Alamein Kopu dies aged 68 (update)

By Kelly Makiha

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Controversial former MP Alamein Kopu has died in Rotorua at the age of 68.

She worked extensively in the community, mainly on rehabilitation programmes for criminals and drug users.

She entered Parliament in 1996 as a list MP for the Alliance party. In 1997 she became an independent MP before starting the Mana Wahine Party later in 1997.

Mrs Kopu gradually came under increasing criticism, having been unemployed for nearly two decades before becoming an MP.

She was controversial as many Alliance colleagues complained she was rarely seen in Parliament and believed she was not doing enough work.

Other causes of criticism stemmed from internal tensions between different factions of Mana Motuhake. Mrs Kopu resented the criticism and voiced the possibility of leaving the Alliance.

In July 1997, Mrs Kopu finally resigned. In a televised statement, she refused to talk in English and, in Maori, blamed racist discrimination for her predicament, going as far as stating "Apartheid is alive and well in New Zealand".

A hearing of Parliament's privileges committee found that Mrs Kopu had not resigned from Parliament and that her pledge to the Alliance did not constitute a constructive resignation. The dispute led to the introduction of legislation that became known as the "waka jumping" act.

After spending some time as an independent, Mrs Kopu decided to establish her own political party, Mana Wahine Te Ira Tangata. In the 1999 election, Mrs Kopu stood as her party's candidate in the Waiariki electorate. The party had also intended to submit a party list, but Mrs Kopu failed to submit it before the deadline. This eliminated the possibility of Mrs Kopu remaining in Parliament as a list MP and she lost the seat.

She then became the centre of controversy when police investigated the disappearance from Parliament of office furnishings allocated to Mrs Kopu. The complaint was made to Wellington police by Members' Services, a division of Parliamentary Services, relating to a list of furnishings missing from Mrs Kopu's former office on the third floor of the Beehive. No charges were laid.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia yesterday expressed her sympathies to the whanau.

Ms Turia said she was disappointed that some commentators reduced Mrs Kopu's legacy as limited to the catalyst for waka jumping legislation.

"What must also be on the record is her dedication to serving her constituency.

"Her public and political achievements aside, Alamein will be also missed greatly as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Our thoughts and sympathies are extended to her whanau, hapu and iwi at this sad time".

Former Rotorua MP Steve Chadwick said yesterday Ms Kopu must have had talents, but most people never knew them.

Mrs Kopu was raised in Opotiki but she spent the last decade or so living in Rotorua.

- ROTORUA DAILY POST

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