Sunday April 12, 2009: Q+A's Paul Holmes interviews Minister of Maori Affairs, Dr Pita Sharples.
PAUL So the question for our purposes at this particular time to Dr Pita Sharples is the business of the Maori seats, the Royal Commission recommended three Maori seats guaranteed, the government says no, Dr Pita Sharples Minister of Maori Affairs is not happy with this, he's with me kia ora good morning.
DR PITA SHARPLES - Minister of Maori
Kia ora, tena koe.
PAUL Why should there be Maori seats guaranteed on the new Council?
PITA Well basically for Mana Whenua, because Mana Whenua as the people of this place Maori, invited Pakeha to come and live in Auckland and create a city.
PAUL No they didn't Pakeha just came.
PITA Oh they could have kicked them out mate, but they gave them land, they gave them the foreshore and seabed, they gave them resources, they gave them protection and they sacrificed a lot to allow this city to grow.
PAUL Pita this is all a very long time ago and I mean what does Mana Whenua really have to do with anything now, we're talking about the running of a modern major city.
PITA Well that's right and this is New Zealand modern city, and we have a treaty called the Treaty of Waitangi which talks about partnership and quite clearly Maori understand that they've fostered the growth of Auckland City&
PAUL But with respect nobody's saying there shouldn't be a partnership, there can always be a partnership&.
PITA Well partnership means you both sit at the top table, and you see Maori have allowed the growth of Auckland City at the top table, now that they're getting all powerful one super city goodbye Maori.
PAUL There's no protection to Pakeha being at the top table.
PITA Well there is there's this so-called democracy where the tyranny of the majority, Maoris don't get voted on to councils, that's clear, where are the Maori councillor in Waitakere City, Auckland City where are they not there.
PAUL Do they stand?
PITA They stand, icons, sports leaders, outspoken Maori, ex parliamentarians, and they get about 10% of the vote.
PAUL What about the other ethnicities in Auckland though, you're looking at Asian people comprising now 20% of Auckland.
PITA Good on them.
PAUL Pacific Island people comprising 14%, Maori only 11%, why not seats for the Asians and the Pacific Islanders.
PITA Well that's where you do have your advisory committees for those groups because that's what they are, they are groups that have come to this place chosen to live here, let them have a say by having an advisory committee but at the end of the day the top table will make all the decisions and that's why Maori have to be at the top table. Paul there's a big difference between Mana Whenua and people just arriving.
PAUL But you see, what Rodney Hide is saying I think, what the government is saying an increasingly New Zealand perhaps are saying is you're doing it for yourselves, you've now got a very effective and powerful Maori Party in parliament.
PITA Not without a struggle.
PAUL No but we have an African American elected President of the United States, times have changed, if Maori want to be at the top table get out and campaign.
PITA That's rubbish, Paul now that's rubbish with due respect. We get out and campaign but how can we afford the kind of campaign when you've got ten at large, councils at large, who's that gonna be, that's gonna be your middle class well off people that are gonna get in there and dominate the whole thing, that's why Mana Whenua have to be at the table, not for voting rights, but to have the conversation to put the point of view so that they learn just as the Maori Party puts a point of view in government in parliament. We're changing the way people are thinking in there by putting certain issues up as valid and that's why they're so important to be in that group.
PAUL I understand, but of course when you consider things from Mr Key and Mr Hide's point of view, it's possible they feel the public at large would not accept three guaranteed Maori seats, the public being of the view from time to time that Maori get the handouts, get given things too easy.
PITA Well where's those things, I don't see&.
PAUL They might feel that the public at large don't think there should be Maori seats, can you see their point of view.
PITA That's the tyranny of the majority once again, you know you're just satisfying the people without looking at - look democracy is outcomes not necessarily the process, and because voting leaves Mana Whenua out of the situation you've gotta have special representation to have a democratic panel sitting at the top table.
PAUL Alright who would they be, the Maori members on the council?
PITA Well I think Mana Whenua's a must, that would be a Tainui representative and certainly Ngati Whatua.
PAUL But how would they be decided?
PITA Oh the people would decide, we have our ways.
PAUL Mhm, not clear though is it, not clear.
PITA It's very clear, there's a big hui on Wednesday and the people will be meeting probably a thousand or so and they will make up their minds how they are going to press this case, it's my role as Minister of Maori Affairs to make sure government hears the representations of Maori people.
