9 Jun 2021

Matangireia | Season 2 | Episode 5: Te Ururoa Flavell

From Matangireia, 6:02 am on 9 June 2021

Series Classification: G (General Programmes)

In 2017 the Māori Party was voted out of Parliament – a loss which almost destroyed its former leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

“It destroyed me and my belief in our people” – Te Ururoa Flavell opens up to Mantangireia presenter Maiki Sherman about that election defeat and the highs and lows of more than a decade with the Māori Party at Parliament.

*The views expressed in this interview are the honestly held opinion of Te Ururoa Flavell

On the eve of the Foreshore and Seabed hīkoi in 2004 – Te Ururoa Flavell stood on the steps of Parliament.

It was a cold night and the sun had long faded.

He was with his future Māori Party MP Hone Harawira, going over the logistical details for the protest hīkoi the next day.

Looking out from the steps that evening, Flavell recalls seeing two people walking out of Parliament – one being Dame Tariana Turia.

“To see her walk out I was pretty in awe,” he said.  

Te Ururoa & Wife Erana Ruakere Flavell on their Wedding Day

Te Ururoa & Wife Erana Ruakere Flavell on their Wedding Day Photo: Supplied / Te Ururoa Flavell

Ms Turia had not long left the Labour Party in protest over the foreshore and seabed debate, remaining in parliament as an independent MP. 

It was a loneliness, he said, that was evident that night. 

“I was taken aback,” he said. 

“She’s by herself, she’s got nobody around her, nobody knows her in this place – or they don’t want to know her because of her stand.

“I was sort of moved and motivated by that to think, jeez we’ve got to look after her and support her on this because she’s by herself.”

The next day, tens of thousands of people made their voices heard during the Foreshore and Seabed hīkoi. 

From that protest and unity, the Māori Party was born, and Dame Tariana Turia and Sir Pita Sharples led the party into parliament alongside Te Ururoa Flavell and Hone Harawira. 

It would be the start of a 12 year career in Parliament for Te Ururoa Flavell.

“Being away from home, being away from partners, from tamariki, it was huge.

“To be truthful… probably after a year I wanted to go home,” he said.

It was a feeling which remained but one he would push aside in order to represent those who put their faith in him.

“I was never ever comfortable in this place if I put my hand on my heart.

“It was just hard. Just emotionally, physically hard, and the funny thing is when I finished here, it was hard to leave,” he said.

Te Ururoa with Tukuroirangi Morgan & Marama Fox

Te Ururoa with Tukuroirangi Morgan & Marama Fox Photo: RNZ

One of the early challenges for Te Ururoa Flavell was the breakdown within the caucus regarding fellow MP Hone Harawira.

As party whip, Mr Flavell laid a complaint against Mr Harawira over his comments which criticised the party and its relationship with National.

“We were the subjects of comments that basically were not mana enhancing,” he said.

The tension, which specifically centred around the Marine and Coastal Area Act, would ultimately lead to Hone Harawira leaving the Māori Party.

“Hone and I went to school together, we sat by a Rotorua lake to try work it out, we tried to get there, it didn’t happen, and so we had to part our ways.

“I don’t talk about the relationship as being broken, it just was a point in time, but I have huge respect for what he’s done for our people,” Mr Flavell said.

Te Ururoa Flavell with his parents

Te Ururoa Flavell with his parents Photo: Supplied / Te Ururoa Flavell

After nine years in parliament, succession planning also proved to be a bone of contention between Te Ururoa Flavell and Sir Pita Sharples. 

With Dame Tariana Turia announcing her retirement from politics, the pressure was on for Sir Pita Sharples to do the same. Te Ururoa Flavell delivered an ultimatum – hand over the leadership reins or he would walk. 

“All I wanted was a decision so I knew, and I could make decisions for myself.”

It was a tough call for Mr Sharples who held ministerial portfolios at the time. And while it affected the pair's relationship, it wasn’t irreconcilable. 

“We have a long history and, come what may, we always reflect back on that history together, with his wife, with his whānau.

“We have that history so it’s okay, same with Hone,” Mr Flavell said.

Having retained his seat at the 2014 election, Te Ururoa Flavell served as Māori Development Minister alongside a National government. 

It would be his first and only term as a minister. 

At the 2017 election, the Waiariki MP lost his seat and the party vote wasn’t enough to keep the Māori Party in Parliament.

“That was really traumatic,” he said. 

Te Ururoa Flavell never saw it coming.     

Te Ururoa Flavell speaking at Ratana Pā

Te Ururoa Flavell speaking at Ratana Pā Photo: RNZ

“It destroyed me and my belief in our people. That our people would let us down and after all the work that’d been done, and for what?

Mr Flavell said what was most disappointing was losing the momentum built up over decades.   

“We’d lost the movement and I’m not talking about the 12 years of time (in Parliament).

I’m talking about all the other stuff that was done before that, that got us to a Māori Party. 

“All the effort, what was it worth? What was it for? Zip. So, I was pretty angry.”

Fast forward to the 2020 election, and Te Ururoa Flavell is proud to see the Māori Party’s return to Parliament – with Rawiri Waititi winning the Waiariki electorate.  

