The Māori Party has launched its 2020 election campaign laying down the wero for the country to stop treating its indigenous people as "second class citizens".
About 500 people packed onto the grounds of Hoani Waititi marae in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland on Saturday, as the party unveiled its flagship policy to put Māori at the forefront, and rally support in its fight to re-enter Parliament.
Whānau First would ensure a quarter of Government spending was funnelled into projects led by Māori and involving Māori-led businesses.
The affirmative action policy, modelled off programmes overseas, demands Māori equity and equality to help reverse "decades of discrimination and disadvantage", and put Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi at the core of government.
The party, which had previously been in a coalition government with the National Party, failed to win any Māori seats in 2017, all won by Labour candidates.
The party has since had a refresh, appointing new leaders in John Tamihere, who's running in Tāmaki Makaurau, and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, a Ngāti Ruanui iwi leader running in Te Tai Hauāuru.
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The symbolism of launching at a marae, particularly one built by party co-founder Tā Pita Sharples, was not lost on those attending, who included Māori leaders from across the motu.
"Who else has their party campaign launch in a marae?" asked Tamihere, who in his electorate is taking on Māori political powerhouses in encumbent Peeni Henare of Labour, and Marama Davidson of the Greens.
"I am not campaigning against Marama and Peeni, but the Pākehā people who control them."
To be "unashamedly Māori" was the point of difference for the party and its seven candidates, said Tamihere, a former Labour MP who unsuccessfully ran for the Auckland mayoralty last year.
In a rousing speech that had the crowd in cheers and tears, and covered core Māori issues from Ihumātao - "It needs to be given back", to the Covid-19 response - "We have a right not to be an afterthought", Tamihere said their new policy would put Māori at the forefront.
"No longer will we fill prisons, will they take our babies. We will no longer be treated as second-class citizens in a first world country," said Tamihere, his voice cracking as he spoke.
Tamihere's searing address was followed by Ngarewa-Packer, who Manurewa Marae chairman Rangi McLean had earlier referred to as providing "balance" to Tamihere, a "taniwha".
Ngarewa-Packer at first acknowledged McLean's comment and her "balancing role", before taking it back.
"Actually, I agree with everything John says."
The Covid-19 pandemic in particular had highlighted "major racism and inequity" that exists in the country, exemplified through unemployment, she said.
Before the lockdown the Māori unemployment rate was about 8 per cent, double the national rate of 4, and experts say Māori will be harder hit as the economy takes a dip.
"This policy is deliberate in addressing decades of underprivilege, inequities and racism," she said.
The flagship policy would ensure a quarter of all government funding for Covid-19 recovery projects over the next two years would be delivered through the Māori workforce, businesses and organisations.
Tamihere said the funding was there in the $20 billion set aside to recover from Covid-19, as was the legal foundation through Te Tiriti, which enshrined "equal rights" to Māori, - but that had not eventuated.
The policy was not "reverse racism", rather a "response" to racism.
It was Māori leadership that stood up and filled the gap during Covid-19, Ngarewa-Packer told the Herald.
This included iwi-led checkpoints to help stop the spread of the virus and inform the population, one of those led by herself in Taranaki.
The policy also emphasised all Covid-19 recovery bodies should reflect the Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi relationship in their structure and membership.
The campaign launch comes as kaupapa Māori political rival Mana Movement, led by former Māori Pārty member Hone Harawira, throws its weight behind the party.
with Tamihere on social media, Harawira said Mana would not be standing any candidates in the 2020 election, and would be promoting Māori Party candidates.
Ngarewa-Packer said they could not see themselves working with National while Todd Muller was leader.
National recently came under fire for not having any Māori MPs in its top 12, comments from MP Judith Collins, and Muller has also drawn criticism from Māori in his Bay of Plenty electorate over his position around a Motiti Island court decision.
"They are stoking fear about Māori progress - that will make it untenable to work with them."
They could work with Labour, she said, but ultimately any decision would be left until after the election, and be decided by their constituents.
"We are unapologetically Māori, we don't have to take a backseat on anything.
"But pro-Māori does not mean anti Pākeha – I am half Irish – just that we have to take action."