The Maori Party has urged Maori not to trade off the prospect of an independent voice in Parliament for the new version of "beads and blankets" being offered by the main political parties. Co-leader Pita Sharples lashed out at the vote-buying offers from National and Labour, and urged Maori to vote for the chance of true parliamentary representation.
Launching his campaign before about 100 party faithful in South Auckland yesterday, Dr Sharples criticised Labour's Maori caucus, labelling most as average, and unwilling to defend Maori rights when the heat was on.
"Most of them seem to just cruise in Parliament, and have a habit of shutting up when the people they represent come under fire.
"We can't compete against the main parties with goodies, and we won't try to. What we offer our people is a voice.
"We will stand up for Maori rights in Parliament, offer a fair point of view the next time someone tries to score political points on the back of Maori.
"Let them offer the new version of beads and blankets; for our people we offer a voice."
Speaking at his party's Tamaki Makaurau headquarters in Wiri, Dr Sharples said this election was a historic moment for Maori - the chance to vote for a Maori party, with the task of defending Maori rights and promoting the culture.
Dr Sharples said Maori must not forget the political football they became after Don Brash's Orewa speech last year, or forget Labour's heavy handed approach on the controversial foreshore and seabed legislation.
The party was not driven by the prospect of entering into a coalition, with Dr Sharples hinting that it was focused on getting seats in Parliament. He favoured offering support to the Government on a case-by-case basis.
"It is going to be hard for us if we enter coalition talks. This is a big issue that we will not move on.
"Defending our people and providing an independent voice - that is what we are here for and that will not be compromised."
Dr Sharples said criticism of Maori and their culture was on the rise and it was time Maori had a champion.
"It is to the point where our own people tell jokes about Maori as second-class citizens.
"We have no choice, our party is on a mission."
The Maori Party will release its key policies in the coming three weeks.