30 Oct 2010

Turia says differences have damaged Maori Party

10:04 pm on 30 October 2010

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia says differences between Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira and his fellow MPs have damaged the party during the past year.

Ms Turia told the party's annual meeting that too much energy was being spent on what divides the party, rather than what unites it, and that everyone was sick of news media coverage of the party's differences - though the media couldn't be blamed for that.

The differences still dominated the meeting, which is being held this year at Omahu marae, near Hastings, with strong disagreement over the Marine and Coastal Areas Bill.

Mr Harawira again urged his fellow MPs to vote against the bill, saying that there is wide opposition to it within Maoridom.

Ms Turia says opposition to the bill is vocal but not widespread. But she and the party's other MPs won't finally decide whether to vote for or against it until they've heard the submissions to the Maori Affairs select committee.

Earlier, co-leader Pita Sharples defended the other MPs' support for the bill, saying that, while it doesn't go far enough, it will lead to the repeal of the current contentious foreshore law.

Some delegates complained that the bill would still alienate Maori from the foreshore and seabed, and called on the party to oppose it. Most, however, appeared to accept Dr Sharples's argument that it's a small step forward for Maori.

New president supports bill

The party's new president - Pem Bird, elected on Friday to replace outgoing president Whatarangi Winiata - supports the legislation.

He says that if the Maori Party does not vote for the Marine and Coastal Areas Bill, it will be left with the existing "obnoxious" law.

Mr Bird has also called on the party to evaluate its relationship with the National-led Government before next year's election.

Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana says the Hawke's Bay iwi wants the party to reconsider its position on the bill.

Mr Tomoana says the inclusion of a clause by the ACT Party preventing Maori from charging for access to the foreshore is totally unacceptable, as it implies Maori are a different class of citizen and do not have the same rights as others.

Lack of trust lamented

Ms Turia earlier told the meeting it was sad that party members no longer trusted one another to do the right thing.

A debate on the process the meeting should follow to elect a new male vice-president was largely procedural but revealed divisions over how such matters should be dealt with.

Mrs Turia's own suggestion - that nominations for the position should be made and then a vote held - was rejected. It was instead agreed to refer the matter back to electorates.