Editorial: A quiet man whose contribution was huge

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Parekura Horomia. Photo / APN
Parekura Horomia. Photo / APN

Too soon, the country has lost Parekura Horomia and Maori have lost one of their best leaders. Tributes yesterday from those who knew him all remarked on how hard he worked. "For a huge man, he covered more miles than an athlete," said fellow MP Shane Jones.

At any event important to Maori he would be there, and events he considered important were not only big national occasions, they included local gatherings on the East Coast and throughout his electorate that stretched down the coast to Wellington. When any of his people stood to perform a waiata or action song Parekura, as everyone called him, could be seen to quietly join them.

But that is no more than what is expected of an electorate MP. Parekura Horomia commanded much wider respect for his considered contributions to policy at the highest level. Joining the Department of Labour as an overseer of work schemes, he was soon brought into its corporate office and rose to general manager of its community employment group before he entered Parliament in 1999.

Within a year he became Minister of Maori Affairs in Helen Clark's Government. When he spoke, always quietly, people listened.

Like many quiet people he did not make much impact in Parliament, or at least not one that could be heard from the galleries. Pundits often predicted his demotion from the front bench but as Labour's most respected Maori he survived. His eight years as a minister were some of the hardest anyone with his portfolio has faced.

The Court of Appeal's 2003 ruling on the foreshore and seabed challenged popular and legal assumptions of public ownership, and posed a political risk that the Government could not ignore. Its legislation over-riding the court's decision drove his friend and colleague Tariana Turia to leave the Government and form the Maori Party.

Mr Horomia remained loyal to Labour and gave no public hint of how torn he must have been. It spoke volumes for him yesterday that despite their differences, Mrs Turia's tribute was one of the most heartfelt he was given. "He could infuriate me, but he was also a confidant; my special mate through thick and thin, and I am heartbroken to lose him," she said.

His decision not to leave with her was probably crucial to Labour's retaining three of the seven Maori electorates at the 2005 election. If all of the seats eventually return to Labour, as seems possible now, he will have a hallowed place in the party's memory.

His death will require a byelection that could offer an early test of the Maori Party's prospects of survival. It is not having a glorious second term in John Key's Government. Unlike the first term when its difficulties were largely caused by Hone Harawira, its misfortunes now are largely of its own making. Mrs Turia intends to retire and Pita Sharples is resisting a challenge from Te Ururoa Flavell. A leadership contest within a party of three, two of whom are co-leaders, is the stuff of comedy.

Parekura Horomia's mana would probably retain Ikaroa-Rawhiti for Labour in any case. He was above all an assiduous electorate MP. Maori electorates, despite their size, are possibly better served by their member than most these days. The reason may be that electorate seats are still the battleground of Maori politics, which they are not for the mainstream contest.

Labour has never lost the list votes of Maori significantly, but it needs to win back the electorate votes if it is to prevent an independent Maori Party putting National back in power. It needs more MPs like Parekura Horomia.

- NZ Herald

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