Parties jostle for Maori vote

WOOING: David Shearer has extended his visit at Ratana to reestablish Labour's historical ties to the community.
WOOING: David Shearer has extended his visit at Ratana to reestablish Labour's historical ties to the community.

Labour leader David Shearer is attempting to capitalise on the Maori Party's apparent demise by extending his visit to Ratana.

While Prime Minister John Key gives his state of the nation speech in Auckland today, Shearer will again attend celebrations at the Maori church, near Whanganui.

The annual festivities have become a pilgrimage for all political parties, but Labour has prolonged its stay this year in an attempt to rebuild its historical ties with the influential religious movement and make the most of the Maori Party's weakness.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said Labour was not the only one.

All political parties were "standing in line" to take the party's votes, she said.

But she believed the Maori Party could overcome its leadership struggles and rebuild.

Co-leader Pita Sharples and leadership contender - and the party's only other MP - Te Ururoa Flavell, were not commenting yesterday after a meeting that went late into Wednesday night.

Sharples's position is safe for now with another meeting planned in the next few months.

Ratana speaker Ruia Aperehama told Shearer yesterday that he would be prime minister in 2014, in coalition with the Greens, but warned Labour not to take the Maori electorates for granted again.

"We may be small, we may even be neglected, we may be in poverty but we have survived, we are alive and it ain't finished yet," he said.

Shearer thanked him and promised to work on the relationship.

Shearer's own leadership woes also seem to be over for now with main rival David Cunliffe yesterday promising his support in the February 4 vote.

"I expect an endorsement, yes, who knows what's going to happen?" Shearer said of next month's vote.

"I haven't done a poll ... but I'm not expecting any problems that's for sure."
Key said he wasn't worried about Ratana predictions of a Labour win next election.

"I think [Shearer] should go around New Zealand and tell New Zealanders he's going to have a Labour, Greens, Mana Party, anybody else coalition and see whether he can get it over the line in 2014," the Prime Minister said.

In a dramatic speech at Ratana yesterday, Key said actions spoke louder than words and National had the record to show it was committed to Maori issues.

He drew on the record of beleaguered Education Minister Hekia Parata to prove it.

"You name me, I challenge you - you name me one person who cares more about Maori kids doing well in education in New Zealand that beats Hekia Parata," he said.

"You won't name anyone, you won't name anyone, because she cares almost more than any of us."

And he said the National Government was not worried about having to "have a fight with a few of the teacher unions".

Parata was at Ratana Pa yesterday, her first ministerial outing for the year.

She admitted to making "one or two mistakes that I need to learn from" last year although she wouldn't say what they were.

"It's not my role to critique what happened," she said.

"We have got a world class education system but that takes attention and so that's what I'm focused on."

The Dominion Post