Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

A maverick in a dirty business

Despite missing out on the Speaker's job, National list MP Tau Henare is proud to be his own man.

Tau Henare has a colourful political past, whether it is blunt talk or getting an unwanted blessing from one of Parliament's pigeons. Photo / NZPA
Tau Henare has a colourful political past, whether it is blunt talk or getting an unwanted blessing from one of Parliament's pigeons. Photo / NZPA

When Tau Henare put his hand up for the Speaker's job, some of his colleagues were convinced it was designed to buy himself leverage to get a cushy job after politics, such as a diplomatic posting to the Pacific.

No one seemed to believe him that he actually wanted the Speaker's job.

They thought he was going rogue, and that's a powerful place to be in a minority Government with delicate majorities.

One National Party colleague, whom Mr Henare will not name, presented him with a list of diplomatic jobs coming up.

But he told anyone who asked that it was not about leverage.

"I told this to the Prime Minister. I said, 'Bro, this ain't about me levering to get anything including the High Commissioner's job in the Cook Islands'.

"I don't want to end my career yet."

So is Mr Henare going rogue on the National Party?

"Oh s*** no," he insists. "I'm too old to do that again. But I am my own man. I'm my own person and what it suggests to me [is] that the Prime Minister going to his support party, somebody got scared."

Yes, he could be called a bit of a maverick but not to the point of disloyalty to the party, he said.

"They gave me the shot and I'll be forever grateful and forever privileged to have been a member of Parliament for the National Party."

The loyalty does not extend, however, to colleague and Deputy Speaker Eric Roy, who had kicked him out of Parliament one night - he thought grossly unfairly - and was the catalyst for Mr Henare's bid to get the job.

Next year it will be 20 years since Mr Henare was first elected to Parliament, as the New Zealand First MP for Northern Maori.

He was ditched as NZ First deputy leader during the strains of coalition Government under Jenny Shipley and stayed with the coalition when NZ First leader Winston Peters walked away from Government. During his six years in the wilderness he joined National.

The pending vacancy for the Speaker's job caused Mr Henare to have what he called "the first meaningful discussion" with Mr Peters since the split in 1998.

It was in the House in August when Mr Henare approached Mr Peters and asked to meet him in the lobby.

And when they got out there, the conversation went something like this:

Henare: It's about the Speaker's job.

Peters: I don't want that job!

Henare: No, it's not about you wanting the job. It's about me putting myself up for it.

Peters: Ok, I'll think about it, but don't tell anybody!

John Key put paid to Mr Henare's ambitions last week when it emerged he had pressured the Maori Party to withdraw its support for the National Party backbencher.

The PM's preferred candidate - when Lockwood Smith becomes High Commissioner in London - is David Carter.

Mr Henare is not bitter about his own party not supporting him, but he is bitter about the Maori Party reneging, or as he puts it "dirty on the Maori Party". But the fact Mr Key felt compelled to heavy the Maori Party suggests Mr Henare could have caused an upset.

Without Mr Henare's vote, but including Act and United Future, National had only 60 of the 121 votes.

And that would have been characterised as a major defeat. In fact, Lockwood Smith would not have been allowed to resign until National had its choice sewn up.

The speakership also reunited Mr Henare with Mr Mallard, who found the possibility of embarrassing the Government far too attractive a proposition to hold a grudge.

Mr Mallard made a deal: if Mr Henare got the support of the Maori Party, the Greens, and New Zealand First he would recommend to the Labour caucus that Labour support him, too.

Mr Henare has a colourful political past, which means he has been good copy for journalists over the years.

Whether it is blunt talk (calling Australian PM John Howard a "mongrel" and Hone Harawira "racist") changing parties, feeling the force of Mr Mallard's fists in the parliamentary lobby (after taunting him about a relationship), recovering from a heart attack, or marrying the woman we thought he was already married to, he is never far from the news.

As an early adopter of Twitter, he keeps in touch with the world throughout the day as "West Side Tory", a wordplay he credits himself with. He has just over 3000 followers and follows just over 1000.

So who are his mates at Parliament? "I have acquaintances but I'm not sure whether I have mates. Mates you do things with - you go drinking, you play sport, you go watch sport. I have colleagues, I have acquaintances ..."

His brother-in-law, Kingitanga spokesman and former MP Tukoroirangi Morgan, is still his neighbour in Te Atatu, he says, "but we are not involved in the same circles as much as we used to be. He has got his own politics to deal with."

Referring to the factional politics within Waikato-Tainui, Mr Henare says: "On the one hand I think leave them alone - it's their issue, they can deal with it; on the other hand I worry that somebody is going to try to become an African despot ... I'm not saying who.

"It's a private organisation. The tribe's business is the tribe's business as long as they produce the goodies for their people - and they have - you can't grumble."

Mr Henare's plans for the summer include building a fence on his section in Te Atatu, taking out some vines, topping some trees.

In the last week of January, he is flying to Israel and will also visit Gaza, the West Bank, and Egypt as a member of the Middle East committee of the Inter Parliamentary Union, along with MPs from Britain, the Philippines and Spain.

He said New Zealand's vote at the United Nations in support of Palestinian statehood "blew me away".

Mr Henare is realistic that his career as a list MP could end at the 2014 elections after three terms.

While the survival of list MPs is determined by their ranking on the party list, Mr Henare says he has been given no message by National that three terms is enough.

"You are most probably pushing it to come back on the fourth one but I still want to come back. I'm putting my name up for nomination for Te Atatu and hopefully the board can see my worth.

"I'm ever hopeful.

"There's no one like me in the National Party."


Tau Henare
a short history

• Married Ngaire, his partner of 25 years, in March
• Father of five, grandfather of two
• Aged 52
• Recovering smoker
• Compulsive tweeter (West Side Tory)
• Chairman of Maori Affairs committee
• MP 1993 to 1999 (NZ First MP, then formed Mauri Pacific)
• Former Maori Affairs Minister
• National list MP since 2005, Te Atatu based

- NZ Herald

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