“I’m just pleased that our people believe again,” he said. 

“The fact the people of Waiariki put Rāwiri in I think is a huge endorsement.

“He knows what it’s about, he has a heart for our people, he has a heart for our language and our culture, he’s going to be good.”

Made with the support of NZ On Air

About the Presenters

Mihingarangi Forbes

Ngāti Paoa, Ngāti Maniapoto

Matangireia, Series 2 Presenters - Maiki Sherman, Scott Campbell & Mihingarangi Forbes

Matangireia, Series 2 Presenters - Maiki Sherman, Scott Campbell & Mihingarangi Forbes Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Mihingarangi Forbes is an award-winning broadcaster who is known for her fearless brand of journalism, never shying away from asking the tough questions and tackling the big issues.

As the Māori Affairs reporter for One News in the late 90s Forbes spent much of her time at Parliament reporting on Māori politics. ​During that time she reported extensively on the fortunes of NZ First and their clean sweep of the māori electorates in 1996.

Today Forbes hosts three’s current affairs programme The Hui where she regularly interviews politicians from various parties.​ In 2020 Forbes won Best Presenter News and Current Affairs at the New Zealand TV Awards.

Maiki Sherman

Ngāpuhi, Te Whakatōhea

Maiki Sherman at Parliament

Maiki Sherman at Parliament Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Maiki Sherman is an award-winning senior political reporter for TVNZ’s 1news. She’s also the deputy chairperson of Parliament’s press gallery. Having worked across three television networks including Māori Television, Three, and TVNZ, Sherman has developed a reputation for breaking stories and courageous reporting.​

During her career Sherman has covered several general elections, the rise and fall of the Māori Party, Sir John Key’s National government, Hone Harawira’s failed merger with the Internet Party and the ascension of Jacinda Ardern.

In 2014 she showcased her presenting skills when she shared co-hosting duties with Mihingarangi Forbes for Māori Television’s election night coverage.​Sherman is a kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa alumni and a graduate of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo, the invitation only academy for excellence in te reo Māori. ​

Scott Campbell

Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Pūkenga, Te Arawa

Scott Campbell at Parliament

Scott Campbell at Parliament Photo: Aotearoa Media Collective

Scott Campbell is a former press gallery reporter, communications specialist and political commentator. ​During his time in the gallery Campbell was known for his fair but firm style of journalism.

He began his television career in 2004 under Three’s editor Stephen Parker before being appointed deputy editor in 2010. ​Campbell was based in the press gallery during the controversial seabed and foreshore legislation which saw 20,000 Māori march on Parliament. He reported on the rise of the Māori Party under the co-leadership of Dame Tariana Turia and Sir Pita Sharples. He also covered Don Brash’s tenure as leader of the National Party.​

Campbell left the press gallery in 2010 and is now the chief executive of Campbell Squared, a communications company based in Tauranga. He is a regular commentator for RNZ, The Hui, Newshub Nation and other media outlets.

About the production team

Annabelle Lee-Mather, Producer/Director

Annabelle Lee-Mather (Ngaai Tahu/Ngaati Kahungunu) is an award-winning journalist with 18-years experience in broadcasting. She served as an EP on RNZ’s NZ Wars series. As well as producing The Hui for Three, Annabelle is the series creator and co-producer of The Casketeers.

In 2020 Annabelle was named Editorial Executive of the year at the Voyager Media Awards.

Mihingaarangi Forbes, Producer/Director

Mihingaarangi Forbes (Ngaati Paoa /Ngaati Maniapoto) Mihingaarangi is an award-winning investigative journalist and the presenter of weekly current affairs series The Hui on Three. She began her career in the 90s as a rookie reporter at Te Karere. Since then she’s worked across a range of channels and mediums, with roles on Campbell Live, 20/20, Native Affairs, and as Māori correspondent for RNZ. In 2020 Mihingaarangi was named Best Presenter News and Current Affairs at the NZTV Awards.

Wena Harawira, Executive Producer

Journalist Wena Harawira has a career that spans 4 decades. Harawira was just 19 years old when she became the first wahine to work on TVNZ’s fledgling Māori news service Te Karere alongside the legendary Whai Ngata.​

She went on to become the Executive Producer of news and current affairs at Māori Television where she now leads the newsroom.

Having worked in nearly every aspect of the Māori media industry, Harawira is much admired not only for her leadership and journalism but also for the many reporters she has mentored and inspired.​

in 2017 Harawira was honoured with Te Tohu a Tanara Whairiri Kitawhiti Ngata for lifetime achievement at Ngā Kupu Ora awards.

About Aotearoa Media Collective

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AMC is a boutique Māori production house that specialises in indigenous storytelling and content. Founded in 2019, by journalists Mihingaarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee-Mather AMC has created NZ Wars: Stories of Waitara (RNZ) and The Hui (Three) with Great Southern Television as well as independently producing Matangireia (RNZ) and Coastwatchers: Operation Pacific (TVNZ).

Made with the support of NZ On Air

Made with the support of NZ On Air Photo: NZ On Air