PAUL John Key says having a couple of Maori seats two or three Maori seats on the council would be tokenism, is that what you are in his government?
PITA Definitely not and I think they know that very clearly.
PAUL How can it not be tokenism having a couple of Maori party ministers and suddenly be tokenism when it comes to council.
PITA Because they will put the Maori view for this area very very clearly and it will be a learning experience for many of those councillors to understand the Maori dimension, cos a lot of people can go through life here without even meeting a Maori if you like, without even having to understand that there is a Treaty.
PITA Tell me did John Key or Mr Hide run this by you before they made the public announcement?
PITA Oh for sure look I was part of the group of ministers that received it, we all said we don't want this or someone doesn't want that, that's a good idea.
PAUL Did you make it clear you wanted those three Maori seats?
PITA Oh yes I wrote a letter and I also made a submission twice and I told them personally.
PAUL So have they disrespected you?
PITA No it's a question of we agreed to disagree and this is the battle.
PAUL You say you feel betrayed.
PITA Well in terms of Mana Whenua not being there of course, but in terms of the government no, that's my job is to argue the case for Maori against my colleagues&.
PAUL But you're arguing this one so passionately and yet at the same time you say the relationship with the National Party is stronger than it ever was, how can that be?
PITA It is, because we can fight in public like this, we can disagree in public and stand up for what he thinks he stands for, the Prime Minister and what I think our people want and we go to battle, in public.
PAUL Are you going to win?
PITA Even that's irrelevant, I'm here to represent the people's views and they will decide how we act and what we do and we'll go ahead with it, but at the end of the day I am representing their views and justice will takes its course.
PAUL So this issue is really a lot of steam and a lot of words and in the end you carry on if you don't win?
PITA Look the 90 day bill we voted against it, we fought against it, we didn't get it, we're still carrying on, there's gonna be wins and there's gonna be losses this is what you've heard from everybody this is what government is, you know deals, compromises and stuff like this, but you go for the greater good and that's why we're there, otherwise we wouldn't even be there, I don't want to be there, but the people said go there we need to do stuff, so we're there and we've got the Treaty it's all in the RMA, we've got a number of wins that we've managed to pull off this time, we had a summit, economic summit, and we've had a crime summit and we've got some projects out there working with a Maori kaupapa behind it, so you know things are good.
PAUL So this particular issue of guaranteed Maori seats on Auckland council is not a deal breaker at a national level.
PITA At this point it certainly isn't and you know I stand on that the Prime Minister knows exactly where I am, and I said I'm gonna flak this, he said you have to, so he understands my position as being a champion in that House on behalf of Maori people.
PAUL But why won't he put the three Maori seats in there?
PITA Well he's gotta have his view - so he puts mine in and he wipes out the rest of the supporters on the other side, his other ministers, it's a pretty hard ask isn't it, but it's a good idea.
PAUL Well that's right, I mean you don't want to break your deal because you've got a review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act coming up having you, is that the greater good?
PITA Well it's not even about that. Yeah this is part of being in parliament that we've got the review of the Foreshore and Seabed this is a deal that we've managed to get and we're gonna go through with that.
PAUL Do you trust John Key?
PITA Yes I do we have a very good arrangement and it was one entered into with Whata Winiata as our President, John Key and Bill English and it's really very very clear the grounds that we're working in.
PAUL Do you expect the government to change its mind on the Maori seats on council?
PITA There is that possibility and I think it's up to our people to find a creative way of making that point that Mana Whenua need to be represented on that top table.
PAUL What about Mr Hide, do you trust Rodney Hide?
PITA Rodney I've got to know over the last three years, we've had a relationship, the thing about Rodney he's straight up and you know where you stand with him.
PAUL Suddenly it seems that you get some real power and the first big test comes along and you're ignored.
PITA This is not the first big test, we've had a lot of big tests and we've won a lot of those things, this is just another one, and we may lose this one, we may win this one, but we've gotta stay in there for the good of Maori gains. Look a gain for Maori is a gain for New Zealand let's be clear about that, that's why we're there.
PAUL And what if the public say to you, we've gone beyond guaranteeing Maori seats on representative bodies. If you want to be on the council if you want to be at the top table go out and campaign there's 160,000 in Auckland.
PITA Look if that's how it ends up Maori will campaign and if we get Maori on there I'll eat a lunch that you buy.
PAUL It'll be my pleasure.
PITA Kia ora.
PAUL Dr Pita Sharples thank you very much for your time.