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Lisa Owen interviews Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples

Lisa Owen interviews founding Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples

Headlines:

Pita Sharples says Hone Harawira’s split from the Maori Party has been “quite damaging” and “cost Maori people a solid voice in parliament”.

"Concerned" about future of Maori Party given his and Tariana Turia’s retirements this election but says it will survive because Te Ururora Flavell is "sure to win his seat"

Says loss of support for Maori Party due to Maori being in "protest mode" and not understanding "what parliament is about"

Says Maori Party may not have done a good enough job of separating itself from National, but the time to do that has gone

Asked if National has been better for Maori than a Labour/Green government would be, he says: “I can’t tell you that because I’ve never had a relationship with Labour to know whether it’s going to be better or worse but I do know that how we’ve ended with National has been positive for outcomes for Maori.”

Acknowledges there’s a real risk Maori Party could lose his seat of Tamaki-Makaurau in this election but describes Rangi McLean as a “dynamic candidate”

Says the behaviour of the Maori King’s son Korotangi Paki is not appropriate but restorative justice programme could help him turn his life around

Lisa Owen: About six months ago at Ratana you said it was probably time that the Maori party move away from National. Why do you need to do that?

Pita Sharples: Really to establish that we’re an authentic stand alone party with Maori kaupapa that we stand for. And really to combat ah…sort of… korero from the position out there that we’ve sold out to National. But really we’re not going to change a thing. It’s about what you promote because we’ve always had Maori kaupapa and it’s driven everything we’ve done.

But isn’t the reason that you have to push back from National, isn’t it really because Maori think that the Government hasn’t done enough for them and you’ve been part of that?

I think it’s more the fact that a lot of our people are in protest mode and it’s time now to move out of that. And, ah, I lot of people don’t understand, and this is real, they don’t understand what parliament is about. It’s all about the vote. And unless you’re in on the vote you may as well not be there. So it’s a…when other parties are - do demonstrations outside over an issue they’ve got a point but it doesn’t get them anything out of parliament and that’s why you go to parliament, is either to make laws that suit your people or else to get some resources to create projects which help your people.

You’ve always said you have to be at the table to make change. You’ve always said that, but have you made enough progress because you, yourself have said that you haven’t done as much as you’d like to on housing, on reducing poverty. Is that Nationals failure or is it the Maori party’s failure?

Oh I think it’s a systems failure. I think we’ve done a lot actually. Because nothing is not enough for us. Because that’s what we’re here for. But I know that our influence on the poverty committee, Tari is chairman, I’m on the committee…We have influence. All that money’s that’s gone into paid parental tax, free medicine at the doctors for the young, under 13s and so on. That’s out influence on the party and it’s taken, this is a good thing, it’s taken six years but how we started with the government and how we finished are two different areas. And Bill English has said publically several times we’re not the same National government we were before because of the Maori party.

Well Chris McKenzie has said one of the biggest problems he faces in the electorate is that Maoris’ misgivings about your relationship with the National party, that’s still the thing that’s being thrown up at him. So your not really doing well enough are you at separating yourselves from them?

I don’t think the question…oh separating ourselves.

Yeah.

Perhaps not, but the point is with myself, the two ministers about to resign, Tariana and myself, we have got so much stuff to finish off and that’s what we’re racing to get through, that perhaps the time to do any more in that relationship thing is gone. But what we can do, and what we’ve done is offer our record in terms of all the Budgets, particularly the last Budget where we made major gains. And see you help one people do something and another lot don’t like it. So it’s the way it is in life I guess. But ah, I think we have support now.

But do you regret, say, being more publicly vocal in opposition to certain policies like asset sales and TPP, do you regret the way that some of those issues were handled?

No, not so much that that we haven’t been active enough. We’ve opposed both those at different times, the GST increase and other things, those are the parts that if I have got regrets it’s thing like that we’ve had to sit there and absorb the GST increase and perhaps a few other things that have gone along the line. But you weigh it up-

What other things?

Um, I think the split with Hone has been quite damaging with us. And people see it as- it’s quite interesting that Maori say you gotta be together, if you are together whole Maori nation will support you both and you’ll be one group and so on. But we were one group. Ah the point is that while Maoridom is saying that they’re quite split in other areas in, within the tribes, within the groups, within the kohanga, the kaupapa, things like this. There’s many splits. Yet they put it all on us to be united as opposed to - regardless of the kaupapa or what we’re doing so it’s not an easy thing to satisfy.

So is Hone continuing to undermine your vote do you think?

Ah well he’s a separate party now. He’s got his own following and now he’s got Kim Dotcom relationship and so on. So it is a different party now. So I don’t think that um - there’s no way we would come together.

Given that you are trying to put some distance between yourselves and National, is it a good strategy to have John Key as your main fundraiser?

Um, John key hasn’t been our main fundraiser. John Key has certainly helped us with a dinner or two. But that’s about it.

But has he raised the lion’s share of funds? From the dinner you had at the Northern club suggestions were 75-thousand dollars?

