National Party via Getty
National Party via Getty

Peter Williams: How can the National Party fix itself?

Peter Williams 29/04/2021

OPINION: Do you care much about the National Party these days? At the last election, less than a quarter of the voters did, and the party which has been such a dominant political force in this country for 85 years has been scrambling for relevance ever since the disaster of the last election. 

They’ve had a review which by all accounts was really scathing about the party’s lack of diversity, about how they lost so many of their Maori and non-European MPs in the election because they were placed so far down the party list. 

Then a precis of the review came out a couple of days ago and recommended that the party embed the Treaty of Waitangi into its constitution, consider appointing a Maori director to the board and then stand in all the Maori seats, which the party had already announced they were doing anyway. Then came the recommendation that the party develop a “diversity plan” so that they have “diverse and high-quality talent” in their election candidates. So that came out on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, Judith Collins reiterated that they were a party that did not deal in quotas but in merit and equality and that the proposed Maori Health Authority was separatist and segregated from the last century. All of which would seem at odds with the recommendations of the party review. 

But even though Judith Collins copped the inevitable backlash from proponents of Maori initiatives, is she right? Or is the mood of New Zealand towards race relations slowly changing? 

As the baby boomers die off, and the oldest of them are now 75 years old and are predominantly Pakeha, is the attitude to Maori and other ethnic initiatives slowly changing?  Is the trend irreversible? Are Maori wards on local councils and the Maori Health Authority the start of the way New Zealand will be from now on? 

The media in this country, especially Stuff and all the TV channels seem determined that we should change our name, and frankly I don’t think there is any going back from the constant barrage of Aotearoa we get daily. Just as an aside, I almost threw my phone at the wall when I saw the main headline on Stuff early last Sunday morning - ANZAC Day in Aotearoa. I mean, of all the days you should not call this country Aotearoa, surely it is the 25th of April. Should we change ANZAC Day to AAAC day? 

The National Party’s last great revival from an election drubbing was Don Brash’s speech at Orewa saying we should be one people with no special privileges for any specific ethnic group. But that was 16 years ago. Is there mileage in the National Party playing that card again? Or should it just accept that the world has changed? That there is, especially among the younger generation, an acceptance that this is the way it will be, and that any pushback against such moves will just not move the electoral dial? Or is there a quiet underbelly of New Zealanders of all ages who are getting more and more annoyed at what they see happening with the creation of separate Maori institutions in councils and health and in the new New Zealand history syllabus which will start indoctrinating young minds from next year about what a horrible experience colonisation was for this nation?

So is there any mileage for the National Party to be pushing back against these moves, or are their problems more deep-seated than this? And is their leadership, and more particularly, the way Judith Collins is conveyed in the media, the real issue for the party here?

Because it’s not as if the opposition doesn’t have enough ammunition to fire at the government on all sorts of matters. The emergency housing issue is now just becoming an absolute disgrace. The Minister for Homelessness or whatever she is, the Minister for Uselessness, Marama Davidson says conditions in emergency housing are inhumane. Well then Minister, do something. Like, get some more social houses built quickly. 

The equally useless Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni can’t say how much extra money is being spent on fixing motels wrecked by MSD clients given free accommodation in motels as emergency housing. The government’s performance on housing and poverty is just abysmal - easy pickings for the opposition you would think, but are they landing any big blows? 

There are some, but the constant failings of this government on so many matters are overshadowed by the fact that we have no covid in this country, while international news is dominated by what is happening in India. 

So life as the opposition party is really hard, especially in the first year of a parliamentary term, but I still get the feeling the National Party is just treading water. What do you think could get them some momentum - or have you just given up caring?

Listen to Peter Williams every weekday from 9am on Magic Talk.