Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Turia unaware of any Harawira leadership hopes

Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Maori party co-leader Tariana Turia says she is unaware of any leadership aspirations rogue MP Hone Harawira may be harbouring.

Mrs Turia is attending the Ratana church's annual celebrations near Whanganui as a part of the Government delegation, alongside Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples and Prime Minister John Key.

The Maori Party's coalition with National has looked increasingly strained in the last week after outspoken Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira again called into question the party's support for the National Government's proposed Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill in a newspaper article.

Maori Party whip Te Ururoa Flavell - backed by all the party's other MPs - put forward an official complaint over Mr Harawira's comments after they were published.

Asked on Radio New Zealand last week whether Mr Harawira might want the party leadership, Dr Sharples said "he may well do".

But he said he and Mrs Turia were open to the possibility of contesting the party leadership and were confident the party would re-elect them.

Speaking to reporters at the Ratana Marae this morning before politicians from the two major parties arrived, Mrs Turia said she was "totally unaware" of any leadership aspirations by Mr Harawira.

"That's a question for Hone not me."

However, Mrs Turia added that she had not been questioned about her leadership recently.

Mr Harawira yesterday confirmed he would attend the gathering.

Speeches from Labour Leader Phil Goff and Prime Minister John Key are expected to focus on the extent and pace of gains for Maori under the Maori Party's coalition with National.

Mrs Turia - herself a Ratana morehu (church member) - said the National Party had a record of the considerable achievements for Maori, including kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and health services.

On the other hand, when the Maori Party held talks with Labour following the last election, Labour "weren't prepared to offer anything".

John Key

A spokesman for Mr Key said the Prime Minister would speak "off the cuff" but would probably cover "the Government's aspirations for New Zealanders including Maori" and also the $2.7 million Ratana housing upgrade announced before Christmas.

Mr Key scored something of a coup at last year's Ratana gathering, one of the first major events of the political year, when he was warmly welcomed and congratulated by church hierarchy for what he had done for Maori in his short time in power.

After receiving a frosty reception at the gathering last year, Labour leader Phil Goff will try to rehabilitate his party's historical relationship with the movement.

Those ties have weakened in recent years, especially particularly after Mrs Turia left Labour to form the Maori Party in 2004.

Labour

But Mr Goff also said last week he would address issues similar to those aired by Mr Harawira when he speaks on the marae today.

Labour still has strong ties to the church. Its candidates in this year's election include Rino Tirikatene in Te Tai Tonga electorate. Mr Tirikatene's grandfather was the first Ratana Labour MP.

Labour will also field Ratana follower Soraya Peke-Mason - who is related to the church's head, Haare Meihana - against Mrs Turia in the local Te Tai Hauaru Maori seat.

Labour's Manurewa candidate Louisa Wall also has strong family connections to the church.

"It is relationships in that sense," said Mr Goff.

"But it is also about the concerns that I think will affect Maori even more than other parts of the community - the need to ensure people can raise their kids with a decent standard of living in the face of rising prices."

Mr Goff said he would also address Maori unemployment, which is about twice the rate of the national level and is particularly high among younger Maori.

Green party co-leader MP Metiria Turei will also attend the gathering tomorrow.

Thousands of visitors descend on the Ratana village 20km south of Wanganui over several days each year to celebrate the 1873 birth of the church's founder Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana.

According the last census there are about 50,000 Ratana followers throughout New Zealand. Organisers expect anywhere between 2000 and 10,000 people at the gathering.

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