Ever hear of Mauri Pacific? Chances are, you haven’t – or you have forgotten it. It was essentially the vehicle through which Tau Henare transitioned from NZ First into National. It was one of several groups set up by existing MPs from various parties and which were wiped out at their very first election. The short article below was written in late 1998 and first appeared in the December 1998/January 1999 issue of revolution magazine (issue 8), one of the print predecessors of this blog.
by Huw Jarvis
Tau Henare’s new party, Mauri Pacific (‘Spirit of the Pacific’), is apparently not a ‘Maori party’. Instead it is more reminiscent of the unfortunate United Party, which was launched in 1995 as a ‘centre’ party by a ragbag group of seven defecting Labour and National Mps.
As with United, opportunism and policy vacuousness are the key features of the new party. At its launch, its leaders could not point to any real guiding principles or philosophies apart from Henare’s belief that NZ needed to “grasp another paradigm”, go on a voyage of “rediscovery towards cultural integrity” and “take the world by storm in a totally unique and awe-inspiring manner”. This is therefore another party that is formed around personalities, personal ambition and flakiness.
Typical of the vacuousness of the party, Henare said that Mauri Pacific is neither a left, right nor centre party. In fact, he has gone as far as saying that Mauri Pacific will have no firm economic policy: “This is not a political party based on economic theory. It goes economic theory, it goes cultural and goes social and community development.”
As TV1’s Linda Clark rightly remarked after the launch: “That’s astounding, but also a cop out. His potential voters top all the wrong statistics because they’re brown, but also because they’re poor. Shouldn’t he have a policy on that?”
Mauri Pacific therefore shows itself up clearly as a diversion from any task of addressing the issue of Maori and Pacific Islander oppression in New Zealand. Instead of economics, the main plank of Mauri Pacific is based on culture (and strangely enough for a so-called ‘Pacific’ party, ‘biculturalism’). Henare claims that “As a nation, we are lacking identity and soul.” Hence we have yet another party that is using a form of identity mumbo-jumbo to shield itself from its lack of policy and relevance. Like NZ First, Mauri Pacific might simply find its niche in promoting NZ nationalism – albeit a more Pacific and liberal one.
Despite what Henare might say, Mauri Pacific is basically a centre party but, unfortunately for them, the centre vote is already sewn up – Labour and National have crowded out that market. It seems that in its opportunistic desire to bring in as many Mps as possible and capture a wider vote than simply the ‘centre’, Mauri Pacific has been unable to come up with the substance that used to be associated with the formation of a new political party. Most likely Mauri Pacific will spread its net so widely that they will catch few votes.
It is interesting that Henare and his other ‘Maori warriors’ have sought to include a right-wing pakeha like Jack Elder and a guilt-ridden white middle class vicar like Ann Batten. This is clearly part of their strategy to avoid becoming a ‘Maori party’. Henare has come to terms with the fact that there are few votes to be found in pandering to the desire of a few cranks for a Maori party, something that Tame Iti or Alamein Kopu are associated with and that maybe 500 people in each Maori seat might vote for. Moreover, even in the totally impossible scenario that such a party received the list vote of all those on the Maori roll, it would still be short of the 100,000 votes needed to break the 5 percent MMP threshold.
However, the vast majority of Maori voters have no interest in any form of Maori separatism – Maori want to be in the mainstream, not politically ghettoised. This is a reflection of the fact thate are not two nations in NZ (Maori and pakeha), but just one – the NZ nation – and that Maori, pakeha and pacific Islanders are so totally bound up together that any political movement that is serious has to take that on board.
Mauri Pacific will probably survive the next election not because it is a vibrant party with a coherent core philosophy and following, but because it has a high-profile opportunist leader who is likely to retain his seat. That the other people people associated with it think the party is a goer is a sign of how little connection they have with reality.
Footnote: Mauri Pacific was wiped out in the 1999 election, gaining only 0.08% of the party vote, while Henare finished a distant third in his own seat. When he returned to parliament in 2005, it was as a National Party list MP.