Sharples to set sights on Bay after quitting role

By Lawrence Gullery

Outgoing Maori party co-leader and Takapau man Dr Pita Sharples promises to remain working with the party he guided into government four years ago.

"But it will not be a paid position. I believe in the party and still want to work for it."

Dr Sharples announced he would step down as co-leader at a press conference yesterday. He would stay on as Minister until the election, but did expect to relinquish some of those responsibilities.

Dr Sharples, speaking to Hawke's Bay Today, said he hoped Bridge Pa man Na Raihania would consider contesting the Ikaroa-Rawhiti seat again at the 2014 general election. Mr Raihania was defeated at the weekend's by-election by Labour's Meka Whaitiri and in 2011 by Labour's Parekura Horomia.

"I think Na is an extremely high quality politician. He has really developed from the 2011 election and it wasn't his fault he didn't come first at the by-election last weekend.

"I felt that the Labour campaign machine came out in force. As well, the Mana Party candidate, Te Hamua Nikora, is a household name and clearly had a head start on Na.

"But in terms of talking sense and having ability to handle the issues of the day, I think Na was the best hands down."

Mr Sharples said it would be a "big ask" to expect Mr Raihania to contest the seat a third time.

"I am pleased for Meka she got in but I believe there is room for Na to have another go."

Dr Sharples, who attended Te Aute College as a pupil, said the number of benefits the Maori Party achieved for its voters was huge, but constituents didn't connect with those advantages by returning the favour in votes, when it came to the by-election.

Some of the achievements he was proud of included securing $1 billion towards Maori projects such as Whanau Ora, the trades mission to China, the trades training programme and work on creating warmer homes.

The party also "saved the Maori electorate seats" from being abolished in 2008, by negotiating the seats remain when it formed a coalition with National.

It also set up regular iwi leaders group meetings to offer ministers feedback and advice on areas important to Maori such as climate change, water, forestry and primary industries.

Other benefits came through securing clauses in the Resource Management Act which guaranteed consultation rights for Maori.

Dr Sharples was also proud of the numerous benefits his co-leader Tariana Turia achieved through the health portfolio while he hoped to continue on the work in prisons, in particular, a project in Hastings and another in Springhill offering new programmes to re-introduce prisoners into the community to reduce repeat offending.

"Those are huge gains but I don't think we publicised them very well and people didn't connect with us. Most people would have thought the things they were getting, like home heating improvements, was something from the government, not realising it was an issue we had fought for."

Dr Sharples, 71, said he wouldn't rule out seeking other initiatives closer to his home in Hawke's Bay.

"I would like to work at home, home is still where my heart is, where my marae is. Home is a big drawcard for me."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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