Sharples seeks to distance party

MICHAEL FOX IN RATANA
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2014

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Maori Party MP Pita Sharples has sought to distance his party from its National allies over claims not enough progress is being made on Maori issues.

But Prime Minister John Key stood before leaders at Ratana Pa near Whanganui and defended his government's record, saying Maori were better off under National than under Labour.

The annual Ratana celebrations yesterday also saw NZ First leader Winston Peters slammed for likening Maori Party policies to apartheid.

Sharples said yesterday his party, which faces significant challenges in at least two of the Maori seats it holds, was already trying to distance itself from National which it has supported in government since 2008.

"We have certain things in train and I think it's time we hoed into those and finished those off and some of those are with the support of National government and some of them are not," Sharples said.

Progress on issues such as adequate housing and addressing poverty had not been fast enough, he said.

His bid to separate his party from National was also partly a response to perceptions the party was too close to National, which was said to be costing the Maori Party support.

Sharples said this view was overblown because Maori Party supporters recognised the benefits of being in government.

He would not say which of the major parties he would prefer to work with after the election but pointed out both had said they would work with the Maori Party.

Key said minor parties often tried to break out from under the shadow of their larger coalition partners in an election year.

"I think they [the Maori Party] have massively benefited Maori by being part of the Government."

Key defended the work of his government when he spoke on the marae yesterday, saying Maori were better off under National.

He listed achievements including the number of Treaty of Waitangi settlements under National compared with under Labour, how his government had invested heavily in redeveloping housing in Ratana Pa and how Maori children were doing better in school under National.

"So when I come here as prime minister and as leader of the National Party I come here with a view that we are good for Maori that we work hard for the people of New Zealand, that we believe that Maori can achieve and succeed at the highest level and that Maori children should be just as successful as every other child in New Zealand."

Labour leader David Cunliffe emphasised Labour's enduring relationship with the church, dating back to the "days of Mickey J Savage", the former Labour prime minister.

Labour was ready "to pick up the challenge the prophet [Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana] gave Mickey Savage – to care for our people," Cunliffe said.

"We want to prove to you that our heart is in this work and our sleeves are rolled up and we're ready to get stuck in and we ask you ... to renew this relationship."

Labour would address Maori concerns over the lack of jobs, poor health and adequate housing, he said.

Peters provoked some controversy yesterday when he said NZ First would never support "separatist" Maori Party policies such as Whanau Ora or having separate Maori units in prisons.

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"Apartheid policies are based on racial preference. This is, too," he said.

Sharples called the comments "dumb".


- The Dominion Post

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