David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Exclusive interview: Hone Harawira on his comeback deal with the Maori Party

If Hone Harawira could do it all over again, he would not get into bed with Kim Dotcom.

As he launches a bid to return to Parliament, the veteran community activist and politician has offered an apology to supporters about the deal he struck with the German entrepreneur last election.

"It was a failed strategic relationship," says Harawira. "The aim was to engage with another entity to help with the party vote, to get someone else into Parliament."

Would he do it again? "In hindsight, no."

He said the Internet-Mana collaboration was polling well during the campaign and was expected to end with 2.4 per cent of the vote.

"You can't change anything unless you lift that party vote number.

"In the last week [Dotcom] wouldn't let go."

The final week of the election saw the ill-fated Moment Of Truth at which Dotcom pushed his personal campaign against Prime Minister John Key.

Kim Dotcom (left), founder of the Internet Party, on the 2014 campaign trail with Mana Movement's Hone Harawira.
Kim Dotcom (left), founder of the Internet Party, on the 2014 campaign trail with Mana Movement's Hone Harawira.


"We dropped right through the floor.

"That's life. It's not something I would try again. At the time, it was a necessary step and a necessary learning for me, that if you are going to engage externally, outside the Maori world, you do need to have a stronger case for our people. I don't really think a lot of [Mana supporters] understood what the impact of that was.

"That's my fault. I apologise for not being able to explain it as carefully as I would like to."

Harawira today announces a kawenata (agreement) with the Maori Party for the 2017 election.

The deal means the Maori Party will not stand a candidate in Te Tai Tokerau, the electorate Harawira lost to Labour's Kelvin Davis at the last election. In return, Harawira's Mana Party will not stand candidates in the other six Maori electorates.

The deal sees both sides step past the 2011 argument which saw Harawira quit the Maori Party over its relationship with National.

Te Ururoa Flavell, now Maori Party co-leader, led MPs against Harawira claiming he had "acted unethically and without integrity" in speaking out against the deal.

Harawira, in response, called his colleagues "dickheads".

From Hone Harawira's Maori Party days, apologising for "errors" while seated next to Te Ururoa Flavell (left), who is now the party's co-leader.
From Hone Harawira's Maori Party days, apologising for "errors" while seated next to Te Ururoa Flavell (left), who is now the party's co-leader.


Six years of water under the bridge, and losing his seat, seems to have given Harawira time to draw breath.

"It's been a rocky relationship with Te Ururoa but I certainly understand the reality and I think Te Ururoa does too. What we are after this time around ... to create a strong, Maori sovereign point of view within Parliament ... is more important than Te Ururoa and more important than Hone.

"We must always be guided by that because that's what our people want. More than me and Te Ururoa, they want the Maori Party and Mana to stop fighting with one another and to try and get on."

The deal aims to shut the Labour Party out of the Maori seats.

In 2014, Harawira lost Te Tai Tokerau after Davis called for voters to reject the deal with Dotcom.

Harawira, who had previously won Te Tai Tokerau twice for the Maori Party and twice for Mana, lost the seat by 743 votes. The Maori Party walked away with 2500 votes; votes Harawira is hoping will come to him in September.

Labour MP Kelvin Davis who won Te Tau Tokerau from Mana Movement's Hone Harawira in 2014. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour MP Kelvin Davis who won Te Tau Tokerau from Mana Movement's Hone Harawira in 2014. Photo / Mark Mitchell


Davis' success was mirrored across the Maori electorates with six of the seven seats going to Labour.

"The important thing is that the agreement is a sign we understand the importance of working together; to bring all the Maori seats back into Maori hands," Harawira says.

"It's important for that message to not just be brought home but rammed home that it's not right for the people who stole our foreshore and seabed to hold our Maori seats," he said, in reference to Labour's 2005 handling of ownership of the foreshore and seabed.

"Those seats belong back in Maori hands. It's about the principle. Maori lands in Maori hands. Same with the seats, Maori seats in Maori hands."

As Harawira has it, Labour doesn't support unions, the working class, those without a voice or the Treaty.

"The more and more Labour has moved away from its working class roots and away from its championing of the rights of the poor and become more of a centrist party, the less and less relevant they have become to Maori.

"It's no longer the case that Labour provides for the needs of Maori. Certainly not in the Tai Tokerau, and that's no offence to Kelvin. My campaign isn't going to be one against Kelvin. It is going to be put Mana back into Parliament."

