Q&A with Tariana Turia

By Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett speaks to Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia

Q: What is your vision for New Zealand?

A: First and foremost, my vision is that our people are restored to being strong and independent people so that they can contribute to their own well-being and therefore contribute to this country. So this country can be far more united than what it is today.

Q: Labour has tried to define this election in terms of trust. Do you trust both Helen Clark and John Key?

A: No. No, I don't. I don't think either of them have shown any evidence - for our people anyway - that we can trust them, because they play politics with what are significant and serious issues for us. If I look at Labour and the foreshore and seabed, that was a denial of due process, that was treating us differently to every other New Zealander in terms of justice and that outraged me. I look at John Key and he goes on about getting rid of the Maori seats and he links them to the Treaty. There's no relationship between the two things. So I'm really concerned because I'm looking at a person who wants to move this country forward but clearly doesn't have an understanding about settlement. Settlement is about grievance, it's not about the Treaty. It's about grievance, it's about breach. To link that to the Maori seats, I can't Quite see where it comes from. So no, I don't trust them.

Q: Pita Sharples has indicated health, education and welfare will be top priority areas in post-election talks - what are the three most important policies for the Maori Party?

A: We think the Treaty relationship is critically important. The Treaty should be the basis of everything we do. I don't like the word welfare and I think what we want to do is encourage our people to be independent of welfare. We don't want welfarism to be their goal in life. We want them to be independent people, not having to rely on state agencies, but restoring that same courage that our tupuna had to stand on their own two feet and make their way in life. That's what we want for our people. Our main focus is on whanau ora - the well being of family and what it takes to make them well, healthy, independent, standing on their own two feet.

Q: Your policies include tax exemption for people earning under $25,000, universal child benefit, and removing GST from food. Agenda costed them at about $5 billion. How realistic are these?

A: What do we spend now on building youth residences, prisons, failure of our kids in the system, the ill-health status of our people? How much are we spending on that? We spend $11 billion on health. One of the things we want to do is unbundle all of the money that's being spent on Maori people and we want to know how it's being spent and what the outcomes have been.

We want to see that money being spent in a more constructive way so that tax payers are not seeing money being poured down the tubes year in, year out on our people for really poor outcomes.

Q: National believes a simple repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act is no longer a viable option. Do you still see repeal or amendment of the act as a post-election bargaining point and did the National Party discuss its policy with you before it released it?

A: No, it didn't discuss it with us. They did say they would have some difficulties with full repeal. What we are prepared to do is talk with anybody about how the legislation may well look. But what we are not prepared to accept is that every other New Zealander would have a right to the courts, a right to justice on property rights. The National Party actually gives me the gripe, because they rabbit on about people's property rights but they only see it as for white people. And I do resent that. Property rights are something all of us have.

Q: At the last hui you were talking about amendments to it, rather than full repeal.

A: I would prefer to repeal and then sit down and look at what it is we really want out of this. There are not large areas of the seabed and foreshore still in Maori hands. When the government put this in place, it might have been only 10 per cent. Why would you go to this extent? And if you go and ask ordinary New Zealanders today what the benefits have been to them for the government stealing off us the little that was left, they will tell you 'nothing'.

Q: What will you say if Labour again tells voters that a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for National?

A: Well, that would be very mischievous of them. It would make it very difficult for us to work with them in the future. The truth of the matter is that a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for the Maori Party. We are not left or right - we are here to advance the aspirations of Maori people in the interests of this country, and that's got nothing to do with Labour or National. In the end it will be the political party who is prepared, first, to enter a Treaty-based relationship with us which is about mutual respect and acknowledging one another, and also being prepared to work through those issues we put on the table. It will be as simple as that and in the end it won't matter if it's National or Labour for us.

Q: Could you expand on what you mean by Treaty-based relationships?

A: It's about partnership, protection and participation. The three principles of the Treaty. We would expect that would form the basis of our relationship with one another.

Q: It's the end of your first term as an independent party. How has that gone and what have you achieved?

A: What we've been able to show both Parliament and the rest of New Zealand is that we're prepared to work very hard. We've spoken on every single piece of legislation, provided a Maori perspective to them.

We've been very influential in forcing the Government to stop the sale of [Landcorp land] by bringing it to the attention of iwi. The Maori Party has played a huge role in restoring the Treaty to the curriculum and education. We have highlighted that the Labour Party has voted against almost every single Treaty clause that has been put up except in the Public Health Bill.

We voted for the Section 59 repeal (anti-smacking law) and we think that was a major step forward for us. It sets a gold standard for all of our families to aspire to. We make no apology for voting for it. We think we needed to do that. That's probably the only time we voted against our people. All the polls were saying Maori people didn't want that legislation, but it was the way it was represented to them and when we've had the opportunity to talk to them they can see why we voted on it.

