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May 22, 2017 | by  | in Politics |
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Political Round Up

Labour and Māori

Recently there has been criticism and counter-criticism over Labour’s relationship with Māori voters. Electorate seats, education, prison rates, and historic land disputes are all issues dogging Labour in what looks to become one of the major themes in their run up to the 2017 election.

At the centre of the discussion is the decision by Labour’s Māori electorate MPs to remove themselves from list positions and stand solely for Māori seats. Some have criticised this decision, pointing to the fact that there are now no Māori candidates in Labour’s top 15, and Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell went so far as to suggest the MPs were “whipped” by Andrew Little.

However, this has been disputed by the MPs themselves. MP Kelvin Davis was quick to defend the choice, arguing that, on current polling, there would be 12 Māori MPs in the Labour caucus after the election: “We’re going to have double figures of Māori — this is going to be history-making.”

Additionally, there has been debate over the inclusion of broadcaster Willie Jackson on Labour’s party list; with proponents pointing to his work with the Māori organisations like the Manukau Urban Māori Authority, while opponents pointed to his involvement in the 2014 Roast Busters scandal. Jackson was placed at 21 on the Labour list, a placement he disapproved of so intensely he flew to Wellington to voice his anger in person.

Labour’s negative position on charter schools was also in the spotlight recently, with their stance being called into question since the inclusion of Jackson, who was the driving force behind the charter school Te Kura Māori o Waatea.

Finally, Labour MP Kelvin Davis split critics last week with a proposal to turn the existing Ngawha prison in Northland into one run on kaupapa Māori values. With support from the Māori Party, but criticism from National MPs like Paula Bennett, Little emphasised that the idea was simply a proposal, not a confirmed policy.

These issues are made even more pertinent with Helen Clark confidently declaring to RNZ on May 5 that she did not regret her handling of the foreshore and seabed issue, saying her actions had “stood the test of time” and she would do nothing differently given the advice she had.

Political commentator Matthew Hooton tweeted on May 12 that only “dumb and docile” Māori would vote for Labour. However many were quick to come to Labour’s defence, with one Wellington Twitter user describing Hooten as “the closest thing NZ twitter has to that one racist uncle who gets rat-faced on eggnog and shits himself at Christmas lunch.”

Mental Health

The increasingly focus on mental health in New Zealand over the last couple of weeks has culminated with the resignation of comedian and mental health campaigner Mike King from the NZ Suicide Prevention External Advisory Panel. Last week The Spinoff published King’s damning resignation letter, in which he described the panel’s draft proposal as “deeply flawed, and being conducted in bad faith,” adding “it would be funny if people weren’t dying.”

The resignation follows Action Station releasing their People’s Mental Health Report on April 19, a story-based inquiry into 500 people’s experiences with the New Zealand mental health system.

The report called on the government to increase funding for the mental health sector and expand access to relevant education, as well as adding to recent pressure for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into mental health services. This was followed by a supporting petition of 12,000 signatures.

The report and petition bring attention back to a January report on mental health services in Wellington, which criticised a lack of essential psychiatric attention in a series of cases which resulted in patient deaths. At the time, Mental Health Foundation Chief Executive Shaun Robinson emphasised that these issues were present across the entire country.

Reaction from the halls of power has been mixed. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has dismissed the issue, claiming Action Station is “left wing” and “anti-government.” However, United Future leader Peter Dunne has optimistically promised to “have a chat” with Coleman.

Labour’s Andrew Little spoke at a Health Care Summit held by Parliament on May 11 to promise a $43 million boost to mental health services through a rollout of specialist teams throughout the country. Coleman criticised this plan as being poorly thought-out, citing its lack of specificity in regard to where these teams and resources would be sourced from.

The Health Minister has walked a thin line throughout the discussions, emphasising that National values mental health as an important issue that it seeks to improve, while at the same time playing down the problem. Coleman admitted the rise of demand for mental health services, but also framed the issue as one of people not reaching out to “generally high quality” existing services.

Reaction on King’s resignation was muted, with Bill English saying he was not surprised.

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