Meet the Newsmaker: Marama Fox

1:22 pm on 16 April 2017

Newsmaker - In our Newsmaker series, RNZ talks to people who have dominated the headlines. This week: Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox.

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox.

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox. Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

While the Māori Party is a government support partner, its co-leader Marama Fox is often on the opposite side of the political debate, most recently arguing that gang members should be allowed to work with prisoners, and criticising the government's plans for Māori children in care under new child protection laws.

She spoke with political reporter Craig McCulloch about what have been a turbulent few months.

All right. First question.

Are you checking your sound level? Cause I'm a horrendously loud person. I don't have those squeaky overtones like tweeter, Tracey Martin, has.

This looks okay. Right. Last week, Winston Peters made a comment in Parliament. He said -

He said I was an expert at everything?

He said, yes, "Marama Fox - here for five minutes, expert on everything." Is that a fair comment?

Yes, it is! Winston knows me well. We've come to have quite a good relationship. I call him Koro Winitana. I think he quite likes it. He's not told me off for it.

During the RMA (Resource Management Act) debate he was smashing us to all heck and I was giving it back to him. The day after, we caught each other's eye and we just burst out laughing. It was so funny.

I quite respect him. I don't like his politics. I think that they're underhanded. He doesn't stand up and tell the truth to his Māori constituents.

Could you work with him in government if you needed to?

Winston? Wow. That's a stretch. I'm not sure that Winston would want to work with us. I'm pretty sure I could work with anybody. Our policies differ from theirs - although at their heart, I know they don't believe them.

Winston Peters. 6 December 2016.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

He talked up that perception of the Māori Party being National's lapdog - "the palace for you, the pie cart for your people" - does that get frustrating?

You know what? I have 18 people living in my house. I am the poster child of overcrowded conditions and communicable diseases. I have my five sons, four daughters-in-law. I have six grandchildren, three girls who are my own children and my husband. They don't even count me, because I'm never there.

So I'm not sure which pie cart or palace he's talking about, but I'm pretty sure his house doesn't look as crowded and overflowing as mine.

People tell us we are the Māori wing of the National Party. I say, "Go and find another piece of rhetoric to spew out so you can win your seat." I could care less if I win my seat - I seriously - I want to win it, so that's not quite true - but if I don't, I'll just go home and work.

Ron Mark said it in the House the other day - "We need to get rid of the Māori Party. We're going to destroy them. We're going to take every reference to Māori out of the law."

And I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, that's so progressive and forward-thinking." Ideology that takes us straight back to the stone-freaking-ages.

The Labour Party as well. They want to destroy the Māori Party, because actually trying to knock off National is a little difficult.

Andrew Little said you weren't kaupapa Māori.

<laughs> And do people believe him? Like, seriously Andrew? I'm not even going to tell you to be quiet, because if you want to say that, 3000 more people from your party come and vote for us.

It's a ridiculous statement - please, if you want to smash us with some kaupapa Māori rhetoric, then at least have one of your Māori MPs stand up and say it. Far out.

The Labour Party have not respected their Māori MPs. And it's forced Māori to pick. I thought MMP used to stand for More Māori in Parliament. You know - an opportunity to have us both there and work for the mutual benefit of our people.

I literally went across the House seeking support to work together on the Ture Whenua so that we could craft the best piece of legislation for our people and they refused. They laughed and said, well, that's the game. Ha, ha, ha.

Really?

Who do you get along with best in Parliament? You can't say Te Ururoa.

Oh, boo! Who will I hang out with? Oh my gosh. Do you know what? I'm really good mates with David Seymour. <laughs> We get on really well. But I've got mates in every party. Peter Dunne, I quite respect. Got mates in the Greens.

David Seymour in the Auckland studio

Ms Fox says she is good mates with Act Party leader David Seymour. Photo: RNZ

Is it annoying not being the only Marama in Parliament?

Oh, you know what? Just before Marama Davidson came into the House, I got a text from Bill English. It said, "Oh my gosh! How am I going to tell you apart?" And I said, "Are you kidding me? I'm the drop-dead gorgeous one!"

And you know what's annoying? People still mix us up. In the newspaper. In the media. In the House. I mean, how many Davids are there? How often do they get mixed up? It must be because - we look alike?

And who do you butt heads with?

I mean, I butted heads with Nick Smith over a few things in the RMA and around the Kermadecs. But we're both straight up. There's no surprises coming. So I actually quite like him.

How have those negotiations gone? How have you found them to be?

I'm not sure how much I can say. Let me just see. <laughs> They have been vigorous. And we have held our line.

It's not me and Te Ururoa in the back room with Nick, having a cuppa. "This one's in, this one's out." No.

We went back and forward, back and forward, back and forward. Literally, had to stare down in order to get it across the line. Which is what we did. But I quite enjoy that. I thrive on that.

New Green party  MP, Marama Davidson, being battered by Wellington's wind on her first day as a MP.

Green Party MP Marama Davidson Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

You took Tariana Turia's place. She obviously left a big hole - big shoes to fill. Do you think that you've lived up to her legacy?

No. <laughs> Not at all. Tariana is a remarkable woman who will go down in history as the catalyst for a new Māori political movement that has changed the way politics is carried out in this country.

But I'm not trying to fill her shoes. I've got better taste in shoes. <laughs> Some other people might disagree with that considering I'm wearing neon pink platforms.

I can't try and replicate what Tariana did, but we have the same values at our heart. We have the same tikanga at our heart. We believe in our people.

Parts of the interview have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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