23 Jan 2013

Maori Party leadership challenge

9:34 pm on 23 January 2013

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says he will listen to the party membership before deciding if he will step down.

The party discussed a leadership challenge by Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell at an urgent hui held Whangaehu Marae, near Whanganui, on Wednesday.

Party president Pem Bird earlier in the day confirmed that Mr Flavell had made a formal challenge for the role under the charter which calls for three electorates or 200 members to support a request for a special meeting.

Dr Sharples, the MP for Tamaki Makaurau and co-leader since 2004, has said he is keen to stand again as co-leader at next year's general election.

Speaking from Ratana on Wednesday, where politicians gathered for the annual Ratana Church celebrations near Whangarei, Pita Sharples said he was disappointed that co-leader Tariana Turia asked him to step down.

Dr Sharples is not ruling out stepping down voluntarily, but said that would depend on the wishes of the party membership and the National Council.

However whatever the outcome, he said he would like to retain his roles as Minister of Maori Affairs and Associate Minister of Corrections and Education.

Te Ururoa Flavell would not say whether he would stand again in 2014 if he did not win the leadership.

Prime Minister John Key says he is relaxed about what a possible change in the leadership might mean for the Government.

Mr Key said on Wednesday that, even though Dr Sharples is a minister, there would not be a problem if the leadership changes.

"I would take strong guidance from the leadership of the Maori Party who they want to have ministerial warrants. I did that as the leaders stand today, obviously Pita and Tariana. If there was a change and if there was a change in recommendation, I don't see that as a show-stopper."

Mr Key said he has confidence in Te Ururoa Flavell, but Pita Sharples could remain a minister even if he lost his co-leadership role.

Tariana Turia is not standing again at the next general election.

Harawira offers olive branch

Mana Movement's leader on Wednesday offered an olive branch to his former party, saying he would like to discuss potential areas of co-operation.

Hone Harawira quit the Maori Party in 2011, after disciplinary proceedings were brought against him.

Mr Harawira now claims that he has been asked by some members to come back and lead the Maori Party and said it is time to put personal differences aside and concentrate on how to improve the lot of Maori.

"I think either they do something radical very, very soon or they're in serious trouble. And that worries me, because a lot of our people have their hopes and faith pinned on us as Maori doing something better for Maori than squabble."

Pita Sharples said there was no reason why the parties shouldn't talk. However, Tariana Turia dismissed the idea, describing the party's past dealings with Mr Harawira as "horrendous".