Labour leader Andrew Little has dismissed Tukoroirangi Morgan's criticism of his demotion of Nanaia Mahuta as politically motivated "cant".
Ms Mahuta, the Hauraki Waikato MP, was demoted from 4th to 12th ranking in Labour's shadow Cabinet during a reshuffle and Mr Morgan said this morning it showed he was naïve about Maori politics and it would "come back to bite Labour."
In response Mr Little said given Mr Morgan's political background he did not take the comments seriously and Mr Morgan had done little to help Ms Mahuta. He would not expand on that, but Mr Morgan is the co-chair of the Maori Party's Hauraki-Waikato branch.
This morning, Mr Little also appeared to miscount the number of Maori MPs in Labour when defending the demotion, saying of the six Maori MPs in caucus four were ranked at Cabinet level. Labour has seven Maori MPs - six who hold Maori electorates and Louisa Wall, the Manurewa MP. Of those, four are in the shadow Cabinet and three are outside. Mr Little later said he was talking about those with Maori seats and that was obvious from the context of the question.
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He said he was not expecting a backlash from Tainui. "Most Maori are looking on and seeing that this is a party and a caucus and a party leader that takes the contribution of its Maori leaders seriously and is working hard to bring forward the new talent we have." He said Ms Mahuta remained on the front bench and would have a strong role, as would the other Maori MPs.
"Maori can be very pleased with the contribution Maori are making to our caucus and where they've landed in this caucus reshuffle."
Kelvin Davis, who now has the Maori Development portfolio, said he did not believe it would create a backlash among Labour's support base. "I don't think so. People just want see us being a competent opposition so we become a competent Government in 2017."
He said he could understand why people were upset, but Mr Little was the leader and he had also lost a portfolio. "I do feel for [Ms Mahuta] but every Maori MP at the end of the day would love to be spokesperson for Maori Development. I'd be surprised if people did not have that aspiration. She's got to be acknowledged for the contribution she's made over her time in that portfolio."