Monday, December 12, 2011

The Maori Party's deal

National signed a confidence and supply agreement with the Maori Party yesterday, giving it a comfortable majority on budget votes. But the deal itself [PDF] is very loose. The Maori Party agrees to support the government on confidence and supply and procedural votes. In exchange, they get a couple of Ministerial portfolios (worth about $70,000 each to Turia and Sharples) and a pile of small policy wins. The headline policies there - whanau ora and a Ministerial Committee on Poverty - aren't actually worth much; the first is just an agreement to "progress" and "evolve", which means SFA, while the latter will be chaired by Bill English and stacked with National Party Ministers like Tony Ryall and Paula Bennett who believe that poverty is a personal moral failing rather than a pressing social ill, and therefore won't go anywhere (though interestingly, John Key is now saying it might develop an official poverty measure, less than a year after saying that we didn't need one - so we might get some progress, though at the same time its substituting measurement for action).

The real gains in this agreement come from the small stuff: more money to fight rheumatic fever (a third-world disease we shouldn't have in New Zealand), more home insulation, more help for ECE and job training, and a new focus for TPK. And a biggie is not making privatisation a confidence vote, leaving the Maori Party free to oppose it (though given that they're the party of Big Iwi, whether they actually will is another question entirely).

(And yes, while this makes Peter Dunne the key vote on controversial issues like asset sales, contrary to The Standard's fantasies, he's not going to oppose them. His support agreement includes support for National's "Post-Election Action Plan", which includes privatisation. Having given his word, I don't expect him to break it).

From the Maori Party's perspective, its not bad given that National didn't actually need their votes. From National's its giving themselves cover, as well as playing the long game and locking the Maori Party in for 2014. Having supported National for two terms now, they're going to find it difficult to change sides and support Labour. Which means that if the latter want to be in government, they need to up their own game, rather than just rely on a coalition realignment.