Now that the Nats might muster enough votes to forge a right-leaning coalition partnership and oust the Ardern government at the next election, the commentariate has become agitated on the “diversity” issue.
Issue? Newsroom’s Joe Moir calls it a “crisis”.
National’s just had its first opportunity to deal with its diversity crisis and its response was four white men contesting the Tauranga by-election
There are now more Christophers than there are Māori in the National Party.
This isn’t a new problem for National but Simon Bridges’ exit from politics this week only makes it even more profound.
Moir reports that Bridges’ departure means there are now just two Māori left in the caucus – Shane Reti and Harete Hipango – and the only other ethnic representation amongst National MPs is Korean-born Melissa Lee.
The headline sums this up as Luxon’s big white problem.
Diversity is more vital than ability in the media mindset, it seems, although concerns about an obvious lack of ethnic diversity in the ranks of the Maori Party is unlikely to result in headlines drawing attention to Rawiri Waititi’s big brown problem.
The Nats shortcomings in the diversity department have been reflected in a raft of media reports over the past year or so. Among them –
12 October 2020
The National Party came under fire this year for its lack of diversity after it reshuffled its caucus several times following two leadership changes.
But one of its candidates Christopher Luxon, who is the former Air New Zealand CEO now running in Botany, has taken a bolder stance on the issue in contrast to what his party’s leaders have said this year….
Luxon is standing in the most diverse electorate in the country and he said while the party has a diverse range of experience and skill, diversity of representation matters a lot as well.
May 2 2021
National MPs admit the party’s “got some work to do” in terms of increasing diversity.
It comes after a review revealed on Wednesday highlighted the need for National to commit to diversity, with a stronger focus on Māori.
The election review panel recommended making Māori a priority area, and suggested they “develop a diversity plan” and “embed diversity across the party’s membership, caucus, candidate and Board”.
December 6 2021
The National Party has “got work to do” to better its ethnic diversity and gender representation, new leader Christopher Luxon says, following his caucus reshuffle.
Only two Māori and four women now sit on its 12-member front bench, while not a single MP in the 33-member caucus is of Pasifika descent. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who Luxon will face for the first time as National’s new leader on Tuesday, leads one of the most diverse caucuses in history.
But concerns about ethnic diversity don’t necessarily amount to concerns about all ethnicities. When Simon Bridges announced his retirement, he was asked about how he’d served Māori.
He quite rightly said he was MP for Tauranga, not a Māori seat, and he aimed to offer the best service to whoever walked in as a constituent. But he was proud to have been the first Māori leader of one of the two major parties.
Bridges was elected the party’s first Maori leader in 2018. His deputy leader was Paula Bennett who also is Maori.
The Labour Party has never elected a Maori leader.
But the headline on an article by political analyst Bryce Edwards raised a curious question.
Political Roundup: Who gets to decide if Simon Bridges is ‘Maori enough?’
There are legitimate and complex questions about the significance of this achievement, including how important it is for Maori voters and for advancing Maori interests, and what impact it might have on politics.
Unfortunately, much of the questioning so far has been along the lines of: How Maori is Simon Bridges really? Is he Maori enough?
I raised this on TVNZ’s Breakfast today, saying “There’s been a lot of people suggesting he’s not really a ‘proper’ Maori, questioning his Maori-ness and I think that won’t go down well with the public and I think it will backfire because it’s becoming increasingly unacceptable really to question whether someone is Maori or not”.
Fair to say, Edwards further noted that most of the questioning of Bridge’s Maori “authenticity” had taken place on social media, especially by some on the political left.
Paula Bennett was challenged three years ago for not being Maori enough, too.
National’s Paula Bennett says comments calling into question her Māori heritage were ‘racist’
The contretemps in her case was instigated by Labour’s Willie Jackson.
Yesterday, in a speech during Parliament’s general debate, Minister of Employment and Associate Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson took aim at the Māori members of the National Party and called them “useless”.
He outlined a few Māori who he said were “the good ones” but said that “the rest were useless”.
“Paula Bennett – well, she doesn’t know if she’s a Māori. Some days she does and some days she doesn’t. Dan Bidois – he needs to go back to Italy. And Jo Hayes – Jo wouldn’t have a clue,” Jackson said.
Bennett said those remarks “without a doubt” were racist.
“It’s kind of like saying if we’re not like you, and fully entrenched and able to speak the language, then in your mind, we’re lesser Māori – I don’t think that’s necessary,” she told media after question time.
“It’s Parliament, it can get pretty robust. But I think to be calling in if you like, whether we’re Māori enough is just really unnecessary.”
While the National Party grapples with its diversity challenge, the Greens have signalled what diversity means to them by changing their constitution to abandon its requirement for one male co-leader and one woman co-leader. The requirement now is one woman and one person of any gender, plus a requirement that one must be Māori.
Co-leader Marama Davidson this afternoon said they were pleased with the changes which focused on a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
“And proud that the party, the members, have voted in support of constitutional change which upholds Te Tiriti, which centres a framework on Te Tiriti, and far more inclusive representation including that leadership.
“The whole point though is about better representation, more inclusive expectations for leadership and upholding Te Tiriti.”
University of Auckland public policy lecturer Lara Greaves (Ngāti Kuri, Ngāpuhi) told Midday Report the move seemed like a logical next step for the party.
“This kind of just aligns with their values and the direction the party’s heading in.”
“I can see that this is a really important symbolic step for them to go in that direction of trying to pull more of the Māori vote … I can see they’re more moving in that ‘yes we are pro-Te Tiriti, we’re pro-co-governance, we’re pro-Māori’ direction.”
Greaves said it could also pave the way for a change in leadership, with suggestions someone like Chloe Swarbrick could be better in the role, and there had been disquiet about co-leader James Shaw not aligning so well with some of the party’s kaupapa.
Kiwiblog headed its report
David Farrar referenced a Herald report on the constitutional change:
The two co-leaders now need to constitute one woman, and one person of any gender (providing leadership pathways for non-binary and intersex). One co-leader also needs to be Māori.
It also means that Chloe Swarbrick can’t replace Marama Davidson as a co-leader as Chloe is not Maori. She could replace James though.
Farrar challenged a claim that politics had never provided a “level playing field” for Māori and Pasifika peoples, people of different genders, rainbow communities, and women.
21% of Parliament is Maori – much higher than their share of the adult population.
8% of Parliament is Pasifika – slightly higher than their 7% share of the adult population.
49% of Parliament is female, marginally below their 50.4% share of the adult population.
11% of Parliament is LGBT – much higher than their share of the adult population.
But for now, let’s wait and see what the Tauranga electorate makes of National’s candidate, team and programme.