Maori Party must accept compromise - Sharples

Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples. Photo / The Aucklander
Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples. Photo / The Aucklander

Division remains over whether the Maori Party should support new foreshore and seabed legislation, but there is a growing awareness among party constituents of the need to accept compromise, says co-leader Pita Sharples.

The issue was a topic of discussion at the party's hui in Hastings at the weekend, and Dr Sharples said opinions were expressed openly and MPs got a chance to explain the party's position.

"We got to the stage where we can discuss the issues rationally, with some leaning one way and some the other way, and I think we really got to the point where everyone had a better understanding of what government is, and what our role is in there - which is the most important thing," he told NZPA.

New legislation, the Marine and Coastal Areas Bill, has been negotiated between National and the Maori Party to replace the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, but the party is prepared not to back it into law if it feels the majority of constituents are against it.

Dr Sharples said the party had to make concessions to get this far and people were starting to understand that.

"I think they will understand now - if the party votes for it to go ahead - that we have made it very clear that we didn't get what we really wanted, and what we did get was better than 2004."

"We are trying to teach everyone that this is kawanatanga, this is government and these are their rules of operation, and if you want to gain some wins you work within those rules and get the wins you can."

However, some remained uncomfortable with the legislation's "half-pie" status and would continue to stand against it on principle, Dr Sharples said.

The dissent extends to within the party itself, with MP Hone Harawira opposing the bill.

Co-leader Tariana Turia said at the hui that the past year had been somewhat damaging and energy sapping.

"We must focus on what is in our collective interests - what will unite us - and stop spending all our energy on what divides us."

"All of us are tired of reading headlines which cast us - the Maori Party - in a negative light. And we can not blame the media for that, we provide them with the footage which exposes all our vulnerabilities and sets up conflict within the agenda."

Mrs Turia said she was proud of the fact the coalition arrangement with National had for the first time given a strong voice to Maori in general at the highest level.

She welcomed newly-elected party president Pem Bird and paid tribute to the work achieved by outgoing president Whatarangi Winiata, and to Dr Sharples - "the nicest person in Parliament".

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday he was confident the Maori party was stable and could see the benefits of the new legislation.

"It's not without its controversy from their perspective, and Hone's made it quite clear he's not voting for it. But in the end, as we've always said, we think it's an improvement on the existing legislation.

"If the Maori party ultimately don't want to support it then the legislation won't progress."

- NZPA

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