Double change for Maori leadership

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 15:58 03/07/2013
Pem Bird
MAARTEN HOLL/ Fairfax NZ
MOVING ON: Pem Bird is not standing for re-election as Maori Party president.

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Maori Party president Pem Bird will stand down from the party at next week's party conference.

News that Bird, who became president in 2010, will not seek re-election, comes a day after Pita Sharples announced he would stand down as co-leader at the conference. Sharples will quit national politics at next year's general election.

Bird, the principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake o Tawhiuau in Murupara, said today he had informed the party's national council five to six weeks ago of his intention to stand down.

He was surprised it had taken so long for the news to get out and the timing was a coincidence.

His other commitments had prompted the decision.

"This is an issue about time. The Maori Party president position requires quality time and I no longer have the time to give to that."

The result of the recent Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election, where the Maori Party finished third behind Labour and the Mana Party had nothing to do with it, he said.

Commentators have predicted the demise of the Maori Party, but Bird was adamant it would survive.

"I'm hearing doom and gloom and this, that and the other, but one thing I do know is we're down, but we're not out," Bird said this afternoon.

The fundamental test was whether the party had the critical mass of resilient people who believed in the party, and he was certain it did.

"There's a fightback coming, there's a fight back on, I can tell you now, I can feel it now."

Asked if the fightback would be independent, or whether it would be with closer co-operation with the Mana Party, Bird said this was a matter which would be considered at the party conference in Whakatane next weekend.

"There's all sorts of things that we need to consider. The bottom line is, what is in the best interests of the Maori Party, what is in the best interests of the Maori people.

Members had given several reasons for the party struggling recently.

"People have said it's because we're too cosy with National and we've become poodles," Bird said.

He also raised the split with Mana and the leadership struggle between Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell as issues.

"We're going to relish the prospect of coming through. It's been a tough time, for sure."

Bird said he would continue to work for the Maori Party at branch level, focusing on retaining the seat of Waiariki for Flavell, as well as wherever he was asked to assist with.

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