26 Sep 2019

Matangireia | Season 1 | Episode 2: Dame Tariana Turia

From Matangireia, 5:02 pm on 26 September 2019

Series Classification: G (General Programmes)

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"Dame Tariana Turia is perhaps the most important Māori politician of the 21st century." - Morgan Godfery, host of Matangireia

In 2004, the then-Labour MP for Te Tai Hauāuru made an historic decision: she would vote against her own government’s foreshore and seabed legislation, setting off a chain of events that saw the Whānau Ora founder resign from Parliament, and return with an overwhelming mandate as the Māori Party co-leader.

At its height, the party Turia co-founded brought in five MPs and served three terms in government, with Turia taking up the Whānau Ora and Community and Voluntary Sector portfolios.

“I was so excited for our people,” Turia told Morgan Godfery, explaining how she felt when four Māori Party MPs made it into Parliament in 2005.

“[Our people] had faith in themselves. I was extremely proud. That’s what I felt more than anything: a pride in knowing we could stand up and be counted.”

Tariana and George Turia's Wedding Day. 1961.

Tariana and George Turia's Wedding Day. 1961. Photo: Supplied by Tariana Turia

But the path to that triumph in 2005 was far from smooth. The year before, Turia was the only Māori MP in Labour who made the decision to cross the floor and vote against the foreshore and seabed legislation.

“I was so disappointed in my colleagues,” she said.

“I was incredibly lonely. The people who had been the closest to me were in the Labour caucus, and the only [people] who ever spoke to me were John Tamihere [and Mahara Okeroa], asking me if I was okay.”

“I almost broke down and wept.”

In the end, Te Tai Hauāuru voters returned Turia with 94 percent of the vote in 2004, and returned her again in 2005 and 2008.

That year, her party made the landmark decision to enter a confidence-and-supply agreement with the National Party.

“I’m always conscious of how this place operates, and it operates on numbers. You have to form a relationship with others.”

From left Maori Party MP Marama Fox, Finance Minister Bill English, Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Te Ururoa Flavell and Prime Minister John Key.

The Māori Party sign an agreement with National. 2014. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

“One of the things [Whatarangi Winiata] always told us was that it didn’t matter who the government was and that our job was to get alongside of them and do the very best job for our people.”

From 2008-2014, Turia did just that, working to secure funding for policies like Whānau Ora and Smokefree 2025.

But the former Minister remains circumspect, sounding a word over caution over the future of Treaty settlements.

“More and more, our people are beginning to say these are not settlements.”

“I believe our children will come back. Whether the government makes you sign something to say you won’t or not. The fact of the matter is they were immoral to get our people to sign up to those settlements”.

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Introducing Matangireia

Introducing Matangireia Photo: Matangireia on RNZ.co.nz

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