25 Jun 2018

Cabinet delayed as tributes flow for Koro Wētere

11:04 am on 25 June 2018

Tributes have been flowing for former Minister of Māori Affairs Koro Wētere who died on Saturday after a battle with prostate cancer.

Koro Wetere

Koro Wetere Photo: RNZ

The 83 year old spent almost three decades in Parliament - and during his time helped to oversee major legislative changes around the Treaty of Waitangi and the revitalisation of te reo Māori.

The government's cabinet meeting has been delayed for a few hours today so government ministers can attend his tangihanga.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters and other ministers arrived early at Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia this morning to farewell and pay tribute to Mr Wētere.

Mr Wētere was first elected to the Māori electoral seat of Western Māori in 1969 - and would remain in the seat for the next 27 years.

Former Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Sir Geoffrey Palmer worked closely with Mr Wētere when the party was elected into government in 1984.

Mr Palmer said he played an important role in the extension of the jurisdiction of the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal - allowing it to hear claims back to 1840.

"That decision to extend the jurisdiction of the tribunal was perhaps the key decision made by the fourth Labour government on Māori issues.

"And the consequences of it I think, despite some initial resistance, have been totally benign and have improved the social fabric of this country."

Jim Bolger, left, and Geoffrey Palmer

Jim Bolger, left, and Geoffrey Palmer Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Wētere oversaw the passing of the 1987 Māori Language Act and also the Māori Fisheries Act.

Sir Geoffrey recalled Mr Wētere helping to set up te reo Māori lessons in Parliament.

"I learnt a lot from him about the values that drive Māori culture, he in fact used to give lessons in te reo Māori to the caucus.

"Regrettably I was pretty near the bottom of the class in pronunciation."

Another former prime minister and former National Party leader, Jim Bolger, said he worked closely with Mr Wētere on issues in the King Country.

Mr Bolger said Mr Wētere was a leading figure in helping Tainui to take the brave step in becoming the first iwi settle their Treaty of Waitangi claim in 1995.

"That was the breakthrough agreement in terms of the whole trying to resolve those historical grievances from New Zealand's colonial period so he'll be remembered for his role in that."

Dame Tariana Turia

Dame Tariana Turia Photo: RNZ

Former Māori Party leader Dame Tariana Turia said Mr Wētere had a lot of integrity and his people thought the world of him.

Dame Tariana said he was an MP who was Māori first and foremost - and never deviated away from that.

"If you look at all the Members of Parliament today they are driven by mainstream politics - which of course Koro wasn't particularly."

And she believed his true legacy began when he left Parliament.

"I think that once Koro left Parliament and became quite involved in Tainui politics that's the legacy he has left."

Mr Wētere is being held in state at Turangawaewae Marae and he will be buried at his family cemetery near Te Kuiti.

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