Labour leader Phil Goff has dismissed a claim by one of his Maori MPs that his party's Maori caucus was united in wanting to replace him with a Maori leader.

Departing MP Mita Ririnui said on Te Karere Labour would lose this election and it was time for a Maori party leader to win back the Maori vote and secure the Government benches.

"The Maori Labour caucus is unanimous. We - the Maori members of Labour - think it's time that a Maori leads the party or at least is second in command."

He told the Herald that of the three tipped as possible contenders - David Cunliffe, Shane Jones and David Parker - he preferred Mr Jones.


Mr Goff rejected the suggestion that the party's seven Maori MPs were united against him.

"That's not true ... Mita is saying he'd like to see a Maori leader for the future - that's his viewpoint. Mita is retiring and I wish him well in retirement."

Mr Ririnui told the Herald yesterday it was not a "parting shot" at Mr Goff.

"I wouldn't do that to Phil. He's the hardest working member of the caucus."

Although his comments in te reo on Te Karere were translated by the programme as saying Mr Goff did not relate well to Maori, he said he actually said only a Maori could properly understand Maori.

Mr Ririnui was one of the MPs demoted in 2009 for misuse of his ministerial credit card, including buying a set of golf clubs which he later reimbursed. Although Mr Jones was promoted again, Mr Ririnui was not and he announced this year he would retire from politics.

Mr Jones would not comment.

The head of the Maori caucus, Parekura Horomia, took Mr Ririnui's comments to mean that if Labour did not win the election, he would support Mr Jones as the next leader.


Asked if the Maori caucus was united in wanting a Maori leader or deputy leader, Mr Horomia said "in the future, we are supportive of that. But going toward the election we have one leader and one deputy leader and we are very supportive of them."