The country’s “unapologetic Māori voice” is poised to return to Parliament with Rawiri Waititi about to wrest the Waiariki seat off Labour’s Tāmati Coffey.
Speaking at his election night party in Tāmaki Makaurau co-leader John Tamihere called the return of the party, eliminated at the 2017 election, an “incredible outcome”.
“This is rewriting the political history of our country,” Tamihere said, as the roughly 200 supporters gathered at Et Tu Bistro in Te Atatu room erupted into chants of “Māori Party”.
But it was a bittersweet moment for Tamihere, losing Tāmaki Makaurau to incumbent Peeni Henare of Labour.
“I want to mihi Peeni and his whānau, for the way he conducted his campaign,” Tamihere said.
He thanked Māori Party supporters in the Waiariki electorate, and for voters listening to their calls to split the Māori vote, giving the Māori Party the electorate vote and their party vote to Labour, whose Māori MPs, including Coffey, would all get in on the list anyway.
There was also a chance of the party getting another MP with their party vote hovering around 1 per cent and potentially rising, meaning number one on the list Debbie Ngarewa-Packer could enter Parliament for the first time.
“I think there is a very strong possibility Debbie will get in too,” Tamihere said.
Asked how he felt about the fact, sitting at seven on the list, he wouldn’t be joining them, Tamihere said he wasn’t disappointed, and it was his duty as a co-leader to stand behind them.
It wasn’t over though for Tamihere, signalling another run in 2023.
“Next time around it will be all seven [seats],” he said, again to a huge reception.
The fate of the Māori Party sat on a knife’s edge all election night.
The closest, as predicted, were in Tāmaki Makaurau, Waiariki and Te Tai Hauāuru, with Labour’s leads over Māori Party in the mere hundreds in each for much of the night.
In Te Tai Hauāuru co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer lost to Labour’s Adrian Rurawhe.
Labour won the four other Māori electorates.
The 2020 election saw the Māori Party launch a fighting campaign.
The 2017 election resulted in a tumultuous shift in Māori politics, with all seven Māori seats going to Labour candidates.
It eliminated the Māori Party after nine years in Government alongside National, ending the careers of stalwarts Marama Fox and Te Ururoa Flavell, defeated by the very party they were established in protest against, following the Foreshore and Seabed debacle.
But despite being outside the Beehive, the party remained active and vocal in its criticism of Government actions and outcomes for Māori.
Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led Government ushered in a record number of Māori MPs, making up about 23 per cent of representatives, despite making up only 16 per cent of the population.
Yet despite this, Māori remained at the bottom rung for most outcomes, including health, education, and housing, much of it fuelled by persistent inequality and racism, and leaving the door open for an independent Māori voice.
The party had a refresh, appointing new leaders in former Labour MP and Cabinet member Tamihere, and Ngarewa-Packer, a Ngāti Ruanui iwi leader.
The pair brought their own unique flairs to their roles, with Manurewa Marae chairman and party member Rangi McLean once referring to Ngarewa-Packer as providing “balance” to Tamihere, whom he called a “taniwha”, who is infamously not shy of political controversy and/or outright offence.
Its wider membership were also proactive over the past few years in raising issues at Oranga Tamariki and the disproportionate uplifting of Māori babies from their young mothers.
For his own part Waititi was instrumental in leading the Covid-19 response in the rohe of Te Whānau ā Apanui, eastern Bay of Plenty.
They also held the Government to account over Whānau Ora funding, which in the end received a record investment from minister Peeni Henare.
In launching its campaign at Hoani Waititi marae in June the party and its seven candidates positioned themselves as “unashamedly Māori”, promising to advocate for Māori and hold decision-makers to account.
It set about devising a raft of progressive policies including lifting the minimum wage to $25 an hour, making Māori language and history core subjects at school, and returning conservation land to Māori.
But, in that unapologetic nature, it took the conversation even further.
It promised to change New Zealand’s name to Aotearoa, and return the original Māori names to our towns and cities.
It called for a Māori parliament, for 25 per cent of Government spending to go to Māori, and for no more Māori babies to be taken into state care and instead funds diverted to a Māori-led organisation.
In doing so, its policies promised to guide the country towards a long-needed conversation around constitutional transformation and honouring our founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
However, its anti-immigration stance on housing drew widespread criticism from Māori – and non-Māori, and its former alliance with National was seen as unforgivable by some, as was Tamihere and his controversial style.
How much influence it has over the new Government remains to be seen, however it is clear, the “unapologetic Māori voice” is back.
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