Muso kicks off political year

By Laurel Stowell

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Forget the politicians, it was a Ratana-raised musician who made the most rousing speech at the celebrations there yesterday. An estimated 2000-plus people were at the village near Wanganui to celebrate the birthday of the Ratana movement's founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana.

Yesterday was the day when New Zealand's political parties were welcomed, signalling the start of their political year.

The Labour and Green parties walked at 12.30pm. Waiting to welcome them were their hosts, figures from the Ratana movement and surrounding iwi (tribes).

In his speech on behalf of Ratana, musician Ruia Aperahama talked of the relationship between Labour and Ratana. He hoped Labour leader David Shearer would form a coalition with the Green Party for the next government, and that they would then enact the "ultimate superior and supreme policy of Ratana" to transform the country.

"Mr Shearer, I hope that in 12 months' time you and your government will be successful, with a strong coalition that represents the various and varying viewpoints of Maori."

The Treaty of Waitangi and Declaration of Independence should be its foundation, and it would include all cultures.

He noted "powerful forces" were trying to remove the Treaty from law.

"If you are going to be Prime Minister, then honour us.

"Never take for granted that Maori vote ever again. We may be small, neglected and in poverty, but we are alive and it ain't finished yet."

He got a round of applause at that point, an unusual and spontaneous response.

He was followed by Mr Shearer, who talked of his party's developing relationship with Ratana, and a visit to Parliament by church tumuaki (head) Harerangi Meihana.

Times were tough and 33 per cent of young Maori were without jobs, "a time bomb for our communities", he said.

Some could not get good housing and the education system needed to give young people every possible opportunity.

"We have policies that do look after the people that need our help with housing, jobs and education," Mr Shearer said.

When Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei came forward to speak, she was accompanied across the marae by two women. She was clearly happy to have her voice heard there - a rare opportunity for a woman. Ratana chairman Waka Paama said later that anyone could speak on the Ratana marae and Ms Turei was led across it to do so because that was more acceptable to local iwi.

Ms Turei said her family used to come to the Ratana celebrations every year, and she had her first kiss behind the grandstand at the age of 12.

She favoured her father's politics, which were about "whether he could put food on the table for his whanau [family]". She endorsed the Treaty of Waitangi, the right of each child for a good life and a return of the values of love and compassion.

In the Greens' "Home for Life" policy, government would provide houses for families who would pay rent, and add whatever extra they could afford to increase their equity, a rent-to-buy scheme that would allow people to keep their houses even if they lost their jobs.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia was an inspiration to her, and Ms Turei said the Whanau Ora initiative had the potential to transform and empower.

Prime Minister and National Party leader John Key's answer to those lofty ideas was to cite hard figures. He said talk was cheap in politics and it was action that mattered.

The National Party had spent $2.7 million on improving 113 houses at Ratana Pa. It had concluded 33 of the 59 Treaty of Waitangi settlements made so far.

Education Minister Hekia Parata, who was with him, wanted Maori children to do well at school. The success of Maori boys at Auckland Grammar proved they could do that.

Of the 3650 more children he wanted to see getting NCEA Level 2 every year, most were Maori.

If his party had to fight with teacher unions to achieve that, then it would, Mr Key said.

Missing from all this political talk were the Mana and Maori parties.

They arrived at Ratana on Wednesday, and the Maori Party then met at Whangaehu Marae to discuss leadership changes. MP Te Ururoa Flavell wants to be a co-leader, president Pem Bird said. The party decided to keep current co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples for now, and meet again soon to decide how leadership changes should happen.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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