The Phil Goff Labour party has slowly been taking shape in recent weeks. Today it veers in an unwelcome new direction, playing the race card

For the Labour Party, the past year has been something like a grieving process. They've gone through various stages of political letting go. At first they copped flak for being in denial and acting as if they still had a right to rule. Then, wisely, they went into themselves and have spent some months re-imaging themselves.

Phil Goff has repeatedly said that this year polls meant nothing, and he had a point. No-one was listening to Labour, it was time to look within and rebuild.

But inch by inch, in the past few weeks, Labour seems to have been casting off its mourning clothes and stepping back out into polite company. We have seen the first signs of the Phil Goff Labour party.

After the year, Goff's Labour has felt able to distance itself from Clark's Labour and the hangover of past governments. The government reports, decisions and outcomes now all belong to National, not to the previous Labour-led lot.

There was the ACC issue and the bikers' levy, and Phil the motorbike guy stepped forward. It was macho and most un-Clark-like. Then we saw Phil the economist, suggesting reform to the Reserve Bank Act, which, while there were no solutions offered, pointed to a broader act that focused our Reserve Bank not just on inflation but on growth and employment as well.

Today, however, Goff's Labour takes it's biggest risk so far. As I write, the Labour leader is due to give a speech in Palmerston North attacking the government's reforms to the emissions trading scheme (ETS) and the deals done with the Maori Party.

It's a speech that aims both barrels at the way the ETS moves the cost of pollution from big emitters to "Kiwi families". Goff says, "It is loading every hardworking family with a bill of $92,000 in today’s dollars". And he's right.

There are some brilliant points in the speech, with Goff shaking his fists at subsidies for polluters and iwi and demanding a fair go for our grandchildren.

But the media coverage of the speech, and its underlying point, is not New Zealand's potential as a clean-tech leader and its environmental obligations to future generations. Sadly, the speech deals heavily in racial politics.

The third part of the new Labour party revealed in recent weeks has been Goff's willingness to go after Hone Harawira and his offensive emails and ill-judged trip to Paris. Labour wants to take on the Maori Party in the Maori seats, and the Maori Party is looking fragile, so Labour's looking for a way to drive a wedge into the Maori Party and its relationship with National. Labour's talk of "Maori elites" benefiting from the ETS at the expense of ordinary Maori is a classic wedge tactic.

Obviously the Labour strategists feel they're getting somewhere, because today's speech goes further. And it's a dangerous approach that has the air of dog whistle racism.

Goff goes to great lengths in the speech to talk of reconciliation and healing between Maori and Pakeha and stresses the importance of Treaty settlements. All good. But he also re-ignite the anger around the Harawira debate, talks of "shabby deals" and, scaremongering, says that National is undermining the full and final nature of Treaty settlements.

It's a sure fire way to get the talkback crowd wound up about Maori privilege. The effect is divisive and looks as if he's trying to exploit the Harawira conflict for the sake of his own political support. A great political opportunity – this disappointing new ETS – is tarnished with what looks like a grab for a short-term poll boost .

Goff says:

We cannot reconcile New Zealanders and make progress together in an environment where hatefulness can flourish, wherever it comes from.

Later he adds:

"If you can never settle Treaty grievances, there can never be healing, and you keep alive a grievance from one age into another.

We must address grievance, but we must not sustain it."

Labour needs to re-connect with the working class in New Zealand, but not this way; not playing to its basest instincts. Harawira's actions are worthy of criticism, but he does not deserve to be turned into a hate-figure.

The Maori Party is not owed a free ride, but this is a size 12 boot, irresponsible approach to race relations. It's not the sort of leadership New Zealand needs; it's not the sort of strategy Labour needs. True leadership raises our eyes to the horizon, it doesn't have us glancing sideways at our neighbours.

It's early days to be talking about legacy, but the Key administration has made brave strides in its relationship with the Maori Party. More than anything else thus far, its racial politics has shown vision and class. It has rejected the dirty tactics of the Don Brash National party and deserves praise for that.

If National's relationship with Maori brings them further into what Brash famously called the "mainstream" of New Zealand life, then history will be kind to John Key and will admire his political courage. Goff should remember that, tread more carefully, and choose a more noble way to raise what are otherwise serious and genuine concerns.

Comments (22)

by Idiot/Savant on November 26, 2009

Palmerston North is the new Orewa.  Oh joy.


