National rules out Maori Party in key NZ election move

·3-min read

New Zealand's opposition National party has ruled out governing with the Maori Party after the October election, saying Labour will create a "coalition of chaos" if it does so.

Opposition leader Chris Luxon made the categorical statement on Wednesday, after months flirting with the idea.

"The bridge between National and Te Pati Maori is too wide to close," he said.

The announcement is important as in New Zealand politics, government formation almost always depend on coalition talks following each general election.

The electoral system makes it difficult for any one party to achieve a majority, though Jacinda Ardern's Labour did so in 2020.

Polls suggest the election is tipped to be incredibly close, with current government partners Labour and the Greens in a near-tie with National and its likely government partner, the right-wing ACT party.

The Maori Party, the fifth and smallest party in parliament, was a possible kingmaker until Mr Luxon's declaration.

While it is left wing, the party supported John Key's National-led governments.

Mr Luxon said he considered the Maori Party's current iteration was too radical to govern with.

"Te Pati Maori of 2023 is a very different party to the one National signed a confidence and supply agreement with three times from 2008," he said.

One line in Mr Luxon's press release stood out: "New Zealand is one country with one standard of citizenship, meaning one person, one vote".

The "one person, one vote" phrase was invoked by divisive National leader Don Brash in a famous 2004 speech when he railed against the purported threat of Maori having more rights than other New Zealanders.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi both said the use of the phrase was "dog whistling".

Mr Waititi said the Maori Party was "a rights-based party, not a race-based party".

"We will not be used in a narrative that allows us to be pushed into a space where a colonial narrative is pushed onto indigenous peoples," he said.

The decision cuts off a potential road to power for Mr Luxon's National after the October 14 election.

The strategic play is so many Kiwis are turned off by the Maori Party - which polled 1.2 per cent at the last election - enough will reward National to see it win government.

Immediately after the decision, the party sent out a fundraising email to its members informing them of their move.

National is also tying Labour to the Maori Party in the wake of Labour minister Meka Whaitiri's defection to the minor party last week.

"A vote for Te Pati Maori is a vote for the Labour-Greens-Maori Party coalition of chaos and continued economic mismanagement," Mr Luxon said.

"National is deeply committed to improving outcomes for Maori, but doesn't believe separate systems is the best way to do this."

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins dismissed Mr Luxon's statement as a flip-flop given he failed to rule them out on multiple occasions prior to Wednesday.

"Well, he ruled them out and then he ruled them in and he's ruled them out," he said.

"In terms of who we wouldn't and won't work for, we'll make that clearer towards the election ... when we see where we have issues in common with parties and areas where we think we would struggle to work with."