Q: Low points?

A: The reaction from Winston over the Privileges Committee. You can have high regard for a person. The Privileges Committee is a little bit like a jury. The evidence is presented to you, you listen to all the evidence and you make a decision. Te Ururoa Flavell is the most honest person you will ever find and when he came back - and he didn't feel good about coming back to us because he knew we would have really liked to support Winston - but when he came back with the evidence and told us, we agreed to vote with what was presented. And the reaction to that was, I thought, really outrageous.

This wasn't about Maori or Pakeha. This was an issue of integrity and I would have been ashamed if we had voted for him simply because he was Maori, and then acted against the integrity of Owen Glenn. That would have been wrong for me. So we didn't vote lightly.

Q: Would you like to see the evolution of a constitutional relationship between Treaty partners which gave Maori representatives some form of veto on issues of Maori governance or sovereignty?

A: I don't like the word veto. Certainly we would like to see in future a constitution that is underpinned by the Treaty and we don't think you can have a constitution for this land without the Treaty being a significant part of it, particularly at a time when the Maori population is growing. I've never given it any thought, having the power to veto, probably because I hate the fact that others have used the power of veto against us.

Q: You were talking about a Treaty partnership with Labour or National - if you want them to recognise you as the Treaty partner, aren't you telling them that they are not representing Maori as well?

A: Well, I don't think they do. Those Maori MPs represent that political party, not the people. I learnt that as a member of the Labour caucus. Your first obligation is to Labour and Labour's philosophies - not to your people. And middle New Zealand - this ghost of people whom we never seem able to see - were always used as a reason to veto whatever it was that the Maori caucus may have wanted to do.

Q: Pita has described Helen Clark and her administration as a spent force, and Hone has said it is a 'coalition corpse' - do you agree?

A: No. I don't think you could ever say Labour is a corpse or Helen Clark is a spent force. I really don't believe that. I think she has always been a significant political player and there is great substance to Helen. I wouldn't have used that language myself. What Pita said was they were coming to the end of their time. I guess all of us might think that about them. I've been very reluctant to be as critical of her and of Labour in that way, because in the end that's for electors to decide, not other politicians. I don't think it's helpful, especially when you're trying to build bridges and relationships that will take you into an arrangement after the election. You never want to burn your boats.

Q: Polls are still showing Maori roll voters prefer Labour over National on the party vote, so how could you justify talking or going with National?

A: Because if they were the Government we would be doing our people a disservice not talking to them. After all, if we want to achieve our people's aspirations in an MMP environment we should be speaking to everybody. That's what's required of us, that's why we're here. I don't think our people have grasped that readily. But generally I think our people trust us to know we wouldn't do anything that would act against their interests and that's the most important thing to us.

Q: Would you want minister of Maori Affairs?

A: I don't think that's the be all and end all. I think it's very limiting to just think about Maori Affairs. After all, it is only a policy ministry and hasn't fulfilled its obligations. There's some points, I have to say, where I wonder why we need them.

Q: Is there any ministerial post you personally would like?

A: I don't even know if I want to go there, to be honest. Certainly if we get to any position of discussion we're interested in the social policy areas, health, housing, education. The community and voluntary sector is another area, the disability sector is another of huge interest.

Q: National, in its Maori Affairs policy, claimed it shared many values with Maori. What are the areas of compatibility?

A: Those are their words. You should ask them that Question. I think one thing they have done, which has served our people well, is if you look back in their history, you look at kohanga, you look at kura, whare wananga, you look at health and social services - all of those have come out of a National Government. Our people don't know that because National don't go out like Labour do and say 'we've done this for you and that for you', because, basically they don't want the rednecks in their party to know what they've done for us. That's why our people actually think Labour's given them everything. They really think everything they've got has been through Labour.

Q: Prior to the last election you ruled out National. How have things changed in your view?

A: I think my view has changed to this degree - I said before that I will work with the devil if I have to, if it means I can achieve our people's aspirations. Whichever devil it is - Labour or National - we will work with them.

Q: Will you work with the devil if it wants to abolish the Maori seats?

A: Well, I think the devil probably won't be able to if they don't get the numbers. We'll soon see what they say after the election, if they don't get 51 per cent.

Q: Do you think the public at large is less suspicious of you than maybe they were when you came in?

A: I have noticed a difference even towards me personally. When I was in Labour because everything I was given to do was Maori focussed, that's all I'd ever talk about. But because that has changed and I'm able to talk more broadly about things, I've noticed in the airport people will come and talk to me. I've gone and spoken to Rotary groups - Foxton Rotary group sent me this really nice email and told me that me talking to them helped to allay the fears they had about the role the Maori Party might play in the future. They were mostly Pakeha.

- NZ Herald

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