26 Sep 2019

Matangireia | Season 1 | Episode 5: Tau Henare

From Matangireia, 5:05 pm on 26 September 2019

Series Classification: G (General Audiences)

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"Tau Henare comes from a long line of political leaders."  Morgan Godfery, host of Matangireia

Tau's great grandfather, Taurekareka Henare.

Tau's great grandfather, Taurekareka Henare. Photo: Supplied by Tau Henare

His great-grandfather, Taurekareka Henare, was an MP from 1914 to 1938. His grandfather, Sir James Henare, once a candidate for Governor-General, was also a prominent community leader and the Māori Battalion commanding officer at the end of World War II.

Henare’s roots are as illustrious as they come. Did that mean pressure to be “political”? 

Not from his parents, Henare told Morgan Godfery, but as he got older, he wanted to “emulate” his grandfather.

“I always wanted to be like him. I suppose the terrible thing is I wanted to be famous like him.”

Henare won the Northern Māori seat at the 1993 election as a New Zealand First candidate.

It was an unconventional choice for the former union organiser.

“The rules are there to be broken,” Henare says.  

He made it back again in 1996, and was at Peter’s side in the first MMP coalition negotiations, acting as a go-between for Labour, National, and New Zealand First.

In Henare’s words, it was a close-run thing, and in the final days, he put through a call to Labour leader Helen Clark, asking in his typical style, “Is there a job for the old man?” - meaning the treasurer’s job for Winston.

Clark said no.

If she had said yes, “we would’ve gone with her,” said Henare.

In the incoming National-New Zealand First coalition, Henare was made Minister of Māori Affairs, helping to secure new money for te reo Māori learning initiatives, new money for the forerunner to Māori Television, and, significantly, the return of koiwi (human remains) from foreign museums. 

“Sometimes you do things and they don’t amount to much. Or they’re incremental. Building blocks. And although the repatriation of our tupuna didn’t give anybody a job, didn’t cut down the employment rate, I’ll tell you what, I’d do it again one hundred times. And shit yes, I brought them back first-class.”

It was one of Henare’s crowning achievements. But after one term, his government was turfed out. Henare, though, doesn’t play by the rules. In 2005, he was back – this time as a National list MP serving as Māori Affairs Select Committee chair, until 2014.

Does he miss Parliament? 

“Hell yes. I’d swap this for that at the snap of the fingers.”

Tau Henare announcing his retirement last year.

 Tau Henare announcing his retirement. 2014. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

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Introducing Matangireia

Introducing Matangireia Photo: Matangireia on RNZ.co.nz

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Photo: RNZ/NZ On Air