When Harawira did a deal with Dotcom, he told supporters they needed more MPs in Parliament to achieve anything of note. There was a frustration at the impossibility of making change as an individual.

Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom (centre) seated next to Mana Movement leader Hone Harawira in 2014.
Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom (centre) seated next to Mana Movement leader Hone Harawira in 2014.


Now, he seems to have accepted that reality and the frustration that comes with it. His focus is also less global and more focused on the electorate which Davis took from him.

"You have to change the whole way of thinking of a government and that's not possible when you hold just one seat.

"You can have an impact on the thinking of others; you can have an impact on the thinking of their supporters such that they themselves may change; but don't kid yourself you can change the way a government acts just by yourself.

"I don't get frustrated by it because I'd be a seriously sick man if that was the case because everything would frustrate me.

"I'm very clear I can't be all things to all people. I can't change the world. But if I can have a positive impact on the lives of the people I serve in the Tai Tokerau then I'm providing a beacon of what's possible anywhere else."

There is the contradiction of Harawira.

He complains that one MP can't achieve much, but is determined to be that one MP. He needs to be in Parliament to gets things done, but is frustrated at how hard it is for one person to achieve anything.

Mana Movement's Hone Harawira at a 2014 demonstration against child poverty in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring.
Mana Movement's Hone Harawira at a 2014 demonstration against child poverty in Auckland. Photo / Doug Sherring.


He cemented his reputation as an uncompromising politician by walking out on the Maori Party, yet is relying on the same group to ease his path back.

Asked if he had learned to compromise, he said: "I've learnt the value of working with others but I am still very firm about principles. The Treaty is important, te reo is important and the rights of our people are important. They are more important than all the money in the world.

"On those sorts of principles, I'll be as uncompromising as I need to be. Beyond that, we can compromise on strategy. Just don't compromise on principles."

Ask Harawira how he handled being out of Parliament after nine years as an MP and he says: "It's been bloody wonderful."

His tolerance for politics was tested by the trek to Wellington, the slow process of Parliament and the frustrations of being Mana's sole MP.

"I'm naturally a community activist," he says. "I'm a Maori activist."

So the exile to the Far North, Harawira lives in Awanui, north of Kaitaia, was a blessing, of sorts. Now, though, Harawira would like that blessing to be over.

It's been a useful time. Harawira has fronted the Open The Curtains programme, which has literally knocked on doors in Far North communities to identify need in a personal way.

He has also led a breakaway rugby league competition, which has gone from four teams to an expected 10 this coming season.

It's deep in the grassroots "with the people I talk about when I'm in Parliament".

"It helps get me a bone-deep understanding of what poverty really is and what it really means for these people who don't have the capacity to change it for themselves."

Poverty is a blunt truth in the northern reaches of Te Tai Tokerau. The electorate profile colour-codes deprivation on a map using red for those most in need. North of Whangarei, away from the Bay of Islands, is Harawira heartland and it is as red as the red on the Tino Rangitiratanga flag flying on his front lawn.

The physically closed curtains to which the Kaitaia social scheme refers has become a metaphor for Harawira.

Mana Movement leader Hone Harawira with granddaughter Maioha, 10, at his Far North home. Photo / David Fisher
Mana Movement leader Hone Harawira with granddaughter Maioha, 10, at his Far North home. Photo / David Fisher


"Their curtains are closed to the outside world and often their minds are closed to what's possible, in terms of health, in terms of a future for their children. I know everyone has the same dreams I do for their mokopuna [grandchildren] but a lot of people have been so beaten down they can't see that as a reality."

For Harawira, the Treaty, and its promises of shared authority and self-determination, underpin everything.

"I don't go back with a whole lot of brand-new clothes and a whole lot of brand-new policies. I'm a 'greatest hits' kind of guy."

"The Treaty isn't about a 3 per cent settlement for every tribe in the country [an accepted estimate of value of the settlements]. It's about an ongoing governance relationship.

"For that to be realised, there needs be an equal partnership. And for that to happen, Maori need to be lifted out of a place where it is difficult to have equal standing.

"A lot of Maori people in Tai Tokerau are below the poverty line. Before they can even contemplate what managing sovereignty is, they need to be brought above that line to manage themselves and their families in a sustainable manner.

"The important thing is to bring our people to a point where opportunities are possible. Below the line, you're struggling to survive and you don't even think about anything else."

- NZ Herald

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