Sharples vows war on culture of dependency

By Maggie Tait

Pita Sharples is mentally and physically prepared for the new parliamentary year.

A few weeks ago the 64-year-old Maori Party co-leader had an operation to resurface one of his hips, a new technique to avoid a hip replacement.

The other hip will be done shortly.

He looks forward to throwing aside the crutches and getting back to jogging - a good analogy for what he wants for Maori dependent on welfare.

"In the year ahead I think you are going to see a continued attack on poverty by us. We are reminded of it daily when we go to our people's houses. It's poverty of knowledge as well as poverty of physical goods."

Dr Sharples said there was too much dependency on welfare in Maoridom - something Labour had not addressed.

"It's like a kid - if you keep giving your kids everything, at the end of the day they don't have the skills and knowledge to do it themselves."

More prisons and welfare agencies were not the solution, he said.

"It's really about New Zealand finding a way to empower families and allow families to be strong in themselves to look after their own and not have to rely on a whole stream of welfare-type handouts."

Fear of losing welfare support, Dr Sharples said, was one reason many Maori gave their party vote to Labour even though they voted for the Maori Party in electorates - it won four of the seven Maori seats.

Dr Sharples hoped the party could provide Maori with "wins".

"If we can pull one of these major things [policies] off ... or at least if we can be seen to be holding our own in a battle, it will constitute a win as far as the people are concerned."

And that, he hopes, will translate into votes next election.

The party will also be focused on getting more Maori signed up to the Maori electoral roll. That, together with the Census in March, would determine whether more Maori seats were created.

"If we can do that and increase the seats then there is a real opportunity to win those new seats."

Dr Sharples also intends to lead the battle to end gang problems in South Auckland.

"Otherwise it's back to our normal fare of those major issues."

And the Maori Party will take support where it can get it to advance those issues: overturning the Foreshore and Seabed Act that vests those areas in Crown ownership, entrenching the Maori seats and strengthening the status of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Maori Party is more than willing to work with National. At Ratana last week the MPs were seated with National when they arrived on the marae - seen by many as a rebuke by Ratana for the party's talks with National after the election.

Dr Sharples accepted that the talks had damaged the party but said it did not matter then.

"The damage was already done. We'd lost the party vote, the party vote went to Labour."

The Maori Party aims to "educate" supporters about how politics works, including the message that it has to talk to National to get progress on some issues.

"If there is any hope at all of the foreshore legislation repeal, we can't do it without National. If we are not talking to them, how in hell are we going to get them to support us?"

The Maori Party has already drafted a bill to repeal the act but it needs more work before it is taken to National. The party plans to run seminars for National MPs on the issue.

The Maori Party also intends to work with Labour - it is hoping its Maori members will support moves to entrench the Maori seats.

"I know that Maori people want it and half of them went in on those seats anyway in the beginning, so it would seem hypocritical if they don't support that."

The party would also work with the Green Party - although Dr Sharples said the Greens turned down an opportunity to work more closely with the Maori Party by going into an agreement with Labour.

- NZPA

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