John Armstrong: Any Labour celebrations over Maori Party's exit from Parliament will be muted

Talk about guilt-tripping someone something awful.

Tamati Coffey does not deserve to be tagged as the politician who "killed" the Maori Party.

Sure, the former broadcaster was the Labour candidate who by defeating Te Ururoa Flavell in the latter's Waiariki wrenched the Maori Party's hands off the sole Maori seat remaining in its grasp.

In doing so, Coffey removed the minor party's last lifeline to Parliament, thus bringing the Maori Party's 13-year stint in the corridors of power to an end.

And isn't Labour grateful for that. Any celebrations will be muted, however. And not solely because the major Opposition party is now focused on little else but ensuring it is not going to be the major Opposition party for yet another three years.

Given the dignified and humble manner that Flavell displayed in announcing his retirement from politics following Saturday's election, dancing a jig on the Maori Party's coffin would be grotesque, however tempting.

As the Maori Party co-leader arrived to give his speech, supporters broke out in a haka. Source: 1 NEWS

Moreover, while the Maori Party has spent the past nine years camped alongside National, there is considerable respect for Flavell and company on the left of the political spectrum. 

Many voters who leaned Labour's way last Saturday would have preferred that the Maori Party had survived as a force in Parliament even though the force that a party with just one or two MPs can exert on a ruling party with close to 60 MPs is minimal to say the least.

Flavell's loss of his seat surprised many. It should not have done so. There were indications the Maori Party's co-leader was in danger of defeat long before Jacinda Ardern's elevation to the leadership of Labour which saw a red tide sweep all before it.

The leaked findings of a poll conducted by Labour shortly before that game-changer had Flavell on 31.6 per cent with Coffey breathing down his neck on 30.1 per cent.

Labour MP Tamati Coffey faces the media on his first day at Parliament after being elected in the Waiariki electorate. Source: 1 NEWS

Things became very confused, however, after a Maori Television poll taken in the seat just two weeks prior to Election Day suggested there might be a good deal of strategic voting in Waiariki with Flavell cruising to a very easy victory in the electorate race, while Labour would enjoy a healthy boost in its share of the party vote.

It was not to be. Coffey picked up around 53 per cent of the electorate vote, leaving Flavell trailing on 45 per cent.

Suddenly, it was Groundhog Day. The Maori Party had joined a long list of other "independent Maori voices" - MANA, Mana Motuhake, Mauri Pacific and New Zealand First's "tight five" - swept aside by Maori voters rushing back to Labour.

Smarting from her ejection from Parliament, Marama Fox, the Maori Party's other co-leader, likened the return en masse to the Labour "mothership" as akin to that of "a beaten wife to the abuser who has abused our people over and over again".

Her outburst failed to answer the two big questions arising from Flavell's defeat: why did the Maori Party end up joining the above list, and, why does history keep repeating itself?

The story of MMP politics in New Zealand is a story of the massacre of minor parties. In the five general elections fought by the Maori Party, its share of the party vote has never got close to even a measly 3 per cent. On its debut in 2005, the party captured four of the Maori seats. That number had fallen to just one seat after the 2014 election. 

The obvious crisis did not result in any change in the party's strategy which was built on the notion that you can only achieve things by being party to government even if that flouts the principles upon which your party is constructed.

That is arguable. What cannot be questioned is that the Maori Party suffered major collateral damage in the last parliamentary term from National's slow and half-hearted response to skyrocketing poverty numbers and the public's perception of an ever widening chasm between rich and poor.

It goes without saying that Maori dominate the rough end of statistics measuring the levels of social deprivation and homelessness. Contrary to Fox's assertion, the flood of votes back to Labour was the height of rationality.

Something else was also very different. The Maori Party had enjoyed the good fortune of fighting four of the aforesaid five elections when its enemy was in a shambolic condition.

That was not going to last forever. From the instant Ardern took control, the heavyweight Labour machine started fighting its foes rather than itself.  

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said voting for Maori Labour candidates was a pointless exercise because they’ll now likely be in opposition. Source: Q+A

Flavell was history. Even an electoral pact with Hone Harawira which saw the latter's MANA party not stand a candidate in Waiariki in order to avoid splitting the anti-Labour vote proved to be hopelessly ineffective in blocking Coffey's march to victory.

There may be other, less obvious reasons why Maori voters deserted to Labour in such high numbers.

That is partly down to their being little in the way of alternatives. National does not stand candidates in the Maori seats. New Zealand First's wish to abolish them is hardly an incentive to vote for that party.

Or is it? Labour's near monopoly on the Maori seats over the past seven decades or so has had the effect of limiting Maori political power.

Or so argued the royal commission which recommended the change in the electoral system to MMP.

It wanted the Maori seats to be axed. It saw them as a political ghetto fenced off from the rest of the political system. 

In return for their removal, the 5 per cent threshold would have been waived for parties "primarily" representing Maori interests. 

All voters would have been on one single roll thus forcing all parties to compete for the Maori vote and develop policies accordingly.

Such thinking would be anathema to the likes of Dame Tariana Turia who argues that mainstream parties do nothing for Maori and that Maori need to be in control of their destiny.

When the means to that end can barely muster 1 per cent of the vote and is slaughtered in every one of the seven seats which it has some expectations of winning, it is time to pause for some very serious thought about finding an escape route from that predicament.

First time candidate Tamati Coffey has won the electorate of Waiariki for Labour, beating out Te Ururoa Flavell. Source: 1 NEWS



Mum distraught as son turned away from Hutt Valley High School because he didn't have permanent address

Being homeless has become an obstacle for one mother wanting to give her child an education.

