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Mature race relations debate missing from Parliament

Newsroom logo Newsroom 11/05/2022 Jo Moir

As the country embarks on a debate about race relations, some MPs are calling for it to be a mature conversation, while others are happier slinging personal attacks.

Analysis: It’s not unusual for Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson to use colourful language to make a point.

Even Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson noted his colleague’s “useless Māori’’ attack on ACT leader David Seymour wasn’t particularly surprising.

That doesn’t mean it was helpful though, and Newsroom understands senior Cabinet ministers have made it clear to Jackson they don’t endorse or support that kind of language.

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Jackson’s colleagues in the Labour Party Māori caucus weren’t tripping over themselves to stand alongside his comments either - many made a point of saying it’s not language they’d use.

Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan told Newsroom she didn’t have “any space for personal attacks on MPs’’.

Her interpretation of Jackson’s comment was that he was trying to disagree with the way Seymour advocates for Māori but in doing so “minced his words once or twice’’.

Seymour, who is of Ngāpuhi descent, put out an alternative budget on Monday that amongst other things called for Te Puni Kōkiri (the Ministry of Māori Development) and the Office of Māori Crown Relations to be scrapped.

Jackson got asked the following day what he made of the budget, at which point he attacked Seymour’s whakapapa and described him as being “from another time’’.

“He’s so desperate for votes he’ll do anything and say anything to try and attract a right-wing prejudiced vote or prejudiced view.’’

In response, Seymour said Jackson couldn’t even defend his own ministry.

"The fact Willie chose to personally attack me instead of explaining what value Te Puni Kōkiri adds just shows why we should get rid of it and save the taxpayer $71 million.

"I feel sorry for TPK staff, even the responsible minister can't explain what value they add, less kind people would say that's a useless minister."

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi was the only MP to join Jackson in personally attacking Seymour, calling him a "disgrace''.

Newsroom failed to find an MP on Wednesday who thought a mature debate on race relations is currently taking place.

Jackson told RNZ's Morning Report on Wednesday that his “useless Māori’’ sledge was just one comment in what was a 10-minute interview, and that the media shouldn’t focus on it.

While he’s correct that it wasn’t the only comment he made, it’s also not the first time he’s launched these sorts of attacks.

In March last year, Jackson told Newsroom both Seymour and then-National Party leader Simon Bridges were a “total waste of bloody time’’ when it came to advocating for their own Māori people.

Paula Bennett was also on the receiving end of Jackson’s attacks when he used general debate in May 2019 to accuse the then-National deputy leader of not knowing if she was Māori from one day to the next.

Jackson is the minister in charge of the work programme to meet the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Māori and iwi have already been consulted on how co-governance and race relations between Māori and the Crown could be improved and a draft plan is currently being developed.

Once Cabinet signs off on it the draft will be released for wider consultation to the whole country later this year.

Jackson has often called for a more mature debate, especially in response to some of the criticism from National and ACT about the He Puapua report, which was commissioned by the Government to get an idea of what co-governance could look like.

Newsroom failed to find an MP on Wednesday who thought a mature debate on race relations is currently taking place.

Robertson said it was a topic people always found difficult to discuss.

Crown/Māori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis said there definitely wasn’t a mature debate taking place and “both sides need to be more measured in our language in getting our points across’’.

Davis also went on to say Seymour was offering a perspective from the “Pākehā world and speaking from a place of ignorance when making those comments about Maoridom’’.

National’s leader Christopher Luxon doesn’t think the back and forwards between Jackson and Seymour was helpful or mature.

He also told Newsroom it was on the Government to make the case for co-governance and “take the country with it’’.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson also thinks the current debate about Treaty partnership falls short of being mature.

She didn’t support Jackson’s language but agreed the “lazy and harmful politics’’ Seymour is playing needed to be called out.

Seymour told Newsroom he saw Jackson’s attack as a result of the Government feeling nervous about losing the public debate on Three Waters.

“I think we’re leading on the co-governance issue in a constructive way … we challenge people to explain why differing rights based on ancestry is a good model.’’

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