By Frank Noakes
AUCKLAND — Matiu Rata, leader of the Maori party Mana Motuhake, has an infectious enthusiasm. A candidate for the Alliance, of which his party is a constituent member, Rata is no newcomer to politics: a minister for Maori affairs in the Labour government of 1972-75, he resigned from Labour in 1979, deciding Maori interests could best be served from outside that party, and helped to establish Mana Motuhake.
"Against the might of the two major parties [National and Labour], in a system that simply would not yield, it was clear we weren't going to make it. And the crisis facing New Zealand — unemployment, health, education, to name but a few — was of such magnitude that it requires unprecedented political action", he told Green Left Weekly.
"The Alliance was formed primarily at the behest of Mana Motuhake, by applying Maori philosophies, by arguing that the interest of all is far greater than our separate agendas, particularly at times like this when we need to harness the energies. We had to rise above the pettiness of party politics and drive home the crisis that New Zealand faces, and in particular the case of Maori groups who are getting a thrashing from government policies."
Rata notes that the Alliance receives "reasonable support" from the Maori community. But what are Maoris' main concerns, and how is the Alliance responding to these?
"For the vast majority, they are simply jobs, or the lack of them, education, health, the ability to house themselves and self-development. They have been part of the Maori world for over a century now, but it's become more intense." Things have deteriorated for Maoris from the early '70s, Rata says.
"The Alliance is totally committed to the idea of self-development, of the right to self-governing. I'm not talking about separate parliaments or institutions of that kind: one is enough.
"But we do need a capacity to deliver, or for parliament to delegate what I call self-determination, or self-reliance. That principle is not a desire to separate ourselves from the rest of New Zealand. It is a treaty commitment in the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, where the crown is obligated to ensure that the inherent right, the independent right of the Maori is not lost, but is given effect to."
Some people mistake the Maori desire for self-determination for racism in reverse. Separatism is the last thing Rata wants, he insists. Rather he points to the United Kingdom, where Scotland and Wales have a limited degree of autonomy. "Now that is the concept which in fact I believe the Treaty was meant to express. For those reasons we're now pursuing those before the Waitangi Tribunal, and in a way that allows us to share the responsibility ourselves."
All past efforts of government with regard to Maori have failed because of the "lack of direct personal involvement of Maori people in the major policies that affect them. Nobody has bothered to ask them."
The Alliance has a very different approach. Its policy on Maori advancement commits it, says Rata, to introduce legislation to establish elected regional councils to promote the social, economic and cultural advancement of the Maori people.