Helen Taitapanui and her son were turned away from Hutt Valley High School last week because they don't have a permanent residential address.

Ms Taitapanui, is currently battling cancer and lives in a motel with her teenage son while they wait for a permanent home.

"We've got to be glad that we've got that when we know that a lot of our families are out there living in cars," Ms Taitapanui told 1 NEWS.

However, this was a problem when she tried to enrol her son at a local school.

"The response was it's against their policy to register children living out of a motel. you had to have a residential address," Ms Taitapanui said.

She complained to the Ministry of Education and shortly after Hutt Valley High School reversed its decision.

Ms Taitapanui says her son's excited about going back to school.

"I know once he steps back into the realm of education he'll be well and truly away."

She hopes by speaking out, another unnecessary obstacle will be removed for the homeless.

Being homeless threw up an unexpected obstacle for a mum wanting to educate her child. Source: 1 NEWS


More chlorination likely with water services set to be centralised

The Government is set to strip councils of their power over water following Havelock North's 2016 gastro crisis which was a wake up call for the country.  

Speaking to Water New Zealand's conference today, the Local Government Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, gave her strongest hint yet of change. 

Havelock North's gastro outbreak prompted a review of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater nationwide.

The estimated cost of ensuring drinking water is safe is $500 million, and to fix water infrastructure, at least $2 billion. 

"The Government doesn't have a bottomless pit of money to throw at this," Ms Mahuta said.

But water won't be privatised. Instead, services are likely to be moved into a national water regulator and responsibility for water service stripped from the 67 councils and handed to a small number of entities.

Water NZ chief executive John Pfahlert said that would mean "you get better quality water and it doesn't cost as much to provide". 

But change for the water industry is unlikely to be without controversy.

Any change is likely to see authority over water taken away from local councils, and Local Government New Zealand will not be happy about that.

"We would have issues if it was compulsory because we believe bigger is not always better. New Zealand is incredibly diverse from the Far North to the Deep South," said Stuart Crosbie of Local Government NZ. 

Twenty per cent of drinking water is unsafe - so a national agency is likely to mean more chlorination.

"It's there for a good public health reason. So it'll take time for the communities like Christchurch and Geraldine and other parts of New Zealand which have traditionally not had treated water, to get their head around that," Mr Pfahlert said.

Back in Hawke's Bay, the health board is studying the long-term impacts of the campylobacter outbreak.

John Buckley's family believe he could be the fifth victim of Havelock North's gastro outbreak.

The 78-year-old died three weeks ago of a stroke, but prior to the crisis, they say he'd been healthy.

"He's spent a lot of time in hospital. He's had a lot of unexpected surgeries and bleeds and heart problems, kidney problems, all due to the campylobacter," said Kat Sheridan, Mr Buckley's daughter.

Ms Sheridan says the family wishes, "you can turn your tap on again and trustfully drink the water. Surely that's all we want".

Before any changes can happen Cabinet will need to approve the recommendations made in the review of water management. 

It comes after Havelock North's gastro crisis was a wake-up call for New Zealand. Source: 1 NEWS

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Massey University's Vice Chancellor faces reprimand from colleagues over handling of Don Brash debate debacle

Massey University’s Vice Chancellor is facing reprimand from her colleagues over her handling of the Don Brash debate debacle.

At the October meeting of the Massey University Academic Board, two motions to censure Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas will be debated, after she banned Don Brash from speaking on campus.

They relate to her decision to cancel the Don Brash event, and for the process of decision making revealed in today’s Official Information Act (OIA) release.

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas and Don Brash Source: rnz.co.nz

"I think it’s safe to say there's a proportion of staff who aren't happy with how things have proceeded," Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, Chris Gallivan told Newstalk ZB.

If the motions are passed, they won’t have much more effect than to register staff's disapproval of the way Prof Thomas handled the affair.

"The University Council is the Vice Chancellor's boss. It will be for the University Council to deal with this as they so wish, it’s not up to the Academic Board," Prof Gallivan says.

The University Council has been approached for comment by 1 NEWS.

But the former National Party leader is calling on the university's Vice Chancellor to resign. Source: 1 NEWS


Versions of synthetic cannabis in New Zealand up to 10 times stronger than strain that saw US 'zombie outbreak'

Experts are warning there are deadlier versions of synthetic cannabis available in New Zealand which are much more potent than the one which caused the so-called zombie outbreaks in the US.

The Government's been told two deadly types of synthetic cannabis are so potent they should be classified as class A drugs.

One of these drugs has been linked to a well-known case that rocked the United States in 2016.

"The concentrations we're seeing in New Zealand are much more potent than what we saw in the Zombie outbreak in New York," Health Minister David Clark says.

In some instances, the drugs found here were 10 times stronger.

The news comes after synthetic cannabis was linked to the deaths of at least 45 people since June 2017.

"I don't think we ever anticipated we'd get new synthetic drugs that would lead to so much harm," Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told 1 NEWS.

Synthetic cannabis is already illegal - but the maximum punishment for dealers is two years in prison.

Making synthetic cannabis a class A drug would put it alongside methamphetamine, cocaine, magic mushrooms and lsd.

This would mean the police would have more power and the penalties would be significantly tougher for dealers and users.

The Government says it will make a decision on synthetic drugs in the coming weeks.

They're calling for the drug to be classified as Class A – the most harmful and dangerous. Source: 1 NEWS