Since Chris Hipkins took the helm of a Labour-led government, he’s stopped using the words “co-governance”, has put He Puapua on hold, and re-jigged the divisive Three Waters policy.
Moana Maniapoto sat down with the prime minister recently, and asked if he’s committed to the things that matter most to te ao Māori. This is an edited version of their kōrero, which screened on this week’s Te Ao with Moana.
As we head into the election, Te Tiriti becomes an easy sort of lightning rod. Why do you think that Māori need to participate and have more meaningful influence over decision-making?
Well, I think we should be proud of Te Tiriti. It was a bold and visionary exercise to try and share New Zealand amongst those who were living here in a way that was peaceful. Now, across the course of our history since then, that hasn’t always been honoured — and we should recognise that. And we should continue to recognise the ongoing effects that that has day-to-day now, for many of our Māori communities. We do have a responsibility to do something about that.
I think some of the debate here is really divisive and unnecessary. Co-governance is nothing to be scared of. There are co-governance arrangements in place all over the country. Many of them put in place by the last National government as part of the Treaty settlements process supported unanimously across the parliament.
I think that there is an unfortunate sort of baiting that’s going on at the moment that isn’t going to take us forward as a country. It’s using Māori as a political punching bag. I hate that style of politics. I think that political leaders should focus on bringing people together. I understand the suspicion amongst some non-Māori New Zealanders . . .
What is the problem? Why are they fearful?
That fearfulness is: if Māori are getting something, does that mean that they’re missing out? My answer to that is no, it doesn’t mean that.
But I’d think that political leaders have a responsibility to make sure they understand that by lifting up our Māori communities, by making sure that they’re more involved in decisions, by making sure that we’re dealing with the past grievances, we’re levelling the playing field.
And when we say levelling the playing field, we’re not just talking about today, we’re talking about all of the historical things that go with that. That’s actually going to make New Zealand a stronger country for everybody. And so I don’t think non-Māori New Zealanders have anything to fear from that.
So what can the government do to reduce that fear?
I’ve certainly reflected critically on this in the few months that I’ve been in this job. We do need to take more time to explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. So when we establish the Māori Health Authority, for example, taking time to explain to non-Māori New Zealanders that this isn’t separatism, this isn’t something that they should be scared of.
This is about saying that the health system has systemically under-delivered for Māori communities for a long, long time. And we are proactively doing something about that that’s going to be good for non-Māori New Zealanders. They shouldn’t be scared of that.
In the end, you supported the 50-50 co-governance arrangement pushed by Māori MPs for Three Waters. Why was that?
Whatever language you use, whether you call it co-governance or something else . . . this is one of the frustrations about the phrase co-governance. It means different things in a different context. This co-governance arrangement is very different to co-governance arrangements for other natural resources. So, I think the phrase itself, in the context of water reform, hasn’t actually been all that useful.
Have you stopped using that phrase?
I’ve stopped using the terms “co-governance” and “Three Waters”, because I actually think that they just became a kind of a lightning rod, and people who were most concerned about them, in many cases, didn’t understand what we were talking about when we were talking about those things.
So I think talking about the fact that our water infrastructure isn’t fit for purpose. We’ve got pipes that leak, we’ve got many places you can’t turn the tap on and drink the water that comes out of the tap without the risk of getting sick. We shouldn’t have that in New Zealand. We’ve got to do something about that. Our stormwater needs significant work. Aucklanders certainly understood that earlier in the year when all of that flooding happened.
We’ve got to take this seriously and it’s going to be billions and billions of dollars that it’s going to cost us to do that. So we’ve got to look at how we can best do that. And we’ve got to bring communities with us.
That means we need models for how we run our water infrastructure that involves communities in the decisions that affect them, including Māori. And I don’t think we should resile from that.
It was the Māori involvement though that some people had a meltdown over, wasn’t it?
It was, and I think that that was really unfortunate. And I think that, frankly, that was being used by a group of people who are more interested in creating a division to further their political agenda than they are [with] trying to seek solutions to the problems that we face.
You’ve been accused of throwing out policies — the media merger, He Puapua, to name a couple. Is this on principle or is it pragmatic? Why is that happening?
The reprioritisation that I’ve been doing since I became prime minister is based on the fact that I recognise we can’t do everything all at once. And if we try and do everything all at once, we’re not going to be very successful in doing that. So, we’ve had to say, okay, what are the most pressing priorities right now? And what are the things that we can really make a difference on right now? And let’s focus our time and energy into those things so that Kiwis will see the difference that we’re making. If we tried doing everything all at once, we are not going to succeed.
And I think our agenda has grown over the time that we’ve been in government. We’ve had natural disasters, we’ve had a global pandemic, we’ve had, globally, war, economic disruption. We’ve had a war in Ukraine. We didn’t get to control those things, but they have resulted in our government’s work programme expanding day by day. And, at some point, I think you do have to take stock and say: We can’t do all of this all at once, so let’s make sure we’re prioritising it.
And there’s big existential things that need to be dealt with as well as the immediate stuff, isn’t there?
Oh, absolutely. Climate change is this massive intergenerational challenge, and we have to deal with it here and now, and we’ve also got to deal with it for the future. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re mitigating climate change, we’re reducing our emissions, we’re doing things that will stop it getting worse, while also recognising that more extreme weather is going to be with us and we’re going to have to be prepared for it. We’re going to have to be adapting so that we can be more resilient when these things happen.
Jacinda Ardern stood for kindness. What would you say you stand for?
Opportunity. I want to make sure that everybody in New Zealand has the opportunity to fulfil their full potential. If they want to found a business and make a success of that, if they want to become a tradesperson and make a success of that — whatever it is that people want to do with their lives, I want them to have opportunities so that they can feel like they’re getting ahead, they’re working hard, they’re achieving things for themselves and for their families.
We know there’s not actually a level playing field and all people aren’t equal. There are equity issues. What is one thing that you would do to honour Te Tiriti and raise the opportunity for Māori?
I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done during the time that I was Minister of Education to make sure we’ve got an education system that’s more responsive to Māori. Our work there is not done yet. And I really do think that that’s a really important part of levelling the playing field for Māori so that they can unlock those opportunities that other New Zealanders have been able to take for granted over a long period of time.
The fact that we’ve delivered such inequitable educational outcomes for Māori kids isn’t okay. I think we’re making strides. We’re making progress. We’ve got to keep our foot to the accelerator here, though. There’s no opportunity for us to stop and rest. We’ve got to keep going.
This is an edited version of a kōrero between Moana Maniapoto and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, which screened on this week’s Te Ao with Moana.
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