A conference dubbed "Powering up the Maori Economy in Te Tai Tokerau" was "more than a talkfest", presenters and iwi leaders promised.

Hundreds of business, economic, social, central and local government, and iwi authority representatives attended yesterday's conference in Kerikeri, where Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell was a guest speaker in the afternoon.

Topics on the agenda included working collaboratively, more strategic use of Maori assets such as land, preparing people for relevant work in the region, forestry and farm development, and post-Treaty opportunities.

The morning discussions were led by entrepreneurial business expert Harry Burkhardt and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) deputy director general of sector partnerships Ben Dalton.


Mr Burkhardt said young Maori in particular needed to know who they were and how to be digital citizens - "to find their way through that space".

He ended with what he called his mantra: "I trust collaborative models will get us there. Conservative business models have got us here, and 'here' is not enough. There are inequities, there are winners and losers in this space, and it's not pretty."

Mr Dalton said that while Northland's GDP had grown recently, "not a lot of that has occurred in the Maori area".

Of the region's population of 56,613 Maori, 17.4 per cent of them were unemployed compared with the national figure for Maori of 12 per cent; average earnings were $40,670 compared with Maori nationally, $47,385; and, close to the national figure, 52.4 per cent of Tai Tokerau Maori were low-skilled.

Mr Dalton said change would take time, and "whanau wealth" was not a measurement of millions of dollars but of the capability to provide life's needs.

The way to do that was through more jobs and income, which in turn relied on good use of assets and opportunities such as education, land and primary industries.