No, he hasn’t raised the lion’s share of our funds.

Ok. On current polling the National party might not need you. So if it were to be in government after the election would the Maori party anticipate some kind of deal even if you weren’t needed as such?

We are the only party in parliament that has been included in both the Labour party’s, their leader, and the prime minister’s conversation about how they would go with next term, both have named the Maori Party as a possibility to go with them. Both Labour and National. And I think that represents the integrity that we’ve taken to parliament and how well respected we are and how well respected Maori things are in the House now. Quite different from when we first went in there.

So with you saying that both parties said that they could work with you, if Labour and the Greens are neck and neck with National after this election, who do you personally think would be best for Maori?

You mean between Labour and Green and National?

No, Labour and Greens in a block together versus National. So who do you personally think would be the better option?

Well what I’ve got to tell you is that we will, whoever we’re with, we’ve got to stick to our line of Maori kaupapa and take them forward so I think it’s just important that we’re at the table.

Do you not think that one of those options is fundamentally better for Maori?

I only know one option, that’s National, that we’ve worked with and it’s improved right to the end where we’ve got real status in terms of Maori culture.

So is National better for Maori than Labour and the Greens?

I can’t tell you that because I’ve never had a relationship with Labour to know whether it’s going to be better or worse but I do know that how we’ve ended with National has been positive for outcomes for Maori.

You are the outgoing MP for Tamaki-Makaurau. Your majority has shrunk to a small lead. There is a real risk this time that the Maori party could lose that seat isn’t there?

There is but we have a very dynamic candidate this time but let’s be clear about me shrinking, I mean my majority, I’m not shrinking, um it’s that it actually increased the time before. So I got a good one and then a very good one and then it went down last time because the only real backbone of the Labour party was Shane Jones and he was in my seat challenging me. So that’s both him and John Tamihere that I’ve managed to defeat in these elections. So I don’t make any excuses for that. It’s a win.

Ok, before we talk about your retirement I just want to ask you, there’s been a lot of debate this week about the Maori King’s son Korotangi Paki.

Yes

Burglary, theft charges, drink driving, racial slurs and gang slang on his website. Is that appropriate behaviour for someone who’s possibly the successor to the King?

Oh absolutely not. It’s not appropriate behaviour but I see that he has been put on a restorative justice programme. I have invented restorative justice programmes way back in the ‘70s and they still exist today because they are so successful in turning people around. They’re not easy. A lot of change is forced upon the people undergoing these programmes for the better. And they have to really change their attitude as well as their behaviours. So-

He can turn around is what you’re saying?

I’m saying he can turn around whereas under another punishment he may not turn around.

Well in your view has this young man been given special treatment by the court because of his status and is that fair?

Um, I can’t say that. What I will say is that I support restorative justice programmes because they work.

Ok. Well you as you mentioned retiring this election, so is Tariana Turia. You and Tariana are the Maori party, aren’t you worried that this could be the end of something that you’ve worked really hard to build up?

Oh, we’re concerned. But we’re not worried-worried because Te Ururoa [Flavell] has established himself very well and he’s sure to win his seat. He’s got very, very strong backing in his electorate. And we’ve got some brilliant people coming through in both my seat, ah Rangi [McLean].

So how concerned are you then? You said you are, so how concerned?

Oh only that we’re used to being there and without us there I mean it’s just sort of like being the Papa of the party, I’m used to sort of being there and now being on the outside I’m a bit nervous. But um, we have good candidates and it’s up to us now to get them out and around. We don’t have a big putea of money to get them around, to have the kind of events that bring them in the public arena but we’re working very hard on that.

You’ve actually been really honest about the fact that politics wasn’t really your bag. You didn’t seek it out. You came here to serve your people; you went to parliament to serve your people. So what is your legacy going to be do you think?
I don’t want a legacy. My legacy will be that I have been honest and taken New Zealand forward with Maori kaupapa, that I have been able to show New Zealand that things Maori are good and what’s good for Maori is good for New Zealand and that we go forward together. I don’t need special projects and stuff.

Any regrets?

Ah well those little ones about the split with Hone and I guess with ah.

How much do you regret that?

Well I think it has cost Maori people a solid voice in parliament at this stage. But you know if Maori party can keep producing goods from being in government then that’ll grow again.

How much do you think its cost Maori? How do you think its cost them?

In terms of the fact that we are divided over all the parties at this time. In the foreshore seabed debate days everyone rose to the occasion.

So you’re suggesting you’d have more power if you all had stayed together or could still work together, the Maori party and Hone’s party?

Oh well, we’d have more MPs. Yes. And we’d have more ministers and so on because we’d be at the table.

I just want to know have you got another job lined up when you leave this one?

Can I just say I’ve never had a job lined up, everything just falls out in front of me and I follow. So I hoping I’ll wait for something to fall out.

So something will materialise you think.

It will, yes.

Thank you so much for joining me this morning Dr Pita Sharples.

ENDS


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