National 'risks racial backlash'

By Derek Cheng, Jon Stokes

Maori leaders have warned of growing racial tension over the National Party's vow to axe Maori seats and its subsequent gains in recent polls.

The Labour MP for Tamaki Makaurau, John Tamihere, who is in a neck and neck battle for the Auckland seat with Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, has warned of "unprecedented resentment" among Maori following the relaunch of National's Maori policy.

The policy includes a pledge to axe the Maori seats and remove references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi from legislation.

The Maori policy and the promise of tax cuts have been credited with lifting National to 45 per cent in a recent Television One-Colmar Brunton poll.

Mr Tamihere's warning has been echoed by Mr Sharples and the chairmen of two powerful iwi.

Mr Tamihere said: "There is resentment building in my community, from middle class Maori who are moving forward to the very conservative elders and pensioners."

He said Maori still recalled Dr Brash's attacks last year which included labelling Maori degrees as inferior to non-Maori, and warning employers not to employ Maori as they take more time off for funerals.

"He has criticised Maori powhiri and the Maori warrior, this stuff is very, very divisive and Maori have had enough."

Mr Tamihere said the resentment was inflamed by ideas that Maori, at the bottom of most of the country's negative social statistics, were labelled as enjoying unprecedented preference. "I know of thousands of Maori in Otara that would swap their 'privilege' with anyone in the National Party who wants to swap.

"On the campaign trail very conservative Maori have stated to me: 'if National moves against the Treaty and our seats all hell will break loose.' The Foreshore and Seabed Hikoi will be like a Sunday picnic."

Mr Tamihere urged greater respect and fairness on Maori issues.

"We must pledge ourselves to the defence of our country's Treaty and that the Maori seats be retained until the consent of those that have a constitutional right to them is achieved."

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples last week also warned of a Maori backlash if moves were made against the Maori seats.

Ngapuhi chairman Sonny Tau has also warned of a growing uproar.

"Maori are viewing these moves as pure racism - Maori are sick and tired of political parties using them as political footballs. We have fought too hard to have someone take away our rights."

Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon said there had been growing disquiet among his people, and discussions within the tribe.

"Don Brash raised a lot of challenges at Orewa last year about Maori privilege that turned out to be rubbish. He has just rekindled the same rubbish."

National's Maori Affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee said its policies posed no threat to Maori culture. "No law can take away anybody's identity, and people who have a fear about that, I really question where they're heading with their lives."

National's targets

Abolish Maori seats.

References to Treaty principles.

Review

Maori development ministry Te Puni Kokiri.

Maori language broadcasting funder Te Mangai Paho.

The Waitangi Tribunal and the Maori Land Court.

The Office of Treaty Settlements

- additional reporting Derek Cheng

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