Veteran MP Tau Henare retiring

RETIRING: Tau Henare talks to reporters after tweeting he was leaving politics at the election.
RETIRING: Tau Henare talks to reporters after tweeting he was leaving politics at the election.

A likely demotion has forced the retirement of self-described "maverick" MP Tau Henare.

But the former Maori affairs minister says he is at ease with his decision and proud of his record.

Henare announced this morning he would retire from politics at the September election after 15 years in Parliament.

He was first elected to Parliament in 1993 for New Zealand First in the former Northern Maori electorate.

He is now chairman of the Maori affairs select committee and a member of the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee.

Henare said his list placing was likely to fall from 35 to as low as 100 but said it "doesn't really matter" whether he was pushed or chose to go.

"I'm happy and that's all that counts," he said.

"I'm happy, I feel really at ease with myself and I know that [after] 15 years in this place I've contributed to New Zealand.

"It's been a humbling experience but it's also been a privilege and a hell of a lot of fun."

He acknowledged he felt he deserved better, saying "what I deserved and what I think the prime minister thinks is most probably different" but it was Prime Minister John Key's choice as party leader and Henare could accept it or walk.

He could not say if he would have stayed on if offered a ministerial post, but if he had been muscled out he would have gone "kicking and screaming", he said.

"With me I'm such a maverick that anything could have happened," he said.

"I'm proud of the fact that I was minister for Maori affairs, I'm proud of the fact that I didn't drop the ball in my ministerial term - hey I can take that stuff to the grave and be quite happy with my contribution to Parliament and to New Zealand."

Henare said he was proud to have served New Zealand in the footsteps of his great-grandfather Taurekareka Henare who served in Parliament from 1914 to 1938.

He said he was still passionate about the job and said MPs gave a huge amount to the country.

"You don't have to agree with them but they do a really good job and in this country," he said.

"If you disagree with each other we don't bomb each other, we sort of have a beer with each other and more arguments."

Parliament had changed significantly since 1993 when he arrived wearing a borrowed suit but he said he there should always be room for mavericks and jokers.

"I hope that there are some new characters on the block, I hope there are people who are not so bored or boring that they don't show themselves to be passionate in who they are, because this place can overwhelm you," Henare said.

One of the major changes was the number of Maori MPs.

"When I came in in '93, there was less than a handful, now everybody's got one."

He was not joining Kim Dotcom's Internet Party and said he had no job prospects lined up.

"There are plenty of things to do," he said.

"I could be a corporate cab driver - I'll come pick you up. I could dig drains, I could do whatever. It's a matter of looking and being satisfied with what I find."

Henare ruled out a return to Parliament in the future.

Key said this morning that Henare told him of his decision about two weeks ago.

He said he thought Henare had had a long career and possibly felt he "run his race".

"He let me know two weeks ago, and said he wasn't going to stand in Te Atatu and he was going to step down at the end of this parliamentary term," Key told Firstline.

"So I think he's had 15 years with National and he's had a long time in Parliament, and I just sort of think he felt he'd run his race really.

"We had sort of potentially anticipated that might be the case. He'd indicated to me at the end of 2011 he sort of felt this might be his last term so I wasn't terribly surprised."

Going into caucus this morning Key said: "He's a colourful character. We've enjoyed having him in caucus but it makes sense for him at this time to step down."

Henare will be the 15th National MP to retire at or before the election, with the most high profile among those resignations being Health Minister Tony Ryall.

Others include former cabinet ministers Phil Heatley, Kate Wilkinson and Chris Tremain alongside the likes of long serving National MPs Shane Arden and Paul Hutchison.

It means there will be a dramatic turnover of the National caucus at the next election regardless of the outcome, and suggests a co-ordinated push by party bosses to renew the caucus.

Henare came into Parliament under National's banner after several years in the wilderness following his defection from NZ First in the 1990s.

He unsuccessfully bid for the Speakers role after the departure of Lockwood Smith as High Commissioner for London.

He was also famously embroiled in a scuffle with Labour MP Trevor Mallard in 2007 although he said he harboured no grudge.