MPs from across the political spectrum have made their pitches at Ratana Pa today with the Government staunchly defending its record and opposition MPs promising to do better.
Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe cut contrasting figures as they addressed the church leaders and the crowd of several hundred.
Cunliffe began his speech with a greeting in Maori before a typically colourful speech where he 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 gave Mickey Savage - to care for our people," he 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."
He said they would address Maori concerns over the lack of jobs, poor health and adequate housing.
Prime Minister John Key cut a more measured figure and called Cunliffe's promises empty.
"David Cunliffe would have came up a wee while ago to tell you how strong the relationship is between Ratana and the Labour Party, he'd be here to tell you about the historical bonds of Labour and the Ratana movement and knowing David he would've applied it with a trowel, in fact he probably would have had a spade."
He defended his government's record and said Maori were better off under National.
He spoke of 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.
All this was done in partnership with the Maori Party, he said.
"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."
Ratana follower Moko Morgan said Key's defence was unlikely to sway what he saw as a largely-Labour crowd, however.
While millions of dollars was being spent to benefit Maori, not enough was going to Maori organisations which would in turn create jobs and allow Maori to help themselves, he said.
"Why not Maori for Maori, Islanders for Islanders, Pakeha for Pakeha. We know more about our people than you do."
However, he said those at the bottom of the ladder would fare worse no matter who was in government.
Morgan said Cunliffe could "speak bravely" at Ratana because he had the support of the church.
There was some support for the Maori Party within the church but they felt let down by the party, he said.
Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell and Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei also spoke.
DISTANCE FROM NATIONAL
MP Pita Sharples has distanced his Maori Party from National at Ratana, but Prime Minister John Key says Maori are better off under his government.
Sharples, a former co-leader of the Maori Party, said today it was trying to separate itself from National and reaffirm its status as an independent Maori voice.
The Maori Party has supported National since its election victory in 2008 and that relationship is said to be costing the Maori Party support at a time when it is in danger of losing at least two of the three Maori electorate seats it holds.
When asked whether it was time for the Maori Party to move away from National, Sharples conceded "it probably is".
"I think we've already started to be honest," he said.
This did not necessarily mean moving closer to Labour "but 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."
Progress on issues such as adequate housing and addressing poverty had not been fast enough, he said.
He also pointed to the review of the protocols governing powhiri at Parliament commissioned by Speaker David Carter, saying these were not to be tampered with.
It was also partly a response to perceptions the party was too close to National, something which was said to be costing them support though this was overblown and supporters recognised the benefit of being in government.
He would not say which of the major parties he would prefer to work with after the election.
He pointed out that the Maori Party was the only party which both Labour and National said they would like to work with post-election.
"So it's sort of a statement around our credibility."
Key said he had not seen Sharples' comments but the parties had always disagreed on some things.
Minor parties often tried to break out from under the shadow of their larger coalition partners in an election year.
"In five years we've worked really constructively with them, they've been good people and they've been straight up and down about what they've been about," Key said.
"I think they have massively benefited Maori by being part of the Government."
KEY: IN GOVERNMENT YOU ACHIEVE THINGS
Key acknowledged Labour had a long-standing relationship with the Ratana movement but said the party "promised the Earth" and failed to deliver.
"It's always easy in opposition to sit there and throw stones, it's like Opposition politicians any time the Government comes out with something you'll always find an Opposition politician who will criticise, fair enough that's their job.
"But in government you achieve things and you wait until you see my speech today on the marae I'm going to run through the list of things that we've done, across housing, across the economy, across law and order, across education, across Treaty settlements over the past five years and I defy anyone to say Maori aren't better off under a National Government."
Asked if was concerned that the Maori Party could lose seats at the election, Key said he was "fairly confident" about the Maori Party's prospects.
They've got a good candidate to replace Tariana [Turia], Chris McKenzie. I think he'll do well for them. Te Ururoa [Flavell] looks strong and let's see what they do in the other seats.
"If they lose those seats to Labour, it doesn't do anything to Labour it just reduces the number of list MPs Labour has."
Earlier, NZ First leader Winston Peters was the first to be welcomed to the celebrations today. Mana leader Hone Harawira arrived yesterday.
Labour leader David Cunliffe said it was his first visit to Ratana. He wanted to carry on the legacy of the relationship between his party and the church.
"We're coming up towards the centenary of this movement so it's a really important time for us to renew that alliance, to renew the common purpose of helping our people."
Labour intended to win all the Maori seats and it believed it was making strong progress and had a strong candidate, Adrian Rurawhe, a great-grandson of the prophet, standing in Te Tai Hauauru seat.
The party also included Rino Tiraketene, a descendant of the first Ratana MP.
"So we could not be stronger in taking forward a new generation of Ratana leadership into the Labour movement this time around," Cunliffe said.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Ratana was a force to be reckoned with. It gave MPs a chance to front up to Maori, which they did not do often enough.
"We have to be with Maori people we have to talk about our issues and explain ourselves to Maori people and I think that's a really important thing for us to do," Turei said.
In spite of concerns too much of the focus was on politics, the presence of the politicians has already created a minor buzz.
When programmes were handed out yesterday church follower Jade Elers said everyone looked to see when Prime Minister John Key would arrive "and you watch there'll be lots of people" there to see him.
"You'll see the crowds come in when the politicians come in, they'll all be listening, they tend to flock more when they come and see what they have to say which is good," Elers said.
Part of the fun was overhearing the comments from the kaumatua who he said weren't shy on discussing their opinions of the MPs among themselves.
Elers, who grew up in Taupo but now lives in Australia and has been coming to Ratana since he was a boy, had not heard of Rurawhe or Maori Party candidate Chris McKenzie "but everyone knows Hone".
"What's good about that fella, he still lines up when he gets a feed and everything," Elers said.
"They'll send in the hierarchy through there but not him, he doesn't go out of his way because he has a tie and stuff. I heard the older people saying that he's lining up for a feed, good on him and that's cool hearing that from older people."
While politics is often portrayed as taking over the event, Elers said it was good to see MPs turn up and acknowledge the movement.
Meanwhile, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia will not attend Ratana celebrations this year as she supports a family member undergoing a serious operation.
A spokeswoman for the Maori Party would not give further details, but said the operation was being done in the South Island.
Turia is the incumbent MP for Te Tai Hauauru, which includes Ratana. The Maori Party is facing a serious challenge to stop Rurawhe winning the seat after she retires.
Turia is a follower of the church and commands great respect here, holding the seat since 2004.
The church has thrown its support behind Rurawhe after mending its relationship with Labour following the damage done by the 2004 foreshore and seabed legislation.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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