But its not just dirty and morally indefensible - its also stupid. Thanks to MMP, Labour's path to a return to power lies through the Maori Party; they need to be able to sit across a table and negotiate with Turia and Sharples, and that is not going to be possible with them spouting this sort of Brashite tripe.

by KB on November 26, 2009

Oh come on! National and Maori parties are raiding what is called crown land- but should be called all the people's land and other assets for the exclusive use of one ethnic group and you accuse Goff of playing the race card. Get real here please.

There is one overtly racist party in parliament and we all know who they are and how they have shown their inability to condemn and silence racism in their own ranks.

by Tim Watkin on November 26, 2009
Tim Watkin

Criticising the iwi deal is one thing; linking it with Harawira and concerns about Maori grievances sends another signal altogether. On their own, most of the paragraphs of this speech are worthy of debate, but together they pour oil on embers. Don't we expect better? Haven't we learned from Orewa?

by stuart munro on November 27, 2009
stuart munro

 Harawira's outburst clarifies one thing - we need a way of discussing issues that involve race interests, without everyone screaming racist all the time.

As for Orewa, I don't know that the evidence for political learning is very convincing. If we were to characterise parliamentary behaviour as infantile, as I believe we can, it would seem that people who spend a lot of time there are more likely to degenerate than to progress.

by George Darroch on November 27, 2009
George Darroch

What Harawira actually said, in case Phil Goff forgot:

"Him and his mates, no seriously, him and his mates are responsible for the passing of a piece of legislation described as the single largest land nationalization statute in the history of Aotearoa. Now if I should be suspended for swearing, him and his mates should be lined up against the wall and shot"

It is pretty clear to me that this is analogy. As it would be to any damn intelligent person in this country (there don't seem to be all that many).

What Phil Goff is has done, both yesterday and in the past, is orders of magnitude worse for race relations in this country than anything Harawira has done. My estimation of Goff and his band of enablers has gone down even further.

by stuart munro on November 27, 2009
stuart munro

Fair enough - but Harawira was not to be suspended for swearing, but for skipping off to Paris instead of attending the meeting that was the ostensible purpose of his journey. And, lest anyone think that was a reasonable perk, he was already taking his reasonable perk excursion in Hawaii. Seems it wasn't enough for him.

The swearing wasn't the issue, but it showed Harawira was not contrite, and chose to be punished in a fashion commensurate with his offence. In any job except a professional public disgrace (or MP as they are called) that would mean being sacked. Hone, however, being an MP, will be be punished with the full rigour of parliamentary process, which is to say he will be restricted to 3 chocolate biscuits with his morning coffee for one week, instead of the usual unlimited access. 

by Bruce Thorpe on November 27, 2009
Bruce Thorpe

I do not accept that criticism of the Maori/National deal over the emissions trading , is dog whistling to the unrepentant blue collar racist.

The Maori Party has a great trade name for political currency. The Greens are the only other group with a comparatively strong label.

The Maori revival is now a mass movement and its political label has been hijacked by a party built on racism and anger, and Hone Harawira is the Brown Shirts sergeant at arms, or have I been living in a different country from you guys in recent years?

Sharples and Turia might be comfortable in a world of iwi empowerment and National Party compromise, but the Maori numbers are still among the struggling urban proletariat, who have not been the winner in any of the recent compromises.

I think Goff is being heard by this group, rather more than you acknowledge.

Sure, the electorate candidates wearing Maori Party labels might not want to talk with Labour, but the urban low income Maori voters are where Goff's Labour  willl be looking for support.

Maori Party funding and policy making has a strong base in the elites of the major treaty settlement iwi.

Put another way, when push comes to shove will Harawira's Nga Puhi allies stand closer to his cousin Shane Jones, and that generation that pushed through the advances of the last thirty years?

And in the even longer term  who is in the line of succession from Sharples, and from a Ngapuhi persepctive what faith do they have in Turia's politics?


by George Darroch on November 27, 2009
George Darroch

Bruce, the speech attacked Maori as divisive. I've made  comment elsewhere at length, outlining key quotes from the speech, and don't want to copy and paste here (bad protocol on the internet). Basically, it stated directly that: Maori are greedy corporates, Maori threaten to deny access to the ‘birthright of all New Zealanders’, the seabed and foreshore is cynical politics rather than heartfelt, the Maori Party will just accept a change in name, and that Maori are engaging in a grievance industry - an idea that National, ACT, and NZ First have mined for years.

