26 Sep 2019

Episode 3: Tuariki Delamere - Matangireia

From Matangireia, 5:03 pm on 26 September 2019

Series Classification: G (General Programmes)

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"Tuariki Delamere is a classic all-rounder" - Morgan Godfery, host of Matangireia

The former Te Tai Rawhiti MP was once a world record holder in long jump, the chief financial officer at Polynesian Blue airline in Samoa and Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill in Kawerau, and a leading minister in the first MMP coalition government.

Delamere is also a former US Army serviceman.

“They had a thing called the draft back [in the early 1970s],” he told Morgan Godfery, host of Matangireia.

“And I had a green card, so I was a permanent resident and if you’re a permanent resident you’re eligible for the draft.”

Conscription put Delamere, who may be the only government minister to ever serve in the US Army, on a path to West Point, one of the most prestigious military academies in the world.

Delamere was working as an “accounting specialist” but “the reason that I was there was they wanted someone to coach the jumpers.”

A young Tuariki Delemere.

A young Tuariki Delemere. Photo: Supplied by Tuariki Delamere

In his young days the New Zealand First MP-to-be was a gun long jumper famous for using the now banned somersault long jump technique. This is where a jumper somersaults off the board rather than “jumping” in the traditional manner.

Former Olympic champions like decathlete Caitlyn Jenner were experimenting with the technique in the early 1970s as well, but Delamere is perhaps best known for perfecting it during his stint at Washington State University.

His record still stands, even if it isn’t officially recognised as such.

This was typical of Delamere. Unconventional, but surprisingly successful.

From the US he went on to jobs in Samoa and back home in Waiariki (the Bay of Plenty) entering Parliament as the Māori seat MP in 1996.

Like his world record, was it a surprise to get in?

“They didn’t vote for me. They didn’t vote for Tau [Henare] or the others. They voted for Winston,” Delamere acknowledges...

“Winston did an incredible job getting blue rinse Pākehā into the same waka as Māori, but unfortunately once we got [to Parliament] he didn’t carry through with it.”

“He put us at different ends of the waka."

But Delamere kept at arm’s length from some of the internal ructions in his party. Instead much of his energy went on reforms in his various portfolios knowing that “a few months ago I was just Joe Blow walking the streets of Whakatāne, up in the hills of the Urewera, and now I’m a Cabinet Minister”.

Tuariki Delamere at the United Nations.

Tuariki Delamere at the United Nations. Photo: Supplied by Tuariki Delamere

Delamere wasn’t going to let the opportunity go to waste and got to work reforming the immigration rule to ensure same-sex couples were assessed against the same standards as heterosexual couples when applying for residency and removing the old “language bond”, a $20,000 bond that critics said discriminated against Chinese migrants and others.

For the Immigration Minister the principle was a simple one: “we’re all the same,” he says.

As Associate Treasurer Delamere is also well-known for securing funding for Te Matatini, going up against National Party Ministers like Doug Graham who, in Delamere’s telling, said “Māori society’s largest festival isn’t a cultural event”.

In response Delamere made a powerplay going to the then Prime Minister Jim Bolger to secure the money.   
As a one term MP and Minister does the now Immigration Adviser think he has unfinished business?

He is circumspect.

“On the 12th of December [1996] when we signed with National I knew I was a one term MP."

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