Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Memories of Henare

Tau Henare. Photo / Greg Bowker
Tau Henare. Photo / Greg Bowker

Winston Peters once said there were two types of politicians on television: those who you want to turn up the sound for and those you want to turn off - and Tau Henare was in the first group.

He had the X factor, Winston said.

That conversation must have been back in 1995 or 1996 when they were the only New Zealand First MPs, before "the betrayal" of 1998 when Tau refused to walk away from Jenny Shipley's Government.

Tau was his deputy and Winston took pride in having another MP who had equal quantities of combat and charm.

The reaction to Tau's announced retirement today is testimony to Winston's initial judgment. He is somebody people still want to listen to, even when he has nothing much to say.

He will be missed by Parliament, possibly more so by the Opposition than National. He will be especially missed by his famous adversary Labour's Trevor Mallard. It takes a mongrel to appreciate a mongrel.

I could not have put it better than Tau himself when he said to me last year: "There's no one like me in the National Party."

My strongest memories of Tau Henare:

• Tau's interview ahead of the party's hugely important conference in the Downtown Centre in 1996, election year. He swore never to sit at a cabinet table alongside Jenny Shipley or Bill Birch. It was a near perfect conference. A hell of a lot of planning had gone into it, like watching Danyon Loader win a gold medal in Atlanta while eating fish and chips out of carefully printed newspaper (with NZ First stories). Winston was trying to forge a position in the middle of the political spectrum by favouring neither National nor Labour.

Tau's comments in the Saturday Herald were great copy but totally undermined the strategy. Tau did not have the X factor that day.

• Tau's loyalty to Tukuroirangi Morgan. Soon after New Zealand First went into coalition with National, his caucus colleague, brother-in-law and neighbour Tuku became enveloped in a scandal over spending at the taxpayer funded Aotearoa Television. In January 1997, in what must have been one of his first press conferences as Maori Affairs Minister, Tau was hosting the East Timorese Nobel Peace prize winner Jose Ramos for a visit and they had a press conference in Tau's office. He went ape when the questions turned from Timor to Tuku.

• Akaroa. It's hard to think of a nicer place for a political party to have a caucus retreat and it's where New Zealand First held its first retreat after getting into Government. I might be wrong but I think it was the picture of Tau, Tuku, Tuariki John Delamere, Rana Waitai and Tu Wyllie, all the MPs who had made a clean sweep of the Maori electorates, walking down the pier in their dark glasses that cemented the term "The Tight Five."

• Closing the Gaps - actually begun by Tau as Minister of Maori Affairs then picked up with gusto by Helen Clark's Labour Government, then dropped again when it appeared to be turning off Pakeha voters.

• Marrying Ngaire - he married his partner of 25 years Ngaire Brown in the old Maori Affairs select committee room in 2012, in a ceremony conducted by colleague Chris Auchinvole.

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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