By Mike Kay (Workers Party, Auckland, and editorial board of The Spark)
The meeting hall at Mahurehure Marae in Auckland was packed to overflowing with activists keen to hear Hone Harawira launch the new Mana Party yesterday. The first approximately 1 1/2 hours of the meeting consisted of pōwhiri and speeches in te reo Māori. The following account describes the speeches in English that followed.
The hui opened with CTU Vice-President Māori Syd Keepa plainly stating: “Māori are poor,” and went on to highlight the need to speak out for Māori and the working class. He was followed by Professor Margret Mutu, who described Harawira as the only Te Tai Tokerau MP to have helped Ngāti Kahu, having given support to the occupation of Maheatai/ Taipa Pt. She also praised his support for those arrested in the October 15, 2007 police raids, and spoke of the need for a party to “protect us from the worst excesses of the rabid racism of Parliament.”
John Minto commented that much of the audience resembled a reunion of the 30th anniversary of the anti-Springbock tour movement. He said that while other Māori Party MPs had “melted into the warm embrace of John Key and the National party,” Hone Harawira was “a really good rock to build a new party on.” Miriama Pitama raised the call for a “movement of resistance.” Speaking of Harawira’s former colleagues, she said that it was clear that “the people are not with the Māori Party.”
Veronica Tawhai said “the system is not designed for Māori. Rangatahi [youth] don’t vote, because they can’t see the point… we need someone who will stand up in Parliament and say: ‘we do not recognise the sovereignty of this whare over Māori lives.’”
Former Green MP Nandor Tanczos described the Labour/ National duopoly of NZ politics as a choice between “tweedledum and tweedledumber,” with the small parties functioning merely as “clip-ons”. He talked of the need to change the system itself, with Mana potentially opening up a “third space” for a coalition of radical Māori, green and left parties. He also struck a note of caution that “you can’t just build a movement around the leadership of one person.”
Tanczos said it would be a “tradgedy” if the Mana and Māori Parties went to war with each other, adding that the new party represented a diversification of representation for Māori, in the same way that you would not expect all pākehā to be represented by a single party.
Te Tai Tokerau Electorate Chair Lisa McNabb emphasised how poverty, increases to GST and the cost of living had impacted on communities in the Far North. Annette Sykes observed the shift in mood since the Canterbury earthquake from an initial feeling of collective responsibility to help those afflicted, which more recently has retreated to an individualistic reaction against the better off having to pay a larger share of the rebuild. Sykes lamented that this creeping individualism had also affected Kaupapa Māori, and that Māori needed to reassert their belief in the collective.
Sykes drew comparisons between Harawira and Michael Savage (who established the welfare state due to his “love of the nation”) and Norman Kirk (whose government was supported by Pat Hohepa and Matiu Rata). She talked of the need to reclaim Aotearoa from “foreign ownership and privatisation.”
Hone Harawira opened his speech by saying Mana would “reject the politics of fear - and reject the politics of compromise… we deserve better than weak and accommodating leadership.” He referenced both the 1835 Declaration of Independence as well as the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi as principles to be affirmed. He insisted that Te Reo should be in the hands of the people, not bureaucracies and government departments.
He denounced the government for “driving people into poverty and penalising them for being poor.” He also criticised spending such as “$36 million being wasted on this bloody yacht race in San Francisco,” saying the money would be better spent on “emergency heating in the poorest suburbs of Christchurch that have been forgotten.”
Harawira talked of the need to stop the sale of state assets and provide people with affordable food, shelter and power - “simple shit,” as he put it. He affirmed the right to a “decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work”, and the need to “overturn the 90 days slave labour law.” Addressing unionists who were “still stuck on Labour,” he reminded them that union membership went down over the period of the last Labour-led government.
Harawira proposed a 1% financial transactions tax, or “Hone Heke Tax”, that would “chop down GST.” He stated the most important aim of the movement was to “reclaim the mana of our people” - not just Māori, but workers and “our Pacific Island cousins, who continue to be brought over here as cheap labour to be exploited and sent home at the end of the season.” He announced his intention to call a by-election in Te Tai Tokerau, to seek a mandate for the Mana Party, so that he may return to Parliament as its first MP.
Matt McCarten wrapped up the hui by commenting that “the right wing had unfinished business from Rogenomics,” and that it was “the people in this room that will lead the fight against it,” concluding that “after 35 years of trying, for the first time I feel we’re finally getting it right.” He encouraged the audience to sign up with Mana so that it could become a registered party. When the meeting ended, they did so in droves.