14 Feb 2020

Māori Party lays out strategy for revival

2:20 pm on 14 February 2020

The Māori Party says it's got a massive job ahead of it to make a comeback into Parliament, and it won't get in on party votes alone.

Che Wilson nō Ngāti Rangi, Te Atihaunui a Papārangi.

Māori Party president Che Wilson. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

The party failed to win any seats in the 2017 election and left Parliament - sending shock waves through Māori communities.

Now it's fighting for a revival - but with no co-leaders, one candidate and a tight budget - the party has its work cut out for it.

Straight off the bat at the first major political event of the year, Māori Party president Che Wilson spoke on the paepae at Rātana, crying foul to the government over systemic bias towards Māori.

Wilson has been positioning the party to be a strong voice for Māori in Parliament.

But the latest Newshub Reid Research poll has the Māori Party on 0.9 percent.

Wilson admitted there was much work to do.

"This is going to be hard work and it's a massive job. It's difficult for any party to get in when they're not already in Parliament, so we're mindful of that."

So far - the party only has one confirmed candidate - Debbie Ngarewa-Packer - who is standing in the western Māori seat Te Tai Hauāuru.

Wilson conceded the Māori Party won't meet the five percent threshold to get into Parliament.

So it would also make a strong play to win Waiariki and Tāmaki Makaurau.

He expected more candidates to be named within a fortnight, but he wouldn't reveal the new co-leaders or the party's manifesto till the end of March.

"We're mindful that it's a big political machine that we're going up against and, when you have the budget we have - which isn't as big as the others, we've got to conserve our energy. When it comes to politics, our people like a sprint."

Wilson said in the past, its messaging was too academic, and failed to promote the party's gains such as free GP visits for children.

Ngarewa-Packer, chair of Ngāti Ruanui and a fierce advocate for the environment, said a lot was happening within the party in the background, and she's excited and relaxed about the position they were in.

She's already started campaigning.

"Importantly, mobilising with our younger voters and mobilising with those of our people that have really had a guts full of, no matter who's in government, politics that isn't focussed on our rights."

The former Labour candidate Rawiri Waititi was expected to be named to contest the Waiariki electorate.

Urban Māori leader John Tamihere was also mulling over whether he will stand for the Māori Party in Tāmaki.

That will put him up against Labour MP and Minister Peeni Henare - they were at loggerheads over Whānau Ora funding.

Tamihere said the Māori Party revival is gathering steam.

"We can't stand by and watch our voice get assimilated. Once it's assimilated under a mainstream group, it's subsumed and then it's subjugated," he said.

With all the work ahead, there was still a strong optimism in the Māori Party.

Wilson said their membership was growing and they were on track and excited for the elections.

He believed people wanted to see the resurgence of a political party based on Māori values that will not shy away from the tough conversations.