Ratana warning for new Labour leader

16:00, Jan 24 2012
Andre Mason and Labour leader David Shearer hongi
IN TOUCH: Andre Mason, left, and Labour leader David Shearer hongi at Ratana Pa near Whanganui yesterday. In his speech, Mr Shearer said Labour had to put more work into its relationship with the Ratana movement.

The Ratana Church has warned a struggling Labour Party to make good on its promises or lose even more support.

The Maori church has worked closely with Labour since 1936.

But the relationship has waned in recent years, since the rise of NZ First in the Maori electorates in the mid-1990s and more recently with the creation of the Maori and Mana parties.

New Labour leader David Shearer and Prime Minister John Key were at Ratana Pa near Whanganui yesterday to celebrate the birthday of the late TW Ratana, the church's founder.

Church secretary Waka Palmer told Mr Shearer that just as the party wanted to rejuvenate itself, its relationship with Ratana needed work.

"It is timely, then, that we must also review the Labour-Ratana alliance. Much has happened over the decades, we must acknowledge, but more importantly move on, for Maori diversity has changed and we are in the 21st century."

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People today faced many challenges, especially the growing gap between rich and poor, Mr Palmer said. Politicians must follow through on their talking.

Mr Shearer acknowledged Ratana's message and said Labour had to put more work into the relationship.

He took the first step by inviting Ratana leaders to Parliament for a meeting.

Mr Key said he believed National had done more to improve the lives of Maori than Labour had done. "I think the links between Ratana Church and the Labour Party are well and truly gone in reality."

Church spokesman William Meremere said the church no longer officially supported one political party. Though there were a large number of followers who voted Labour, others now supported the Maori and Mana parties, he said.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said he felt the movement had given the nod to his party's relationship with National.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira criticised those who were at the celebrations to gain political support. "Votes are for another day. Today is to honour a man who fought for the Treaty of Waitangi," he told followers.

The church has about 60,000 members nationwide; many of them gather at the Ratana Pa annually for the birthday celebrations.

Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana founded the church in 1925.

Tom Scott B4

The Dominion Post