Audrey Young: What Kelvin Davis wants for Māori from Jacinda Ardern


Not far into the term of the last Government, one of Jacinda Ardern’s press secretaries mistakenly left a wad of paper in the Herald’s press gallery office.

It was talking points for Kelvin Davis for a round of media appearances the next morning that Ardern would normally have done but couldn’t. She had delegated it to him as Labour deputy.

It covered suggested responses on a range of subjects the PM’s office thought could be asked on many topics. That is not usual. But it was avery detailed briefing and it did not help particularly.

He wasn’t good even with the preparation, and he would be the first to admit it.

In the three years he has been a minister, he has not improved on that score or in the House, where there is similar pressure and scrutiny.

Now he has a decision to make, whether to become Deputy Prime Minister as one might traditionally expect the deputy leader of a majority party to do.

He has been saying this week that the Deputy PM’s job is the decision of the Prime Minister, but in reality it is Davis’ decision.

His colleagues in Labour’s Māori caucus say they will support whatever decision he makes.

In reality, Davis is using what leverage he now has for a job he doesn’t particularly want in order to get an agreement for more Māori ministers, at least eight, in areas of relevance that would make the biggest difference for Māori lives.

The aim is to give Māori ministers more control over areas through which to tackle persistent social problems and to bring more cohesion to Māori economic development.

So Davis could, for example, add Whānau Ora and Oranga Tamariki to his Corrections portfolio, which could help keep Māori out of prison or help to rehabilitate them.

Other areas of interest for Māori ministers, be it the full portfolio or an associate ministerial delegation, include justice, health, education, housing, regional economic development, fisheries, as well as employment and Māori development.

Peeni Henare and Willie Jackson, already ministers outside Cabinet, and as close confidants of Jacinda Ardern, are almost certain to be promoted to join Davis and Nanaia Mahuta in Cabinet.

Assuming a ministry of about 24 MPs, eight Māori ministers would be a third of all ministers but, in other appointments, Davis also wants preference given to Māori electorate MPs.

On provisional results, the Māori caucus of 15 MPs is 23.4 per cent of the total Labour caucus, a large power bloc within the party and Davis is likely to remain deputy Labour leader.

Various impetus have been given to addressing Māori social and economic deprivation over the years. The Bolger Government began the Treaty settlement process.

Closing the Gaps, which was originally a Te Puni Kokiri report on disparities, was adopted as the title of a flagship set of policies by the Helen Clark Government in its first year in office.

It had the heft of Clark herself and her department putting pressure on senior public service to deliver results but retreated from sight when it started being seen as separatist.

National’s Hekia Parata set targets in educational achievement, Bill English developed a social investment approach to identify need for targeted spending and funded the Māori Party’s Whānau Ora initiative.

The Kelvin Davis bid to get more Māori ministers into relevant portfolios is clearly the start of a new focus on better results for Māori.

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