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

Audrey Young: Horomia - the good and the bad

Parekura Horomia. Photo / supplied
Parekura Horomia. Photo / supplied

The sense of loss over the death of Parekura Horomia has been profound, from the Governor-General to people on the street, to Maori royalty.

The Maori King, Tuheitia, was one of the last callers to make the trip to the East Coast to pay his respects to the big man early Monday morning.

The affable former Maori Affairs Minister was universally liked and respected across Parliament, too.

But it hasn't always been the case. Liked? Yes - but respected? Not always.

From 2003 to 2005 he was placed under the most punishing scrutiny by Parliament's toughest operators of the day, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, National's hit-man Murray McCully and Act's political assassin Rodney Hide, and he was found wanting.

The issue was the Maori broadcasting funding agency, Te Mangai Paho, for which he was responsible.

The Opposition dragged up disturbing examples of mismanagement, but as minister he seemed incapable of giving plain answers in Parliament.

Horomia labelled the attacks racist. Winston Peters said it was inverse racism for the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, to be tolerating such a poor performance from a minister.

Horomia required close political management by Helen Clark.

Horomia stalled further questions about Te Mangai Paho until his fix-it man, Wira Gardiner, had sorted the place out.

Those were very difficult days for Horomia and his party may have wondered why Clark had shown such confidence in him that she insisted on a smooth selection process from the party in 1999.

But then along came the Court of Appeal's foreshore and seabed decision, opening the way for iwi to claim customary title, the very same month that Te Mangai Paho was blowing up.

And in many ways the foreshore and seabed was the making of Horomia and thrust him into a new leadership role.

Instead of being the incoherent minister who couldn't answer questions in the House on broadcasting funding, he became a pivotal player in one of the most complex and potentially divisive issues to have confronted a modern New Zealand Government.

Michael Cullen and Helen Clark drove Labour's response and Maori responded to them with a large hikoi.

But Horomia's extensive personal networks in Maoridom were crucial to keeping the channels open, and while he could not prevent Tariana Turia from leaving Labour, he clearly remained a true friend as evidenced by her heart-broken tribute to him.

Retaining his seat in 2005 against Turia's new party increased his standing in the Labour Party.

Horomia's third and final term in Government was nowhere near as controversial as his second term.

Then he spent the last four years of his life in Opposition, which can be as controversial as you make it. He didn't make much of a fuss in Opposition.

Not quite like his going.

- 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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