Whanau Ora could provide Labour opportunity over National

by Jake Quinn

The only hit National really took in the polls last year, if you could even call it a hit, was a mixture of some bikey and ACC backlash mixed with the suspicion over concessions to the Māori Party around the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Worse for National, it created a deeper story that Labour could begin to tell:  Enter Goff’s Nationhood speech, which while derided by some on the liberal left as dog-whistle politics, succeeded in consolidating the meme that National was ‘in bed’ with the Māori elite (the big forest owners of Ngai Tahu in this case).  This meme continued to slow cook over the summer months and could boil into action later in the year.

This year will see the Māori Party trying to progress its Whanau Ora policy platform which could see Vote money from Health, Education, Welfare and Justice, flow directly to Māori providers (the Whanau Ora Taskforce is about to complete its cycle of report backs to Ministers).

Ms Turia, in June last year called it “the way forward to achieving a future where whanau determine what is in their best interests.” So it will be very interesting to see what actually comes out the process.

What it could mean for Māori wishing to continue to use the services of the ‘mainstream’ public hospitals, schools, courts, prisons, etc I’m not sure.  After all, we can’t carve off 10-15% of a department’s budget, give it to some other provider and then continue to offer the same public service on less money, should 10-15% of the population choose not to head off to the new provider.

Intellectually, Labour should have no problem opposing the large-scale devolution of public funds to what may essentially be private providers, who may or may not be as accountable to Ministers as their competition, we shall see.  Labour after all is the party of a large and centrally controlled state sector.

So when the Whanau Ora legislation hits Parliament for debate, if it ever gets that far, you might well expect Labour to oppose it, and in doing so they wouldn’t be engaging in opportunistic dog-whistle politics, but staying true to the party’s principles.

The flip side though is that if Labour goes on the attack over Whanau Ora (and National’s support of it), the same accusations that were laid after Goff’s Nationhood speech will again rear their ugly heads. Can, or will, Labour handle that fallout?  My bet is they will.