Series Classification: G (General Programmes)
"Sandra Lee is a history-maker" - Morgan Godfery, host of Matangireia
The former Minister of Conservation, serving in the Labour-Alliance Coalition from 1999 to 2002, was the first Māori woman to win a general electorate seat and the first person to lead a kaupapa Māori party – Mana Motuhake - into Parliament.
But did the young Mum from Arahura Pā on the South Island’s West Coast ever get the feeling she was making history?
As it turns out she was never expecting to win in the “rabid” election campaign in 1993.
“Even though our polling showed I was going to win [Auckland Central], at the back of mind I couldn’t see myself winning,” Lee told Morgan Godfery, host of Matangireia.
“On the afternoon of the election I went out to Piha, on the west coast of [Auckland], and called down to my tupuna Tuhuru on the west coast of the South Island. I asked him to give me the mana to take the long walk when I conceded defeat to Richard Prebble.”
“Fortunately, it was a long walk I didn’t have to take”.
The win set Lee on her path.
One year later her mentor, the legendary former Labour MP Matiu Rata, stood down from the Mana Motuhake party’s leadership with Lee taking up the reins.
And in 1999 Lee took up a ministerial warrant in the incoming Labour-Alliance coalition taking up the Conservation and Local Government portfolios as well as Associate Māori Affairs.
It was “like getting let loose in the lolly shop,” Lee jokes.
“No more marching with a banner. No more writing submissions with Forest and Bird.”
As a Minister Lee made headlines for putting a stop to an application to log 130,000ha of rainforest on her native West Coast. As Local Government Minister she made history rewriting an “antiquated” Local Government Act and introducing the Treaty of Waitangi to it for the first time.
It was the culmination of political journey that began on Waiheke Island in 1979.
“When Matiu Rata resigned from Parliament I sent him a telegram from the Rocky Bay General Store and I said ‘right behind you, Sandra Lee, Ngāi Tahu’”.
“Within an hour he sent me back a telegram that read: ‘please organise a meeting of our people on the Island. I want to explain to them why I’m leaving Labour’”.
That meeting went ahead, and the rest is history.