On Wednesday the Leader of the Opposition, Bill English gave his ‘State of the Nation’ speech, which was followed later by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s ‘100 Day Progress’ speech; i.e. the two key opening political speeches for the year.
Overall Mr English’s speech reads as a lamentation – highlighting what he considered where all the good things his party had achieved, and bemoaning that the Labour-led Government might now risk it all, particularly in the areas of employment relations and economic growth. In that respect it was a classic right wing speech about the risks of a left wing Government. Nothing new there.
From a Māori policy perspective two points are salient. First, when Mr English talked of their past successes, he left off progressing Treaty settlements. This is an area where his Government experienced outstanding success, leaving its opposition in shreds, in regards to how many Treaty claims they progressed and settled. Chris Finlayson’s work in this area will be, in our view, the stuff of legend in the future – given he oversaw perhaps 50 plus settlements, and facilitated the package of settlements to extend above $2 billion, and gained cross-party support for this work. However, we note Bill English consistently leaves this out of his speeches: it is as if the National Party is not particularly proud of this achievement, or does not think it appeals to its core supporters.
Our second observation is that Mr English only made one mention of Māori, and it was in a negative context, saying that without the proposed Te Ture Whenua Māori reforms, the New Zealand First policy of planting forests on Māori land is unlikely to succeed. His linkage is not well made, and we note that for generations forests (including Government forests) have been planted on Māori land – i.e. the former reforms are not required for the tree planting scheme to proceed. Overall if this is a ‘State of the Nation’ speech, then Māori are entirely invisible to this political party at this time.
The Prime Minister’s speech followed later in the day, and focused on explaining what they had sought to put in place within their first 100 days, and why, and also what they intend to pursue next. The key focus areas were employment policies, poverty reduction (discussed below), and setting new socio-economic targets to measure the wellbeing of New Zealand, beyond just GDP. In regards to Māori, Prime Minister Ardern, noted the need for politicians to speak openly on challenging social issues of inequalities, such as the high Māori imprisonment rate. She also stated that,
“we are a nation that has duties and responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi that extends to, and beyond, the negotiating table. We must be a Government that builds not just relationships, but partnerships with iwi.”
We advise the Prime Minister made similar (but more articulate) comments last week on the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi, but that was to a largely Māori audience who would appreciate that – this week’s speech was aimed at a broader audience. In our assessment this signalling of approach is positive for Māori/iwi, and combined with having a strong Māori caucus it will be interesting to see what this transpires into.