Labour works on Ratana appeal

22:41, Jan 24 2013

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

While Prime Minister John Key gives his state of the nation speech in Auckland today, Shearer returned to Ratana Pa 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.

Shearer was back at Ratana Pa to attend a church service this morning. Ahead of the ceremony, he said Labour was in competition for the Maori seats.

He believed the tide was turning in its  favour.

"We're out there to win as many seats as we possibly can and I think the Maori seats are up for grabs and we're going to be going for broke to get them.

"It's not about killing off [the Maori Party] we're in competition with them."

The Maori Party's leadership woes boosted their chances, he said.

"We believe we can win this [Te Tai Hauauru], we can win Waiariki and we can win in Auckland."

Shearer said the candidates had yet to be chosen and he could not confirm whether Shane Jones would stand again in the Auckland Maori seat.

It was rare for a Labour leader to stay at Ratana for the church service today.

Shearer said that was a sign of the improved relationship between Labour and the Maori religious movement.

Prime Minister John Key sounded "shrill and increasingly desperate" in speech there yesterday, Shearer said.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said Labour was not the only one trying to muscle in.

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' 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 party's February 4 leadership 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."