24 Jan 2023

Rātana ceremonies mark Labour's changing leadership with Jacinda Ardern's final speech as PM

12:55 pm on 24 January 2023
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins

File photo of Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ/ Dom Thomas

This week's Rātana festivities will mark a major changing of the guard for Labour and a potential change in the party's relationship with Māori.

Jacinda Ardern will deliver her final speech as prime minister Tuesday afternoon at Rātana Pā - near Whanganui - at its annual commemorations.

Incoming Labour leader Chris Hipkins will then follow. National leader Christopher Luxon will also attend the event Tuesday morning for the first time.

The annual political pilgrimage traditionally marks the beginning of the political year, though Ardern's announcement last week saw that superseded.

The event will serve as a de facto farewell for Ardern and a test of both Hipkins' and Luxon's connection with Māoridom.

Former Labour chief of staff Matt McCarten, of Ngāpuhi descent, told RNZ he expected it would be a "very emotional" day for both Ardern and mana whenua.

"Jacinda's had a very strong relationship with Māori... [her departure] is a huge loss for Māoridom because she was an ally in public, but also in the backrooms."

McCarten, who also worked under David Cunliffe and Andrew Little, said Hipkins would have a different approach and focus to Ardern.

"Chris is a campaigner, he's a strategist, and he's got to put through a leadership team and a policy platform which is going to win the next election."

McCarten said, as such, he predicted Hipkins would ask some hard questions about certain policies advocated by the Māori caucus and put some on ice.

"You can't fight on too many fronts... he's going to have to say to the Māori caucus: is this going to help us get elected or is it not? He's going to take a very practical position.

"Obviously, things like co-governance, most Pākehā and Māori don't even know what it means, but they feel uncomfortable with it."

Rātana Pā representative Kamaka Manuel told RNZ's Morning Report they would welcome any politicians who want to visit and take part.

"The arrival of the politicians always brings a huge media frenzy, and it also I guess in some instances is seen to be a platform for a political agenda.

"For us here at Rātana, and here in the home of our village, it's all about ensuring that we care and we're hospitable to our visitors - including politicians."

He said while Rātana had been aligned with Labour since the days of Michael Joseph Savage, what the future holds is "unsure".

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McCarten said Hipkins would not be too worried about losing some voters to the Greens or Te Pāti Māori if he could win back those who've decamped to National.

'Humdinger of an election'

Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere said there "no doubt" Hipkins would pull back on policies like Three Waters that include special roles for Māori, such as co-governance.

"It's just the nature of the noise around race-related matters in this country," the former Labour MP told Morning Report ahead of Tuesday's events in Rātana.

"But we're on a journey, and more and more Pākehā Kiwis in Aotearoa get it, and are fair-minded. They're young, they've vibrant and they're under 40. We're making a big play there. The rest will pass into the past. It's all-on for the future."

He said this year's general election, in October, could be a "humdinger" if Hipkins manages to win back voters Labour has bled to National over the past couple of years.

Recent polls have National and ACT able to form a coalition government, but only barely. Tamihere would not commit Te Pāti Māori to either side, saying that would be for the party to decide - perhaps at its upcoming AGM on 4 February - but hinted it probably would not be former coalition partner National.

"It's very difficult to do business with anyone that vilifies you and demonises you. This is where (ACT leader David Seymour) and ACT are cutting out their political territory and good on them, but if they're gonna be buddied up with the National Party and where the National Party is going, makes it very difficult, doesn't it?

"How do you do business with somebody that's always abusing you? I just find that very difficult."

National and ACT have both spoken strongly against Labour policies which include specific roles for Māori - such as Te Aka Whai Ora / Māori Health Authority and Three Waters' co-governance aspect.

"We have yet to see - whether it's Seymour or the other bloke who runs National, whoever the leaders are - no one's been able to express what's been taken from somebody, what the loss is, what's so scary about co-governance," said Tamihere, emphasising that it was not ownership.

