Key welcomed with a barb while Shearer basks in praise and prophecies of friends

Prime Minister John Key was left in little doubt that there was at least one place he wasn't the preferred Prime Minister: at Ratana Pa.

Ratana Church member Waaka Pama welcomed him on to the marae for the annual celebrations of the birthdate of prophet T.W. Ratana, saying he appreciated Mr Key making the effort to come to talk each year, but with a barb.

"The only thing you've got in your favour here is the blue shirt I'm wearing."

Earlier, Labour leader David Shearer's visit was a lot warmer. Ratana speaker Ruia Aperehama told him it seemed clear he would be Prime Minister after 2014 and urged him to include Maori in his coalition.


Mr Shearer basked in the praise, saying he hoped it would prove prophetic and repeating his vow to work more closely with the Ratana movement, including a form of partnership if Labour was elected.

Mr Key admitted to those gathered at the marae that he knew what he was up against, given the long-standing relationship between Ratana and Labour.

But he said he would continue to travel there each year. Despite his effective admission that gathering votes at Ratana was a lost cause, he mounted a lengthy argument for them to give National a chance rather than put blind faith in Labour. He pointed to National's record compared to Labour's, saying it was stronger on Treaty settlements and committed to lifting Maori achievement levels in education.

"Words are cheap in politics. What is a lot more real is delivery."

Mr Key also defended his Education Minister, Hekia Parata, saying there had been calls to sack her.

"Over the last two months I've had plenty of people telling me I should sack Hekia Parata. I challenge you, name one person who cares more about Maori kids doing well in education in New Zealand that beats Hekia Parata. You won't name anyone, because she cares almost more than any of us that those young Maori kids succeed and she is succeeding."

Mr Key had walked on to the marae side by side with Ms Parata. In previous years he had been accompanied by Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, but Dr Sharples had returned to Auckland after the Maori Party meeting the day before.

Labour's senior Maori politicians had also not made it to Ratana; Shane Jones' plane had broken down and Parekura Horomia was at a tangi - the first time he had missed the day in more than 35 years.


Mr Key brushed off the digs the Ratana speakers had at his expense, saying he wasn't overly concerned by Mr Aperehama's prophecy given the long-standing links between Ratana and Labour.

"I'd be more worried if Tauranga Boys' said it - they seem to be a bit more predictable in their polling."

In a rare move, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei was given permission to speak on the marae - a place where women are usually not allowed to talk.

She outlined her party's new housing policy and her commitment to child poverty and the Maori Party's Whanau Ora scheme.

However, the audience appeared most interested in her tale of a childhood visit to Ratana Pa, including her admission that her first kiss was behind the wharekai.