A cornerstone principle of the New Zealand First Party is the belief in having “one law for all”, an opposition to policies which target race. This concept often abbreviated as 1L4All is mostly refers to reforms which bestow separate powers to those of Maori descent or to local Iwis, such as requiring their granting of resource consents under the Resource Management Act (RMA) or having separate Parliamentary seats for Maori-descent voters only.
There have been significant support given to NZ First by voters who strongly believe in this principle. It came as no surprise when former National and ACT Party leader Don Brash categorically endorsed the Party and the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters during the 2017 election campaign. According to Brash, Winston was the “best chance of ending National’s race-based policies”. There were even rumors spreading that his anti-separatist lobby group, Hobson’s Pledge, made a significant financial contribution to the Party.
The faith that Brash and the 1L4All voting base gave to the Party was seemingly heard, as Peters announced a proposal for a binding referendum on the future of the Maori seats during the NZ First Party Convention in July 2017. The plan was to allow all voters to cast their vote on whether the Maori electorate seats should be retained or abolished. In his speech the Party Leader stated that, “Maori don’t need the Maori seats, they don’t need tokenism.”
The proposal resonated so well with the 1L4All crowd that Don Brash publicly stated he was “tempted to switch allegiance and vote for New Zealand First”. During the course of the election campaign, while discreet it was obvious that the Hobson’s Pledge group were rallying their supporters to cast their vote for Winston Peters and New Zealand First.
When the Party found themselves holding the balance of power when election results were finalized, they were also in a good position to enact the binding referendum which Peters had promised. Immediately, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern ruled out entertaining the idea given her party’s existential reliance on the seven Maori electorate seats. After all, Labour had just done a clean sweep of all seven seats – with newcomer Tamati Coffey usurping the Waiariki electorate from the Maori Party’s Te Ururoa Flavell. Meanwhile, the National Party were mum on whether they would consider such a proposal or not.
In the end, NZ First chose to form a coalition agreement with the Labour Party which all but ruled out their plan of a binding referendum on the Maori seats. The reaction from Brash and Hobson’s Pledge was obvious, they stated that they “felt betrayed”. Party candidates who were vocal about 1L4All such as Kym Koloni from the North Shore also expressed disappointment and soon after withdrew their support for NZ First.
The unanimous verdict from the 1L4All voters who had put their faith on NZ First was that they had been “lied to”, “betrayed” or “deceived” by the Party and especially by its leader Winston Peters. Raucous cries of “never voting for them again” flooded the NZ First social media assets, they made sure their furor would be heard.
Though it begs to be asked, did NZ First really betray its 1L4All voters?
To say a betrayal or a deception occurred would mean that the Party never took the proposal seriously at all, yet according to all media sources the binding referendum was on the table during coalition negotiations with both sides. It was already clear that Labour were vehemently against the policy, but National never made their stance on it clear themselves. It could very well be that the plan to have a binding referendum on the Maori seats was dead from the very beginning, with neither side agreeing to adopt it.
If that was the case, then the blame could not possibly go on NZ First? Let us be cognizant of the paltry 7% of the party votes which the Party recorded in the election, to demand something so significant from either Labour or National with very little bargaining power was unrealistic.
Supporters were already warned by Peters when he made his announcement to enter a deal with Labour Party: “you can’t always get what you want”, he said in reference to the numerous policies that would be casualties in the coalition agreement. It simply was not realistic to believe that all policy promises from NZ First would be implemented with only 7% of the party vote.
In order to have more sway in the coalition negotiations, a much larger share of the vote had to be won. During Election 2017, that unfortunately was not the case.