Last year Metiria Turei became the first female political leader to speak at Waitangi’s Te Tii Marae, 16 years after Helen Clark cried when refused permission. The Green Party co-leader says talking was always the one thing she was good at.

1. Did the feminist in you rejoice at being allowed to speak at Te Tii last year?

The feminist in me rejoiced about women talking to women and respecting their authority. It was the kuia who make it possible. All I did was ask. I went to see Titewhai [Harawira] and spent an afternoon with her talking about this. We sat down with people. If you talk with people instead of shout at them, all sorts of good things happen. Annette Sykes also spoke. I was really pleased to show that our tikanga is a living tikanga. There's an issue lots of indigenous feminists face, in that just because you're a feminist doesn't mean you're not a racist. There's discussion in feminist circles all over the world about what it means to respect indigenous women and their authority. It's Maori women asking Pakeha women to respect their decisions about their own culture and how it can be changed.

2. How do you think Helen Clark would have felt about it?

I'd hope she was pleased. That incident was sheer bad advice - her own people putting her in a really awful position. To that extent she took a hit for all women in leadership, in positions of authority, and it was unfair that it was so bad for her. It was her people not going carefully enough. I speak to groups of women - ambassadors and diplomats - who deal with these [protocol] issues and my advice is to speak directly with kuia and kaumatua. In the end, you're their guests and they can set the rules as they choose.


3. How do you feel on Waitangi Day?

I love every bit of it. The political challenges and protests are really important. Our country has been built on love and pain and we have to be honest about both. As a kid, all I knew was what was on the telly. That's why I tell everyone to go to Waitangi. The korero there is how we work out what to do next. There's more of that conversation than the 30 seconds of shouting you see on the news. Do I miss being on the protests? I do really. I was a great protester.

4. Are you missing Russel yet?

Are you kidding? I have a long list of jobs he needs to do before he goes. I will miss him. He's a very deep thinker and full of ideas and he's prepared to have those ideas tested, which is enormously valuable. Oh, we always argue, about ideas or the approach to things. Your own ideas are not always the best ones. But he's prepared to change and be changed. I have no idea who will replace him. But that's the thing about leadership. There are times when you are leading the party and times when the party is leading you. It's my job to make it work.

5. Do you wish, like him, that you had spent more time with the kids?

It's my greatest regret about taking this job 13 years ago. I missed out on my daughter's last half of childhood. Missed most of the school plays. She was head girl and I just wasn't there most of the time. I wouldn't change it, though if I could go back I'd do my best to have more babies when my girl was small. She is now at university. She's never said she wishes it was different. One thing I didn't know at the time, when she was a teenager and at parties, she would take any alcoholic drink she had and pour it into a water or soft drink bottle, so that if any photos ended up on Facebook, I wouldn't get into trouble for having an underage daughter drinking. That broke my heart actually. Your children should not be in a position of having to protect you.

6. Your family moved around a lot when you were a child: was that the time you felt at your loneliest?

Probably. It's difficult having to explain to other kids repeatedly who you are and why you are at their school, making friends and not worrying you might not see them again. One thing I wanted for [daughter] Piupiu was as much stability as possible. She only went to three schools which I was really pleased about. I can get lonely now too - Parliament can be very isolating. The people you love are not here. You're surrounded by and talking to people all day but it can be on a very superficial level. Everyone knows it's those deeper conversations that you really want.

7. What did your parents teach you?

Generosity. No matter how little you have, you have enough to share. We were very poor, had nothing, and yet we always had other people living with us, cousins, aunties. If you were homeless or whatever, you knew there was a safe place with us. It can be a real drain too, whanau who aren't making progress. It can stagnate and make everyone stagnate. My dad was living in a van when he died. [The financial situation] didn't resolve itself until my sister and I became adults and now we own our own homes and are more financially secure.

8. What did your parents teach you that you'd never pass on?

I can only think of the naughty things. Like nicking other people's firewood and the techniques we used to do that. Or sucking the cream from other people's milk bottles then putting the lid back down. Little things like that. Now I feel very sorry for those people, and embarrassed.

9. You drifted for a few years after school: were you hard on yourself for not achieving over those years?

I was really. But I took this view that to do something, anything, was better than nothing. That if I kept on trying to do things, then something would happen. The only thing I was good at at school was debating. I knew I could talk for a living, or be relatively convincing. I did one year of early childhood education in one of those desperate attempts to find something, to see what would happen, and it was really hard work and I knew I wasn't any good at it. That was dispiriting.

10. You were a single mum at 22, and then decided to get a law degree: how did you find the confidence, the time and money?

It wasn't really about confidence - Piupiu needed her mum to make a better life. I had to get my law degree in the four years so we could get off the benefit. I had a lot of family support. My daughter's father was very involved and his family too. I had [government] grants, not loans, a caseworker who believed in me, treated me with respect. Today's young women don't have the same help. I'm amazed that anyone could do it under the current regime.

11. Who is your favourite National politician?

I have a lot of time for Nikki Kaye, a young woman doing very well in a very hard place. She's got a good conscience. Tau [Henare] was my favourite. I enjoyed his caustic, high maintenance company because he is funny as hell. If there's one thing being in [political party] McGillicuddy Serious taught me about politics, it was that if you're not having fun, there's no point. There's an element of ridiculousness to it all. National saying "you stink" to Labour. Labour saying "National you're stink". And it goes on for three hours in the House.

12. Will your time as leader be up soon too?

I believe in staggered succession and that's the advantage of a co-leadership. We'll see what happens after the next election. I'll get my practicing certificate back again for law. I do miss the intellectual rigour of it. One thing I've learned in Parliament is you walk out on your own two feet. I've seen people kicked out, dragged out and occasionally carried out. Eventually, I want to walk.