Sunday, October 17, 2004

Tamihere and the foreshore

John Tamihere has withdrawn his support for the government's Foreshore and Seabed Bill. This means he'll almost certainly be sacked from Cabinet, meaning he'll resign from Parliament, meaning a by-election and possible loss of the government's majority.

The timing means that this probably isn't a reaction to the allegations against him - according to the Sunday Star-Times article, he told them the day before the scandal broke. But it's not going to be making him any friends in Labour, and it's hardly going to inspire people to stick their neck out to defend him (not that anyone really was, because the allegations against him are such that nobody wants to be tainted by association).

The article talks up the possibility of a rebellion by some of Labour's Maori MPs. This would mean that the Foreshore and Seabed Bill is unlikely to pass - getting both NZFirst and United Future on side is unlikely. On the one hand, this is good - the bill as introduced unjustifiably extinguishes aboriginal title and violates the Treaty's guarantee that Maori will enjoy the same rights as other New Zealanders, and while it is held up in Parliament, the court cases are progressing. And OTOH, there's a danger that Labour will decide that if they can't pass a good bill, they'll pass a bad one, and try and get together with National to ram a simple but stupid solution through.

While there's always the hope that National would play political games - they would benefit greatly the longer the government's discomfort is dragged out - that's not really a comforting thought. Now would be a very good time for someone like the Greens to advance a compromise trusteeship solution, to get the Maori caucus back on side with the government and prevent National from making an issue of it. Is that too much to hope for?

As for Tamihere, I think he's finished. He's definately out of Cabinet for the foreseeable future, and while he may be able to win a by-election, that won't save him. The charges against him aren't political in nature - they're criminal. That's something that not even the mandate of the people can wash away.