3 Dec 2009

Harawira returns to fold after second apology

8:28 am on 3 December 2009

Controversial MP Hone Harawira is now back in the Maori Party fold after making a second apology for offensive comments he made in a terse email exchange.

The party has announced that the political future of the Te Tai Tokerau MP is secure, despite his controversial trip to Paris and the racially-charged email defending the unsanctioned visit.

But Mr Harawira still refuses to accept the comments in his email were racist. He has apologised to any New Zealander who was offended by the email and admits his words were "offensive, insensitive and hurtful".

Prime Minister John Key says the onus is on Mr Harawira to prove his apology is sincere.

Mr Harawira will not return to Parliament for the rest of the year, but is staying in the Maori Party.

The party says its MPs found the strength to exercise compassion when deciding how to handle Mr Harawira's future and it now has a protocol to avoid future conflicts.

Mr Key, on his way back from a Commonwealth heads of government summit in the Caribbean, said through a spokesperson that Mr Harawira's original comments were hurtful, racist and offensive.

Meanwhile, Titewhai Harawira told Checkpoint the Maori party lacks proper processes and leadership skills.

She says her son should have been dealt with weeks ago.

"This is the first time they've sat to talk with him, was last night, after five weeks."

She says that's a reflection of the party's processes and leadership.

But Mrs Harawira says her son's relationship with Maori Party leaders is now very good.

Harawira contrite

A contrite Mr Harawira, flanked by Maori Party president Whatarangi Winiata and two caucus members, offered the public apology on Wednesday following weeks of controversy.

The MP for Te Tai Tokerau has been under fire for skipping the last day of a 12-day taxpayer-funded trip in Europe to go sightseeing in Paris with his wife, and later using abusive language and lashing out at Pakeha in an email defending his actions.

Mr Harawira says he apologises to any New Zealanders offended by his comments and language that he admits was "offensive, insensitive and hurtful".

He acknowledged that his comments had caused hurt and suffering to party colleagues.

"The Maori Party has built up a good deal of credibility and goodwill during our first four years in the House and has a vital role to play in building new ways for our nation.

"My comments have derailed much of that credibility and set back our efforts to build bridges for our people into the future and for that, I apologise."

The Maori Party met until late on Tuesday night to discuss Mr Harawira's political future and made the announcement that he would stay with the party on Wednesday.

Mr Harawira has been given permission to remain in his Te Tai Tokerau electorate until the start of the new parliamentary session next year.

Party co-leader keen to move on

Mr Harawira's fellow MPs say they have found the strength to exercise compassion and have agreed to follow a protocol to avoid such conflicts in the future.

Co-leader Pita Sharples says the Maori Party caucus is keen to put the matter behind it, having handled it in its "own way".

"I think everyone's been completely honest and put issues on the floor. And it's not just about Hone Harawira's behaviour - it's about ourselves and how we can work through difficult situations like this.

"It's about the party strengthening itself and looking for involvement of the party generally, and not just leaving it to the small caucus."

The party's five MPs have agreed to follow a protocol to avoid future conflicts and Dr Sharples says there are no longer divisions within the caucus.

Maori Party whip Te Ururoa Flavell says the party hopes Mr Harawira's apology will go some way toward righting the wrong and MPs will work hard to live up to the high expectations of their supporters.

Party president Whatarangi Winiata says he is confident MPs can now work constructively.

Two weeks ago, Dr Sharples and co-leader Tariana Turia suggested that Mr Harawira should become an independent MP, saying his actions had damaged the party.

Mrs Turia was absent from Tuesday's meeting as she is recovering from a recent operation.

Rift remains - Goff

The Labour Party leader Phil Goff says New Zealanders will have to decide if Mr Harawira's apology is genuine.

He says Mr Harawira and members of the party have rolled the Maori Party's leadership.

"It's actually added up to very little. There's been enormous navel gazing by the Maori Party. These problems predated the Paris jaunt."

Mr Goff says there are deep divisions within the Maori Party which have not been healed.

Nga Puhi elder Kingi Taurua says it would have been very ugly for the Maori Party if Hone Harawria had split away as there is a lot of support for him around the country.

He says Mr Harawira made a terrible mistake, which he has learned from, but needs to stop acting like a protestor and work with his political party.

The former Labour Party minister, John Tamihere, says he doubts Mr Harawira can change. He says the Tai Tokerau MP is not comfortable with the sort of compromise and deal making that comes along with being in Parliament.