1 Dec 2015

Nanaia Mahuta's demotion 'slap in the face'

7:30 am on 1 December 2015
Nanaia Mahuta

Nanaia Mahuta Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Labour Party reshuffle has ruffled feathers in the Māori seats with veteran politician Nanaia Mahuta dropping from 4th to 12th, losing her position as the head of the Māori caucus and the portfolio for Māori Development but gaining conservation and Whānau Ora.

Prominent Waikato member and former MP Tukoroirangi Morgan has fired a warning shot across the bow of the Labour waka.

"The decision to demote her is a slap in the face to not only her constituents, to her supporters and to Nanaia herself," he said.

Waikato-Tainui iwi leader Tukoroirangi Morgan in New York at the United Nations in 2009.

Waikato-Tainui iwi leader Tukoroirangi Morgan in New York at the United Nations in 2009. Photo: Wikipedia

Mr Morgan had the backing of iwi when he won the Waikato-based Te Tai Hauauru electorate for New Zealand First in 1996, before Ms Mahuta won it back for Labour in 1999.

"Iwi are loyal and iwi are not politically naive and it takes very senior people to reassure Maoridom across the country its worth putting their faith back into the Labour Party."

That was now "questionable" given the way they had treated Ms Mahuta, the most senior Labour MP in the Labour Party.

"[It] is in my view a major retrograde step in the life of the Labour Party. Maori across the country will not forget."

Labour Party Leader Andrew Little would not be drawn on iwi politics, and focused his answer on performance.

"Nanaia's made a pretty strong contribution over 19 years but she's not just one Māori MP, we have several of them, and the other Māori MPs are starting to make some solid contributions and they have to be rewarded and they have been."

Ms Mahuta's supporters said her efforts to win six of the seven Maori seats at the last election should also be rewarded.

Asked about her efforts in the seats and about her ability to raise Labour's party vote across the Maori electorate, Mr Little said that pre-dated his time.

The new Maori caucus head MP for Te Tai Tokerau and number seven on the party list, Kelvin Davis, had some sympathy for his colleague.

"Yeah, I absolutely feel for Nanaia. I know she's put her heart and soul into the Māori Development portfolio. You know, it is part of politics you have some and you have some taken off you ... I've lost [the] police [portfolio]."

Kelvin Davis at JustSpeak's public discussion on prisons in September 2015.

Kelvin Davis sympathises with Nanaia Mahuta Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Finding themselves in the bottom half of the party list are Ikaroa Rāwhiti MP Meka Whaitiri and Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare. In the last six places are Rino Tirikatene for Te Tai Tonga followed by Te Tai Hauāuru MP Adrian Rurāwhe, who is second to last.

In January the Labour Party will attend the annual Rātana Day celebrations for T W Rātana, Mr Rurāwhe's great-grandfather.

So is Mr Little confident of the Rātana vote?

"The Rātana conversation in January, in my view, is ritualistic and we all go up there and parade ourselves, it's a bit of a beauty parade. I don't regard it as particularly substantive. I put the hand out for a more substantive conversation during the year."

RNZ asked if those were his thoughts on Rātana, why did he go?

"Their celebrations are more than just a bunch of politicians talking for an hour or so. Their celebration of the contributions of Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana are way more significant than that."

After 19 years with Labour, Ms Mahuta is facing her first major demotion but is putting on a brave face.

"I think overall they've seen the contribution of my service to the electorate through the highs and lows of Labour's journey and that's been demonstrated by a strong mandate".

Labour support in the Māori electorates is currently the best it has been since 2002, during the leadership of Helen Clark.

The job of retaining the Māori seats will now fall to Mr Davis.

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