26 Sep 2019

Matangireia: Episode 6 - Marama Fox

From Matangireia, 5:00 pm on 26 September 2019

Series Classification: G (General Programmes)

"They called her 'the Foxy Lady'." - Morgan Godfery, host of Matangireia

Former Māori Party co-leader and list MP Marama Fox was never one to do things in half measures.

In 2014, only a few weeks after entering Parliament, the Masterton mother of nine almost brought down her party’s government, accidentally opposing a confidence motion in the incoming government her party was a part of after receiving the wrong advice from an official.

The opposition benches were in raptures.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox

Marama Fox. 2016. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

“I could see all these cameras going ‘click click click click click’.  So I quickly sent out a tweet and said ‘I just about brought down the government.  Oops,’” she told Morgan Godfery, host of Matangireia.

Moments later Fox stood to make a point of order, correcting her vote and casting two votes against the no confidence motion.

The government had the numbers, and from 2014 to 2017 Fox was closely involved in key reforms going “down to the wire” over reforms to the old “Child, Youth and Family” agency.

It was Fox and her co-leader colleague Te Ururoa Flavell who helped ensure that “Vulnerable” was removed from the new agency’s name.

But perhaps the most intense pressure came during negotiations to amend the Resource Management Act, a process that took the National government almost eight years to see through.

In 2017 National were keen to move and put their reforms to a vote in the House, but Fox wouldn’t guarantee her party’s support until iwi were given a greater say in the consent process.

 “Tuku [Tukoroirangi Morgan] was going ‘Marama, sign it,’ Fox said.

“I’m on the back of my horse in the middle of the paddock getting phone calls for nine hours from everybody trying to get me to sign it.  I said ‘I won’t’”.

Fox’s tenacity helped the party secure the changes it wanted, and they eventually voted in favour of the reform bill. 

Fox credits her mother, an early childhood educator, for “politicising” her.  Growing up in Christchurch, the MP-to-be “went to some of the flashest schools” in town. 

Marama Fox (centre) with sisters.

Marama Fox (centre) with sisters. Photo: Supplied by Marama Fox

She recalls one the early lessons her mother taught her. 

“I needed to be better than my best.  [My mother] literally sat me down and said ‘Marama, you’re Māori, you’re a young woman, and you’re at the bottom of every statistic in this country.’’

“So I came home, I think I was about 9, and I got 99 percent in my maths test.  And I go ‘Mum I got 99 percent’ and she looked at me and said ‘what did you do wrong?’”

From Christchurch Fox made her way back home to Wairarapa.  The move was perhaps something of a culture shock, but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect. 

“I once spoke at the Waitangi Tribunal hearings for our people of Wairarapa and I said to Carrie Wainwright the judge at the time that I experienced more racism in Masterton than in Christchurch.”

In Christchurch, Fox explains, people ask “what school did you go to” as a class marker.  “But there were just as many poor Pākehā as poor Māori.”  In Masterton, though, class markers were more explicitly racialised with Pākehā living on one side of town and Māori living on the other.

Fox and her husband, who she met in the shearing sheds, went on to raise a large family.  

But being an MP can take its toll.  Punishing hours and almost unmanageable responsibilities.  Fox is frank about how isolating Parliamentary life can be.  

It’s “lonely."

Marama Fox with Morgan Godfery in Matangireia.

Marama Fox with Morgan Godfery in Matangireia. Photo: Supplied by Aotearoa Media Collective

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Introducing Matangireia

Introducing Matangireia Photo: Matangireia on RNZ.co.nz