Labour leader Andrew Little is hoping his MP Adrian Rurawhe will help rebuild the party's relationship with the Ratana movement.

He and Mr Rurawhe are to invite Ratana leaders to meet with Labour on April 22, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of an agreement between Ratana founder and Labour Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage.

He'd like that to be just the start of a dialogue about Maori issues.

Mr Rurawhe can act as a bridge, he said, being morehu (a Ratana member) and also the great grandson of Ratana founder and prophet Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana.


In the 1920s and 1930s T W Ratana talked to New Zealand politicians about Maori issues - especially welfare and jobs.

As a result Labour's first prime minister, Michael Joseph Savage, made a commitment to meaningful work and sound housing for Maori people.In turn the Ratana movement committed to supporting Labour candidates, and by 1943 there were Labour/Ratana MPs in all four Maori seats.

But Maori at Ratana and elsewhere disagreed with Labour's 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act. It gave the entire area to the Crown, preventing them from using courts to fight for rights to it.

Ratana people saw it as a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. Tariana Turia left the Labour Party over it.

Mr Little said Labour passed that law just after National leader Don Brash's Orewa speech. Mr Brash had said Maori should not get special treatment. There was a lot of sympathy for that view at a time when Labour's "Closing the Gaps" policy was coming under fire.

Labour was worried about a perception it was favouring Maori interests when that law was passed. Mr Little said the party was strong on the rule of law and would never again deny people the ability to test their rights in court.

The privatisation and corporatisation of the 1980s and 1990s, some done by Labour, had also displeased Maori.

But he said Labour had done a lot for Maori too - setting up the Waitangi Tribunal, extending its jurisdiction, settling the first big treaty claims and building the first houses at Ratana Pa during the 1930s. He hoped for more in future.

"We have got to work alongside Maori, and allow the Maori economy to flourish and let them make their decisions with the economic resources they have got at their disposal."

He now wants to rebuild Labour's relationship with Ratana, a wish both he and former leaders David Shearer and David Cunliffe expressed on previous visits.

However he said those visits during celebrations of the founder's birthday had become "ritualistic".

"Which is not bad in itself, but we tend to say the same things every year, and nothing progresses."