You might want to look at how Labour is polling among Maori voters before you speak with such certainty.

by Bruce Thorpe on November 27, 2009
Bruce Thorpe

Sorry George, we cannot  be reading the same page.

There might be a suggestion that the Brown elite ruling the big forestry deals are greedy, and it might be true that this same power base is behind the Maori Party, as it is evolving, but it is not racist to point that out, simply because the parliamentary party has hi-jacked the name Maori.

I understand the argument about dog whistling and total effect, but I also believe there is a taboo in many circles on questioning the policies and rhetoric of the Maori Party..

The Maori Party is not representative of all aori, althjough a great number of Maori feel a strong pull toward the concept of such a party. This party and deals it has struck with the National Party are not in the interests of all Maori, but are in the interests of a commercial bloc which would love to be claim leadership of Maori aspiration.

Challenging that bloc, challenging the electorate representatives who have so far stood uder the Maori Party banner, has an appropriate place in current  political debate, and it is very  dishonest or naive to call that criticism dog whistling racism.


by Craig Ranapia on November 28, 2009
Craig Ranapia

Harawira's outburst clarifies one thing - we need a way of discussing issues that involve race interests, without everyone screaming racist all the time.

And Phil Goff's spooky Winston Peters impersonation (right down to the choice of audience) doesn't?

I've also got to note the rather delicious irony of the former Chairman of the Waitangi Fisheries Commission fronting Labour's attempt to tap into the kind of "populist rage" the US Democratic Party benefited from by railing against "iwi elites".  Sorry to tell you this, but there are few figures in Labour more thorougly plugged into the iwi elitists than Shane Jones.

Meanwhile, the man who rants about John Key's supposed "lack of leadership" regarding Hone Harawira should be reminded of a few things.  His silence when Trevor Mallard got a (temporary) slap on the wrist after assaulting another MP in the House; when the man who replaced his as Foreign Affairs Minister threatened journalists whose coverage wasn't to his liking; and the way his party bent over backwards to protect a certain Taito Philip Field, the first (and I hope only) man who is in prison for corruption and abuse of his position as an MP.

by Bruce Thorpe on November 28, 2009
Bruce Thorpe

Well, it is clear we are now seeing in these columns the pattern of right wing rants that are churned out any time there is a question of partilaity in the present government..

The significant differences between the Brash speech and Goff's are the times and the target.

Five years ago Brash was attacking the "closing the gaps policy" aimed at improving the health and educational results for the poorest and most underprivileged section of our country.

The Brash  targets were the kids who needed extra help in school and the mums who needed a break to improve the welfare of their kids and their elderly relatives.

Goff is aiming at a cynical inter party deal to buy votes on an unrelated issue.

His target is a minor political party that is backed by multi million commercial entities, and uses the word Maori to represent a party fueled from its outset by anger and intimidation.

by stuart munro on November 28, 2009
stuart munro

Well, other people have their views I suppose, but I think the attack on Goff, who I think is neither especially wonderful nor especially terrible, is just a cheap attempt to divert criticism from the abuse of perks.

It is clear to me that people like Hyde and Hawawira have no respect for their constituents, and should therefore have very restricted access to job benefits - they can't be trusted with them.

And I think they need to be punished severely, because otherwise they establish and confirm their precedent as an acceptable standard of parliamentary behaviour - which it is not by a long shot.

Like Winston Peters & Taito Field, if we tolerate their malarky, we will only have to tolerate more of their malarky. Out with them, I say, and let us a have a few MPs with a few remaining shreds of integrity, or even a few discernible motes of intelligence.

by Craig Ranapia on November 30, 2009
Craig Ranapia

Well, other people have their views I suppose, but I think the attack on Goff, who I think is neither especially wonderful nor especially terrible, is just a cheap attempt to divert criticism from the abuse of perks.

That's right, Stuart, holding the Leader of the Opposition accountable for his own rhetoric is "a cheap attempt to divert criticism from the abuse of perks."  So that's the only reason Phil Goff had for a noxious and profoundly dishonest essay in coded race-baiting.

Well, it is clear we are now seeing in these columns the pattern of right wing rants that are churned out any time there is a question of partilaity in the present government..

And the same for you, Mister Thorpe.  I wish you and Chris Trotter -- who blames all criticism on the "liberal left" -- would get your stories straight.

To be honest, I'd quite enjoy watching Labour getting tea-bagged by its own leader if the side-effects weren't so dangerous.

by stuart munro on November 30, 2009
stuart munro

Craig, your selectivity lies in holding Goff accountable, but no others.

