National one year on: Strong relationship stands the test

By Claire Trevett

Tariana Turia (foreground) with Maori party colleagues (from left)  Pita Sharples, Rahui Katene, Te Ururoa Flavell and Hone Harawira. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Tariana Turia (foreground) with Maori party colleagues (from left) Pita Sharples, Rahui Katene, Te Ururoa Flavell and Hone Harawira. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Claire Trevett talks to Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia about the first year working with the National Government.

The day National went to the Maori Party to sign its support agreement was a landmark in New Zealand's political history Although their agreement requires the two to deal with each other in a "mana-enhancing" manner, it has sometimes been uncomfortable. There was National's refusal to consider Maori seats on the Auckland Super City council and the difficult times wrought by Maori Television's bid for the Rugby World Cup.

How has it been dealing with National compared to how you expected it to be when you first signed up?

We spent three years building a relationship prior to that with the leadership - John Key and Bill English. Georgina [te Heuheu] and Tau Henare played a role in that as well. Had we not done that, it probably would have been quite difficult for us, particularly knowing our people had voted with their party vote for Labour, which isn't surprising.

That's the party they know best, or think they know best.

Do you still have that level of trust in National?

Yes. What I've enjoyed the most is our ability to be upfront with one another and be straightforward on issues. I have never found that they've said one thing to me in a meeting and done another.

Issues you clashed over?

Maori seats on the Auckland council. That was very disappointing because one of things I've quite liked about John Key's leadership is its inclusive nature. I thought that was a huge chance for Parliament to show leadership, so it was disappointing.

Speaking of which, how is your relationship with Act [whose leader Rodney Hide said he would resign his ministerial post if the Maori seats went ahead]?

This is a funny place and you can have relationships with people that are good relationships even if you disagree on almost everything.

I've always hads a very good relationship with Rodney. I understand the politics of why they behave the way they do. I don't like it and I don't support it, but I do understand it.

How have you and Pita found adjusting to ministerial life while balancing your role as co-leaders?

There's often tensions, I think it would be fair to say, when you've got two ministers who are also the co-leaders. If we're being honest, at times

I think our communication could have been better between the co-leaders and the rest of the caucus. It hasn't been intentional, but it has happened.

After the Maori Television bid for the Rugby World Cup rights, have you developed stronger processes for running your relationship with National?

It's a discussion we need to have together so we are waiting for Hone [Harawira] to get back from overseas so we can look at what happened, how it happened. The important thing is we make sure it never happens again, because it was untidy.

What has been the best time so far?

Getting whanau ora into the minds of all the [National] ministers. I've been pleased with their attitudes on it. That has been surprising and I didn't expect it.

That it is our major policy plank so getting ministers talking about what it could mean for the portfolios and future policy has been critical.

Have there been difficult choices?

When you can see value in what is being proposed but there's always downsides to it. We've had to think really carefully about ACC, the Emissions Trading Scheme, and adult education courses.

For example with the ETS, it's been difficult to try to balance the interests of iwi - whose major focus is forestry, fishing and farming - when on the other hand we've got really poor communities who are going to have to pay and they're not the ones causing the problems.

But it's better to mitigate some of these issues than to sit on the outside and do absolutely nothing.

What will you judge the success of the relationship by at the end - policy wins or the strength of the relationship at that point?

The strength of the relationship. Policy wins are great, but in the end it's being able to maintain the strength of the relationship that is really critical. That's how you gain the best policy opportunities for your people.

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From agreement:

Pita Sharples appointed Minister of Maori Affairs, and Associate Education and Corrections Minister. Tariana Turia is Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, Minister of Disability Issues, and Associate in Health and Social Development.

Repeal of Foreshore and Seabed Act recommended after review.

Extra funds for MPs with Maori electorates and big constituency seats.


Agreement to fly Maori flag on Waitangi Day.

Maori TV as leader on joint broadcasters' bid for Rugby World Cup television rights. A diluted win.

Maori rehabilitation units in prisons, extra money for kura kaupapa, trades training, and Maori health groups, and Kaitoko Whanau - people to liaise between Government agencies and whanau.

Still to come:

Group to consider constitutional issues including Maori representation - due early 2010.

Government's response to the Foreshore and Seabed review. Due next week and expected to have Maori Party support and include repeal of the Act.

Implementation of "whanau ora" policies - devolving $1 billion direct to Maori communities for social services delivery.

Government sign-up to UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Expected - but with caveats.

- NZ Herald

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