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The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Tamati Coffey

On The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Tamati Coffey
New Labour MP Tamati Coffey says the Maori seats should stay. Labour’s Phil Twyford earlier refused to rule out discussing a referendum on the seats while in coalition negotiations with Winston Peters. But Coffey says his message to the negotiators would be “keep the Maori seats”.
Coffey says he supports the Maori Party’s Whanau Ora policy, but says it’s been underfunded. He says Labour would double that funding.

Patrick Gower: Tamati Coffey, first, congratulations. But secondly, and more importantly, how does it feel to be the man that killed off the Maori Party?
Tamati Coffey: Thanks, mate. That’s now the 501th time that I’ve heard that since last night. Look, at the end of the day, what I did was provided a credible alternative for the voters of the Waiariki. We stood our ground; we put our policies out there. We took it to the vote, and people voted for us and for me, so I’m humbled by that.
But seriously, don’t you have mixed feelings about it? I mean, Te Ururoa is here. He’s apparently retired from politics. You must have some feelings of sadness about it.
I feel sadness for him and for his whanau. They have put in a lot. And anybody that stood for public office knows what it takes to be able to do it election after election after election. And last night when he gave his concession speech, I felt real aroha. Our whanau that were at the marae, we felt real aroha for them as well. But this is also the game that you play, you know. He knows just as well as anybody else that every three years, voters get a chance to say, ‘keep going’ or ‘time to go.’
Yeah, OK, time to go for him. But that same message – you’ve got time to act now. What are you going to bring for Maori in return for them, putting you into Parliament?
Yeah, so, I’ve done a lot of travelling over the last year that I’ve been on the campaign trail. I’ve been out there; I’ve talked to our communities; I’ve talked to our iwi. There’s some things that people want help with. Over in Omaio – Te Whanau a Apanui are waiting for their kura. Hekia went through and closed three of their schools down. They’re still waiting for their kura to be built. I’ve promised to walk alongside them to help them through that. Also, 27 million has still been waited for for the Opotiki aquaculture development; Tauranga Moana are looking for an advocate as well, as they sort out there cross-culture claims. I’ve done my shopping-- Oh, I’ve done my research, and I’ve given my shopping list back to the voters, and I’ve said, ‘This is what I’m going to dedicate myself to.’
OK. One of the lines that the Maori Party always used was that Labour throw Maori under the bus. That’s a sort of perception issue. What are you going to do to change that when you’re part of the Labour Party?
Yeah. So there’s a big responsibility, on not just me, but also our entire Maori caucus within the Labour Party, and we’re looking to get 13 in. Off last night’s numbers - 13 Maori MPs coming in, in Labour, on this particular wave. So, it’s up to us to unite, to actually get around the table, to figure out those issues that our iwi Maori really care about and to champion them.
What would you keep from the Maori Party over the last few years? What policy have they had that you would like to keep?
I personally believe in Whanau Ora. I just think that it’s been funded terribly. And I think that it hasn’t had the justice that it deserves. As a party, we’ve said that we will fund it. And we’ll fund it to twice the amount that it’s been funded for currently, so that’s a policy that I feel strongly about. It’s grassroots stuff. But it does need to be fixed up.
So you’d like to work, once you get with the Labour caucus, in terms of Labour actually adopting Whanau Ora?
Yes. We’ve already talked about that in our caucus, and it’s something that we’re proud of taking forward.
What about a kaupapa Maori prison? Is that something that you would be interested in supporting as well?
Well, as I understand it, there’s already kaupapa Maori stuff happening in some of our prisons as it stands. So, yes, I would be open to those conversations. We don’t have any prisons in our electorate, so it’s not a conversation that I have with my voters out there. But I’m open to the conversation.
And as winner now of one of the Maori seats, obviously Winston Peters want a referendum on those Maori seats being disbanded. Is that an absolute no-go area for you as a member of the Labour caucus? Is your message basically ‘we cannot go there’ in terms of any negotiations with Winston Peters?
We’ve been really certain that actually the Maori seats are here to stay until Maori voters actually want them to go, which is not a conversation that I’m having out there with our voters at the moment.
Yes, but is your message to the leadership as a Maori MP, that those seats have to stay, that there can be no referendum, that that cannot be part of the negotiations with Winston Peters? That’s off the table.
I think that all of our seven Maori MPs would have exactly that same thought.
Yes, so that is your message to the Labour leadership.
I don’t get any negotiating power. I don’t get to actually sit at that table, so if I’m sending a message out to our negotiators that are going in to have those talks with Winston, keep the Maori seats.
Yes. Now, National is in a better position to form the government now. But if it did a deal for a government with Winston Peters and New Zealand First, it sort of mean there is no independent Maori voice in Parliament, and I’d kind of include the Labour Party in that.
I’ve always struggled with this idea of the Maori Party saying they were the independent Maori voice, because at the end of the day, they still have to go cap in hand to the National Party to ask for money. So I’ve always struggled with that whole thought of them being so independent, because there’s no tino rangatiratanga when you’re standing there with your hand out asking for more.
All right. That’s a good place to leave it. Tamati Coffey, thank you very much.
Thanks, Paddy.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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