Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Maori-Mana union unlikely

Te Ururoa Flavell was elected the new male co-leader. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Te Ururoa Flavell was elected the new male co-leader. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The chances of any union between the Maori Party and Mana Party appear remote, despite changes in leadership and calls for talks from several party members at the Maori Party's annual conference.

At its largest conference in years, about 300 members gathered for the conference in Whakatane at which MP Te Ururoa Flavell was elected unopposed as the new male co-leader and Naida Glavish was chosen as the party's President over George Ngatai.

The presidency battle was partly a choice on the issue of the Mana Party after George Ngatai spoke in favour of talks, saying it was clear there was not room for two Maori parties. "At least we can say we tried."

There were many nods of approval among the audience.

Others including the party's Ikaroa-Rawhiti candidate Na Raihania and long-term party member Tame Iti have also voiced support for talks with Mana.

However, Mr Harawira's recent stipulation that the Maori Party would have to walk away from National - as well as a stinging attack in which he described Mr Flavell as uncharismatic and a work horse who simply did what he was told - appear to have reinforced the party leadership's reluctance.

Afterward, Mr Flavell said the response of the members indicated more discussion was needed. Mrs Turia, who will stay on as female co-leader until she retires at the election, said one of the most important factors in any relationship was trust. "There is a lot of work that has to be done to restore that. You can't really enter into dialogue when the perameters have already been set by the other party. If they put aside that and are willing to sit down and talk kanohi to kanohi [face to face] we are available to talk."

Although Pita Sharples has offered to hand over some ministerial portfolios to Mr Flavell before the election, Mr Flavell said he would not take that up because he wanted to focus on readying the party for the 2014 campaign which is shaping up as a do or die battle for the party. Mr Flavell said he was heartened by the number of people who had travelled to the hui "to try and get us back on track".

The party has come in for criticism over its relationship with National, but outgoing President Pem Bird said it would be a breach of trust for it to walk away from National now. That was reinforced by Mrs Turia, who ruled out that the Maori Party would walk out on National before the 2014 election. "Because then we would be in Opposition doing nothing."

Mr Flavell said the party would talk to its members before deciding whether to go into coalition with either National or Labour if there was a choice in 2014.

In his final address as party leader, Pita Sharples also defended the deal with National, saying it meant National did not follow through on its policy to abolish the Maori seats and had also meant real gains for Maori.

- Herald on Sunday

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