9 Aug 2017

Politics, passions and pressure: Metiria Turei's path

7:13 pm on 9 August 2017

Metiria Turei's first dalliance with national politics was a bit of a farce - she ran as a McGillicuddy Serious Party candidate in the 1993 election. It has, unfortunately, ended in farce too.

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Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Her long career, spent battling to broaden the Green Party's appeal and attract support to issues she championed, has come to an end incredibly suddenly.

Mrs Turei was raised in a working class Māori family in Palmerston North and has described her upbringing as "always generous, no matter how sparse the resources".

She became a single mum at 22 and said that made her realise she needed a career that would her help support her daughter. Law school beckoned and she went on to work as a commercial lawyer for Simpson Grierson after graduating in 1999.

In 1996 she stood for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, but it wasn't until she joined the Green Party in 2000 that the doors of Parliament swung open for her.

In 2002 she was ranked 8th on the Green Party list. It went on to win seven percent of the vote and nine seats.

While standing unsuccessfully in the Te Tai Tonga and Dunedin North electorates at polls since, she has maintained a high ranking on the party's list. She sang in te reo Māori part of her maiden speech to Parliament.

Her efforts to get bills addressing the medicinal use of cannabis - something since partly addressed by a recent change in health policy - and liquor advertising failed in 2009.

That was also the year she was elected as co-leader of the Green Party ahead of Sue Bradford, joining Russel Norman at the helm. Interestingly, at the time, some in the party believed she would lead them more to the centre than had traditionally been the case.

Mrs Turei continued to actively promote new legislation including around the protection of marine animals, the use of conservation land for mining, and criminal proceeds recovery.

The governments of the time did not allow them to proceed further. At the 2014 election the Greens polled 11 percent, on par with their 2011 result.

James Shaw joined her as co-leader in 2015 - a surprise to many at the time given he was a newcomer and from a more corporate than activist background. The pair were thought to have a strong mandate and the past two years, up until the last month, have suggested just that.

The party had been disciplined in its approach, agreed a co-operation arrangement with Labour, broadened its appeal and was rating well in polls.

Initially Mrs Turei's admission, at the party's AGM last month, that she had committed benefit fraud won plaudits and appeared to garner the Greens more supporters.

However, it has spiralled out of control since.

Mrs Turei told Fairfax in 2015 that the best political advice she had received came from Winston Peters.

"Don't worry when they're kicking you in the arse, it's when they start kicking you in the head that you need to be worried."

That worry appears to have got too much.

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