Co-leader Tariana Turia says focus should be on welcoming everyone
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia says she would like the Maori Party to return to its broader support base, including Pakeha.
Before the party conference opening last night at Papawai Marae in Greytown, Mrs Turia said that when former Maori Party MP Hone Harawira was strategic manager, the focus was on the Maori seats.
But when the party faced its first national election in 2005, about a quarter of its members were Pakeha, and it stood 55 candidates in general seats as well as the seven Maori seats.
Asked if a Pakeha could ever lead the Maori Party, she said "going into the future, who would know?"
"Hone wasn't keen for us to do that again and because he was responsible for the strategic direction, basically the party took its lead from him. We think that is not a good strategy.
"The Maori Party was never just for Maori people. All-comers are welcome."
Mrs Turia also said she would like to see the party concentrate on the major issues affecting Maori: housing, employment, education and whanau ora.
She said leadership succession and the role of Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell had to be discussed.
"I see it as important if we are to give our people confidence about the future."
Mrs Turia said that neither she nor co-leader Pita Sharples should be offended by talk of succession.
"We've all got to be open to the conversation."
Asked whether there was any chance of Mr Flavell becoming co-leader before the election, she said: "I'll be frank with you - that's got to be on the agenda."
It was not for her electorate of Te Tai Hauauru or Dr Sharples' electorate of Tamaki Makaurau to be saying that they must stay as co-leaders. It was up to the party.
"If the party said to us at this hui 'look, you two, you are long in the tooth, you need to stand aside and allow Te Ururoa to come through' I think as much as your pride might be hurt by it, the fact is we should do that."
She said Mr Flavell was a hard worker, he was well grounded with the people, his profile had grown this year "and hopefully the people themselves will see that he may have a different leadership style but he is leader because he has always been one".
She said she looked to New Zealand First which was "absolutely and totally reliant" on Winston Peters and she did not want the Maori Party to be like that.
Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples have previously said they would retire at the 2014 election but in June said they would reconsider.
After coalition talks in December and the party's concerns over succession planning, Mrs Turia said she would consider stepping aside during the current term for Mr Flavell.
The Maori Party 2004-2012
* Tariana Turia formed the Maori Party in 2004 after leaving Labour over its position on the foreshore and seabed.
* In 2005 the Maori Party won four of the seven Maori seats and in 2008 it won five.
* Hone Harawira left the party before the 2011 election and Rahui Katene of Te Tai Tonga lost her seat, giving the party just three seats in 2011 - Mrs Turia's, Pita Sharples' and Te Ururoa Flavell's.
* It entered a confidence and supply support agreement with National in 2008 and 2011, although on both occasions National could have governed without the Maori Party.