Maori Party to expand its focus

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 15:31 27/10/2012
Pita Sharples
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has indicated a wider focus for the party.

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The Maori Party will focus on winning a bigger party vote share, target non-Maori electorates - and has even talked about changing its name.

The party has just wrapped up its first annual conference since a devastating election result saw it lose Te Tai Tonga and reduced margins in its remaining three electorates.

But the Wairarapa hui received a welcome boost with last night's Roy Morgan putting them up two points to 3.5 per cent.

President Pem Bird said the party has never ''seriously'' pursued the party vote and focused ''obsessively'' on the Maori electorates.

However, to refocus will need the ''availabilty of some serious dollars".

He said the party must strategise, boost membership and raise funds in the lead up to the 2014 election.

''Let's get moving,'' he told around 50 delegates gathered at the Papawai marae, a few kilometres from Greytown.

Political consultant Matthew Jensen told the party that concentrating on electorate seats can be ''fatal'' to minor parties. ''Party vote can help you win an electorate but not vice versa,'' he said.

However, his suggestion that the Maori party expand to include Tongan, Samoan, Chinese and even Pakeha members met with a mixed response.  He said it should be ''for all citizens of this country ... a party about the content of your character not about the colour of your skin.'

Co-leader Pita Sharples said concentrating on non-Maori electorates ''makes common sense''.

''But jeez, it's pretty hard to drop brand Maori. And that's going to be our dilemma - if we do it.

''I understand very much that we have to broaden our brand. I ... say what's good for Maori is good for New Zealand ... as opposed to the hardline Maori, Maori, just Maori.''

But he believes it has to be post-election.

''It's too late now for this election ... to change the brand.''

The party had talked about being ''brand New Zealand'' and changing their name to one without Maori in it.

''It's that level. And we find that very, very hard to do.''

The party could even stand Pakeha - or Chinese - candidates, he said.

Sharples said he is enthusiastic about a membership drive - especially where they don't have an MP. 

He and co-leader Tariana Turia were re-elected unopposed, as were Bird, and vice president Donna Gardiner.

The hui did discuss having just one leader - and voted to take the issue to its constitutional body.

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Both ministers said they are likely to stand again at the 2014. Sharples said: ''We are the face of the party. Another change, after the Hone thing ... would seriously affect us.''

- The Dominion Post

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