"[Co-governance] is the stewardship of our waters. It's got nothing to do with ownership or a Māori takeover.

"I really find it very difficult to have this discussion unless somebody on the other side of it can tell me what their grievance is and particularise it."

Confidence in Hipkins

Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait arrived at Rātana on Monday. She said she expected a warm farewell for Ardern and a challenge to Hipkins.

"Māori have very high expectations of the prime minister and the government and so they can't afford to drop the ball."

Raukawa-Tait said she had confidence in Hipkins to work constructively with Māori.

"The Māori issues won't disappear off the agenda because of those 14 Māori [Labour] members of parliament. They will keep them live, no doubt about that.

"You can't push important issues aside and take them off the agenda. Because those issues don't only impact Māori - they might impact Māori in the short term, but certainly in the long term they impact all New Zealanders."

NZ First leader Winston Peters paid a surprise early visit to the Pā on Monday, along with party member Shane Jones, but is not expected to be back on Tuesday.

Jones told Morning Report co-governance "blights" Three Waters and the best thing would be to suspend it.

"I think (Hipkins) can only go so far before the Māori caucus of his own party fractures, he said.

He said people were concerned about the impact of the recession and law and order rather than co-governance.

In the North, he said, "no one is tossing and turning about co-governance other than the fact it's a major distraction and has polarised people, and too many people feel it means special privilege for the local hapū and iwi and that's very, very divisive".

"Chris has been part of what has already come to pass over the last couple of years. Unless he can clearly change from what Jacinda represented I think the issues on the ground will continue to bedevil them, and I doubt very much whether they'll change the current trajectory."

Labour MPs are to be welcomed onto the marae, alongside the Greens, about 2pm before whaikōrero (speeches from both sides).

National and Te Pāti Māori are expected to arrive in the morning and will be welcomed around 11am.

The political history of Rātana goes back to the late 1920s, when Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana announced that members of the church would stand in the then-four Māori seats.

They announced a formal alliance with the Labour Party in 1936.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer confirms Te Tai Hauāuru bid

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer will contest the Te Tai Hauāuru seat in the 2023 election, the party confirmed this morning at Rātana.

She fell short of winning in the electorate by a slim margin in 2020 - winning 11,107 votes to the 12,160 of Labour's Adrian Rurawhe - but she still got into Parliament as a list MP after co-leader Rawiri Waititi won in Waiariki.

Te Pāti Māori co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer speak to RNZ at the end of 2022

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"I've always performed as if I was the electorate candidate and I'm not going to stop that, so I just have to continue to be humble, to work hard, and again be fighting the issues that are hurting our whānau - the homelessness, the poverty, the cost of living - in the House."

Rurawhe has strong family connections to the Rātana church, which is in the electorate, but was named Parliament's Speaker last year, and may decide not to contest the seat because of his extra responsibilities.

Ngarewa-Packer said her own household had Rātana-linked whānau, and she would be entirely focused on the electorate.

"The difference though, is that Te Pāti Māori turns up to marae and kaupapa like this every day - this is our normal space - these other parties and some of these other Members of Parliament you rarely really see at any marae but here and Waitangi.

"We predict if we keep working hard and keep pono and tika to the kaupapa we've been sent to do we'll have growing support.

"I know that we're formidable and I know that we work hard, and I know that we're credible."

Waititi said they planned to contest all seven Māori seats in Parliament this year.

"And I guarantee you we'll take those seven seats this year because there is an appetite for our politics, there's an appetite not just for tangata whenua but for tangata tiriti as you've seen in the polls."

He said Hipkins and Sepuloni's selection as prime minister and deputy had damaged the relationship between the two parties.

"Oh yes, they've got a lot of healing to do amongst our people because what they told us is we're not good enough, we're not good enough for either of those jobs.

"Put this in perspective, Labour have never had a Māori leader in the 108 years that has been in existence - never."

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi speaks at Rātana Pā.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi speaks at Rātana Pā. Photo: RNZ / Giles Dexter

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