Former Crown-Māori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis will retire as an MP, finishing up on Waitangi Day.
The senior Labour MP, former deputy leader and MP for Te Tai Tokerau, told Stuff he had known for some time that this would be his last term in Parliament – but losing the electorate of Te Tai Tokerau to Te Pāti Māori candidate Mariameno Kapa-Kingi meant he was able to leave before the term was up.
Davis, who had also served as minister of Corrections and Oranga Tamariki, said whānau and friends told him it was important to return to Waitangi once more as an MP. It would also give him the opportunity to deliver a valedictory speech in late January, when Parliament resumes for the new year.
The first proper week on the Opposition bench had been incredibly frustrating, Davis said. He was incensed that the new Government planned to repeal section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act, which meant Māori children in care should remain connected to their whakapapa. He was also concerned by the repeal of the smokefree generation law and incoming Treaty principles debate.
“It’s just more nonsense, it’s virtue signalling, it’s just so frustrating. This Government sees everything from a really Pākehā perspective,” Davis said.
And he said that meant it was a good time to leave, with a new job lined up. Although the contract yet to be signed, he didn’t want to discuss future plans.
“In Opposition, all you do is just vent. You can’t actually make much of a change, and I didn’t want to spend three years being frustrated and angry, and becoming really cynical.”
A former teacher, Davis served entered Parliament as a list MP from 2008 to 2011 and returned again in 2014, to become the MP for Te Tai Tokerau – the Māori electorate covering all of Northland.
Davis told Labour’s MPs this week of his intention to retire.
He also planned for his final speech in Parliament to be about Crown-Māori relations, before he travelled to Waitangi next year.
“In everything I did as a minister, Te Tiriti o Waitnagi was the foundation,” Davis said.
“As long as I was true to Te Tiriti o Waitangi I knew I couldn’t go wrong.”
He said he sought the minister of children and corrections jobs knowing that those organisations predominantly dealt with Māori. As the minister for Crown-Māori relations, he evolved the Office of Treaty Settlements into Te Arawhiti – translated as “the bridge” – to maintain ongoing relationships between government and iwi Māori.
“The work we did with Corrections, to establish Hōkai Rangi (the Māori focused strategy), and with Oranga Tamariki to move resourcing and decision-making back to communities. In education, particularly with wānanga, to allow them to practice tino rangatiratanga, and the billion-plus dollars we got for Māori education,” he said, showed how Tiriti-focused policy worked.
Under his watch, he said fewer tamariki Māori were being taken into state care and prisoner reoffending had decreased. In Crown-Māori relations, he said millions of dollars had been saved through working with Māori – rather than fighting litigation in the courts.
In November, Davis stood down as Labour Party deputy leader. Carmel Sepuloni took the role.
He said he was getting ready to retire and had considered quietly leaving over the summer break.
“I thought long and hard about it, because I didn’t really want to give a valedictory speech, but I was told that I did have a story to tell particularly about Māori-Crown relations,” Davis said.
He said he hoped the Christopher Luxon-led Government would continue to engage with Māori, especially at Waitangi. As minister, one of Davis’ great focusses had been to ensure constructive hui at Waitangi. Working with hapū and the Waitangi trust, the Government would meet annually with the Iwi Chairs Forum ahead of Waitangi Day events, where prime ministers Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins started a tradition of serving breakfast to visitors at the Treaty grounds.
“I saw an article just the other day with Chris Luxon said, ‘I love it when people come and want to talk to me.’ The reality is, I don’t think he means all New Zealanders. I think he means those nice Pākehā people who want to say nice things,” Davis said.
He said he’d heard from Waitangi organisers that Luxon was planning to “fly in, fly out” on Waitangi Day.
“I think that shows he’s running scared of Māori issues and wants to avoid confrontation,” Davis said.
“He said he wants to lead a Government focused on issues for all New Zealanders, so my question is are Māori New Zealand? Is te reo not important to Māori? Why aren’t you fronting up on issues that are really important to Māori as New Zealanders?”
He said Luxon should continue the tradition of meeting with iwi leaders who travel to Waitangi, and with Ngāpuhi, in the four days prior to Waitangi. And he hoped the tradition of the prime minister’s breakfast would continue.