24 Jun 2023

National Party's annual conference kicks off in Wellington

8:20 am on 24 June 2023
National list MP Harete Hipango during her caucus standup at Parliament, Wellington, 16 November, 2021.

Current list MP Harete Hipango will contest Te Tai Hauāuru for National. Photo: Pool / NZME / Mark Mitchell

National Party MPs and paid-up party members have converged on Wellington for National's annual conference.

The party has kicked off the weekend by celebrating its commitment to stand candidates in Māori electorates for the first time in two decades.

National last stood candidates in Māori seats in 2002. In the time since then, it had pledged to abolish the seats. But in 2021, Judith Collins announced the party would contest Māori seats again.

Current list MP Harete Hipango will contest Te Tai Hauāuru, while creative executive Hinurewa te Hau will stand in Tāmaki Makaurau. Both were selected a number of months ago, but National officially launched their campaigns on Friday night.

"This is a poignant and significant moment," Hipango told a crowd of assembled MPs and candidates in National's caucus room at Parliament.

Te Tai Hauāuru is vacant this election, following Speaker Adrian Rurawhe's decision to stand solely on the list. Hipango will be going up against Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, and Labour's Soraya Peke-Mason, who is staying off the party list, and gambling her political future on winning the seat.

Te Hau, meanwhile, will be running against incumbent MP Peeni Henare, the Greens' Darleen Tana, and Takutai Moana Kemp from Te Pāti Māori.

National was not fielding candidates in the remaining five seats.

Neither Hipango nor te Hau were concerned that in the two-and-a-half years since Judith Collins said National would run in Māori seats again, the party was only able to find candidates to run in two of them.

Hipango expected more candidates would put their names forward in time.

"Small steps. Small steps and work up," te Hau added.

Te Hau, a former Te Pāti Māori candidate in 2014 and 2017, has long-running connections with National. Her father, Matiu, was Māori vice president of the party, as was her uncle, Sir Graham Latimer. She also ran in the Māngere seat for National in 1993.

"We acknowledge and celebrate the return of Māori seats for the National Party. I'm very proud to stand here with Harete as mana wahine for this party," she said.

Both candidates were aware of the challenge they faced to win over voters, but Hipango said it was a "distorted reality" that National could not deliver for Māori.

"I think we need to put that myth aside. Hinurewa and I are here to front as Māori woman leaders with the National Party, to actually place the reality back into context. It's been a distorted stereotyping of the National Party, and our contribution not only to Māori communities, but what is good for Māori is actually good for all of New Zealand. Whānau Ora is at the centre of that."

Christopher Luxon has previously said the existence of Māori seats "doesn't make a lot of sense," but at a pre-conference event on Friday afternoon, he said it was a chance to spread National's message to voters who might not have had the chance to hear it before.

"This is a really proud day for us, for National, with two wahine toa representing National in two Māori seats, giving real choice to people registered to vote in those electorates," he said.

On Saturday, the party will hold its AGM, which is likely to go off without a hitch, as no board members are retiring or stepping down this year. Deputy leader Nicola Willis will also deliver a speech about the economy.

On Sunday, 2023 campaign chair Chris Bishop and party president Sylvia Wood will address the party faithful, before Luxon makes his pitch and announces a law and order policy.

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