maori seats is.
    Maori made up the majority elegeable to vote when the four seats were formed. Having one seat for the north channelled all those votes into that Maori seat only. Like wise with Southern Maori Eastern seats and so on. Labour held those seats traditionally, meaning when Labour were not the Government change for Maori was slight. Now that they advantage Maori the country is jumping up and down


  3. Loving the honesty of it all. And have faith that unlike the traditional parties. TOP will deliver on their promises.
    You have my party vote. Tena koutou


  4. You seem to have grouped the Green party in with Labour saying that party policy may conflict with Maori interests. On what basis do you make this judgement? I think Labour’s failures for Maori are well known but can you give an example of where the Greens have failed to stand by Maori? You describe the Foreshore and Seabed bill where Labour failed Maori and Tariana led the hikoi to parliament. The Greens voted against the bill and the entire green caucus met the hikoi on the steps of parliament with a sign saying “honour te tiriti”.
    It’s great that TOP has some strong policies for Maori and they should feel free to campaign for party votes in the Maori electorates but I think to call the Greens a “Pakeha party” who have a “conflict of interest” representing Maori interests is a little unfair to the principles and policy platform of the Greens, to a hardworking bunch of MPs (including a Maori party co-leader) and some truly great candidates who have been advocating for Maori long before TOP existed.
    I’ve been very disappointed at the way TOP has focused so much on attacking the Greens, to use your quote above from Marama “we have a common enemy, and it is not each other”.


    1. Hi Richard. I think you’re right that my criticism was undue. Although I still believe that Maori seats should be for Maori parties. But I respect that the Greens are very progressive on this front, much more so than Labour.


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