Hide stole.

Harawira stole and ran his mouth off.

Goff just ran his mouth off - and not that badly.

So you want a crack at Goff. Lots of luck.

by Craig Ranapia on November 30, 2009
Craig Ranapia


I'm a big fan of New Zealand fiction, but not with my name attached.


You're not the only Goff apologist running the "it's all a media beat-up" distraction, but please don't tell big fat lies about my opinions. I'm well on the record as being critical of both Hide and Harawira, but WTF that's got to do with holding Goff accountable to his own public statements is quite beyond me.

And while you're perfectly entitled to opine his speech was "not that bad", do me the basic courtesy of assuming my contrary view is held in good faith.

by Bruce Thorpe on November 30, 2009
Bruce Thorpe

Craig, I certainly was not referring to your comments when I noted the "pattern of right wing rants' and I know of no reason why you should expect me and Chris Trotter to have the same take on events.

I am simply stating my own view that although there might well be a "dog whistle" in the term Maori, especially when addressing Grey Power, but the target is not the national underclass as it was with Brash, but the political party that has hi-jacked the name, and claimed it as there own.

it is inevitable that when a political party adopts the title of an entire ethicity, and in this case with all the sovereignty aspirations of tangata whenua, it changes forever the rules on political debate.

Whatever a party calls itself cannot render the party safe from challenge, robust criticism, derogatory comment and questioning of integrity.

As Shane Jones has said , The Maori Party is using the term as "a figleaf" to make their political manouvrings beyond question.

Maybe somebody should start a party called All Blacks , or "Mum and Pavlova." and get even greater immunity.

by George Darroch on November 30, 2009
George Darroch

Bruce, and there's your problem, like that of that of the Labour Party. You wave away very real concerns.

Labour is more deaf to criticism right now than it was in 2008. I honestly did not think that was possible. I resigned my upset with a National Government to the consolation that Labour would start listening to all the people it had abandoned over time. Unfortunately, they're as arrogant as ever.

by Craig Ranapia on November 30, 2009
Craig Ranapia

Mr. Thorpe:

I'm going to err on the side of generosity and assume you're taking the piss -- so how it's down to slapping around those cheeky darkies (to coin a phrase) for "hi-jacking" the M word?

Still, thank you for adding another data point to my theory that the sooner Labour gets through the denial and anger stages of grieving that the uppity Maori Party even exists, the better off we will all be.  I've given up hoping that the party's vacuous sense of entitlement to unswerving Maori electoral loyalty is ever going to go away.

by Bruce Thorpe on December 01, 2009
Bruce Thorpe

Interesting that you so readily assume I am some kind of spokesperson for the Labour Party, and expect some kind of loyalty from Maori toward that party.

Nah. For the record I have cast my vote over many elections to a range of parties, usually minor ones.

I believe my old comrades on the barricades, and fellow supporters of our moko  would find your assumptions about me pretty amusing.

Those who claim the Maori Party has a mandate from most Maori need to be challenged on the facts.As a right wing supporter said on national radio yesterday, more Maori voted National at the last election, than voted for the Maori Party. Five electorate seats were won by candidates under the Maori Party banner, but as in the other two Maori electorates, they were chosen as representatives of their rohe for their personal contributions over time, and that support did not carry over into the party vote..

To suggest the Maori candidates in the Labour  and New Zealand First do not have meaningful political support among Maori is to ignore the facts, and ignore the results of the last two elections.

The Maori Party does not represent all Maori, not even those who who choose to vote on the Maori roles. That is what I mean by hi-jacking.


by Craig Ranapia on December 01, 2009
Craig Ranapia

The Maori Party does not represent all Maori, not even those who who choose to vote on the Maori roles. That is what I mean by hi-jacking.


And it's still a bizarre straw man set up to counter an argument nobody is making -- though a nice rhetorical dog-whistle to try and deligitimise the Maori Party.

Next you'll be telling me that Labour doesn't represent everyone who has a job, National isn't, and the Greens has a constituency not entirely made up of Orion Slave Girls.

by stuart munro on December 01, 2009
stuart munro


I'm not a Goff apologist - the man is irrelevant. But your desire to vilify him will only become credible when he actually does something.

"but please don't tell big fat lies about my opinions."

Your opinions are not sufficiently noteworthy to be worth following, much less lied about.

by on June 21, 2010

[Spam. Redacted.]

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