24 Jan 2011

PM defends National's relationship with Maori Party

4:59 pm on 24 January 2011

Prime Minister John Key has defended the National Party's relationship with the Maori Party in his address at Ratana Pa.

Mr Key and 10 government ministers, including Maori Party co-leader and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, are at Ratana near Whanganui for annual celebrations marking the birthday of the church's prophet Tahu Potiki Wiremu Ratana.

Mr Key told those gathered at Ratana Pa on Monday there are critics of the Government's legislation to replace the controversial Foreshore and Seabed Act.

However, he says the Government's Marine and Coastal Area Bill will restore the right of Maori to go to court to gain customary title.

Mr Key says there are critics of the Maori Party's support of the National-led Government, but the partnership gives Maori a stronger voice.

He questioned what could be achieved from Opposition, saying things can only be achieved when parties are part of the solution, not carping on about the problems.

The Prime Minister delivered a two-minute speech in Maori at Ratana Pa, which received a round of applause.

It paid tribute to the church's founder, efforts by the Maori Party and also referred to the work the National-led Government has done for Maori, including providing better quality homes and insulation.

Ratana reaffirms support for Labour

The Ratana Church has told the Labour Party it is ready to re-establish its relationship with the party.

Last year the tumuaki (head of the church), Harerangi Meihana, said he was re-evaluating his support for Labour.

But Ratana spokesperson Andre Meihana told Labour leader Phil Goff on Monday that the church is ready to reconnect with Labour.

It says it will continue to support the party in a bid for constitutional reform which would enhance the values of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Mr Goff says the people of Ratana share the concerns of many in New Zealand - that they can put food on the table and clothe their children. He described Maori youth unemployment as a social disgrace.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples has already announced a three-year constitutional review, including an examination of the Treaty's role.

Labour looking to take back Maori seats

Labour says it is positioning itself to take back the Maori seats from the Maori Party.

Mr Goff says Labour has Ratana followers, or people with connections to Ratana, standing in two general and two Maori seats in this year's election.

Labour holds two of the seven Maori seats, with the Maori Party holding five.

Mr Goff told reporters on Monday that Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples will retire at some stage.

"We are positioning ourselves with younger generation candidates again to secure the Maori seats for Labour," he says.