Audrey Young

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

Party seeks help from 'Maori Dotcom'

Maori Party co-leader Pita Shaples. Photo / NZPA
Maori Party co-leader Pita Shaples. Photo / NZPA

Maori party members are crying out for a "Maori Dotcom" to bankroll them into the next election.

The party is on a fundraising and membership drive to save itself from extinction.

Party membership has slumped to about 600 financial members from its peak of about 23,000 in 2005.

At its annual conference yesterday, keynote speaker and communications consultant Matthew Jansen warned the party would be wiped out in 2014 - or at the 2017 election if it was lucky.

It won four electorate seats in 2005 and five in 2008. After the defection of Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira to set up Mana, it won just three seats at the election in 2011.

Jansen said it was fatal for minor parties to concentrate on the electorate vote. "A focus on the party vote can help you win in electorates, but not vice versa. The first vote you have to win is the party vote." He endorsed the talk by the party leadership of extending the support base to Pakeha and even suggested the party consider a name change.

Co-leader Pita Sharples later ruled that out.

Jansen, son of former Hamilton mayor Sir Ross Jansen, addressed the party's national council in August with a similar message.

A shift to a party-vote campaign is likely to cost more and, with $166,000 in the bank, the party is set to begin a recruitment and fundraising drive.

Party president Pem Bird made several references to the party not having a "Maori Dotcom", a wealthy backer, but he said "third party" backing could make the party more flush. He said it would not be possible to run a serious party-vote campaign without some serious money.

While Harawira's name was barely mentioned at the conference, held at Papawai Marae in Greytown, there were several veiled references to him.

Co-leader Tariana Turia said: "Someone else appears to be beating us to the gun in being to provide a particular message to our people ... And it's easy to be oppositional. It's a lot harder to build relationships with other people to take them with us."

- Herald on Sunday

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