The 2023 Election in Retrospect
THE 2023 ELECTION IN RETROSPECT
Our finally completed election results need to be viewed on several levels. On the surface, the change of government was caused because Jacinda Ardern's and Chris Hipkins' Labour ministries were weak in personnel and unable to extract even respectable performance from the current feeble bureaucracy when dealing with bread and butter issues. Early in the Covid pandemic the ministry splashed money about, contributing to inflation which Kiwis suffered from disproportionately through the world-wide lift in mortgage rates. Ministers failed to deliver on new housing but overall house prices still subsided when immigration briefly contracted. Educational standards slid for some years prior to 2017 but went into free fall when Hipkins was minister. Constant chaotic restructuring of the health services produced no discernible improvement in services, and none is yet in sight. There were never-ending cost over-runs with infrastructure. Nothing changed for the better when Hipkins became PM early this year. His ministry partially collapsed on him, leaving voters increasingly convinced that the whole government needed to be laid to rest. At the 2023 election Labour secured barely half the portion of the total vote of three years earlier.
Dig a little deeper and it becomes obvious that more serious cultural issues were bubbling below the surface contributing to Labour's poor performance at the polls, particularly in Auckland where Labour's heartland deserted it. For example, most of the area covered by the current electorate of New Lynn first voted for Labour in a by-election in 1926 and stuck with the party through thick and thin until the hapless Deborah Russell lost it. Mt Albert, first formed for the 1946 election, stood staunchly by Labour until 14 October when a terminally bewildered Helen White saw the majority drop from 21,000 to 20.
What is now obvious is that Labour lost touch with its electors. As late as 1990 when I retired from Parliament my Labour supporters were mainly, but not entirely, working folk, skilled and unskilled workers, public servants, especially teachers, and a smattering of ideologues who supported Labour's nuclear-free stance and its opposition to any form of racism. A majority of the large number of Maori in the electorate were on the general roll as were the growing numbers of Pacific Islanders. Accelerating numbers of Asian immigrants from China, along with Indians, many of them initially refugees from Fiji following the 1987 coups, became firm supporters. Overwhelmingly, they wanted to work as they sought to get ahead in their new country.
But a counter movement was underway. After 1974 the Domestic Purposes Benefit emerged as an alternative to a working career for many young women. By 2006, 113,000 DPBs were being paid. Coupled with Unemployment and "Job seeker" benefits, more than 10% of the country's potential work force are now getting paid to do little or nothing. In 2023 more than 40% of them identify as Maori. The growing number of Waitangi Tribunal settlements with iwi saw few of them let the money out of tribal leaders' control. The Maori aristocracy, with only a few exceptions like Ngai Tahu, accept little or no responsibility for their followers.
However, over the last twenty years the tribal elites began inventing arguments that under the Treaty of Waitangi Maori were entitled to more and more from the taxpayer. A growth industry in Treaty fiction emerged. Before long, a 1987 Court declaration that the Treaty of Waitangi was "something akin to a partnership" between Maori and the Crown developed into a call for a 50-50 split in governance over all resources, despite Maori numbering barely 17% of the population. There was no notion amongst the noisy elites that they might encourage their followers to acquire skills. It's all been a one-way street. Tribal governance by its very nature is undemocratic. And as all governments have learned to their cost, when privileges and cash are being distributed, there is a supply and demand problem: demand outstrips the taxpayers' capacity to supply.
The Ardern-Hipkins government with its big numbers of Maori in the Labour caucus bought into the tribal elites' argument that special assistance, to be enjoyed by no other ethnicity, should be delivered to Maori. Nania Mahuta was allowed to embark on her Three Waters scheme, intended eventually to deliver control over all water to Maori. In the health sector where it was obvious to everyone that Maori were less careful with their lifestyles than others, and showed fewer signs of giving up smoking, or eating more carefully, or properly parenting their children, a new separately funded health structure was put in place to try to ensure Maori lived longer. There was nothing stopping them from taking greater care of themselves, or making sure that their children received the multiple services already available to them like childhood vaccinations and free GP visits.
This is where another layer of the 2023 election results becomes understandable: the surge in the Maori Party's and the Greens' seats. As I said, no government promising special privileges for any group can ever fulfil expectations. The Maori Party, with support from the socialist Greens who only have one real environmentalist left amongst them - James Shaw - has kept on pushing for more privileges for Maori. Some of them, like Marama Davidson and John Tamihere, are now threatening violence if Christopher Luxon's new government does what has to be done if we are to survive as a multicultural liberal democracy: stopping special favours on the basis of race. Christopher Luxon has one hell of a challenge ahead of him! But it has to happen, despite the threats.
Between 2017 and 2023 Labour's caucus failed to realise that privileges for Maori were seen by the newer immigrants to New Zealand as penalising them. The same for fourth and fifth generation Pakeha. As more and more of the tribal elites strutted around with tattoos and mokos, demanding additional Treaty "entitlements", and Labour tried to find ways to satisfy them, first the Chinese, then the others, and finally the Indians, all of whom who had come to New Zealand to work, and to get ahead, joined other Kiwis resenting this racially-charged largesse to the many who were work shy. When Kelvin Davis set about emptying large numbers (disproportionately Maori) out of prisons, and Chris Hipkins presided over an educational system where on any school day six out of ten Maori kids were truanting, an underclass of out-of-control Maori youngsters joined gangs, converted cars, and ram-raided shops, many owned by Indians. It's all been out there for everyone to see. Not surprisingly, the new immigrants who dominate in many of Auckland's formerly hard-core Labour seats turned against Labour. The only people who couldn't work this out were Labour's MPs! When will some kind of awakening take place? Until it does, Labour is doomed to remain in opposition. Even more, given that it has very few seats left in the North Island, it needs to remember my old professor Robert Chapman's dictum that the South Island historically has been the graveyard of dying parties.