Plenty of activity in year for Maori

Family gather at MP Parekura Horomia' tangi. His grand daughter Te Rau O Te Huia is held by her auntie Lenora Roberts and his daughter in law Robin Horomia.
Family gather at MP Parekura Horomia' tangi. His grand daughter Te Rau O Te Huia is held by her auntie Lenora Roberts and his daughter in law Robin Horomia.

It is the time of year that we tend to look back and review the events that made headlines. There will, no doubt, be plenty of commentary on mayoral misbehaviour, the implausible loss of Team New Zealand to Ellison's Team Oracle, Mexico delivering a good old-fashioned hiding to the All Whites, the Labour Party reshuffling their front bench or the Fonterra food safety crisis.

But I thought I might just take a few moments to consider some of the Maori-related moments that have also made their mark during 2013.

Perhaps the most significant thing to occur for Maori over the past year was the death of Parekura Horomia. Tributes flowed for the former minister who had so often been lampooned by colleagues and the media for his seemingly foolish behaviour. But the testimonies made showed he was genuinely held in great regard by most of his fellow politicians and many other commentators.

It was a sad loss to lose a reasonably young leader with the ability to keep contributing to Maori development.

Here in the South Island, in the space of a few weeks, two D Company Maori Battalion veterans passed away. Tahupotiki Hopkinson and Thomas Tipa may well have been the last two remaining Maori Battalion soldiers and their loss marks the end of an era.

Forty years ago nearly all grey-haired male senior citizens were ex-soldiers but this is no longer the case. The resurgence of respect, even reverence, for veterans and the national celebration of Anzac Day has meant the passing of each World War II returned serviceman is another loss to Kiwi culture.

As mentioned above, Labour rearranged their front bench and one of the more formidable Maori politicians found his way to No 5.

I have no doubt that Shane Jones' leadership bid was much less about becoming leader and more about gaining position within the party.

His strategy was successful finding his way to No 5 in the party and he is probably the sharpest front-bench orator. There seems to be a fair bit of daylight between his politics and those of David Cunliffe and this may be why we don't see as much of Jones as one would expect. As an election year, 2014 may further elevate his profile and cement his position in a more senior party leadership role.

Meanwhile, the Maori Party have made some significant changes that could prove to be their demise. The real characters behind the Maori Party have certainly been Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia. Both have proven leadership, natural charisma and political nous and their credentials to lead the party have been universally accepted by the Maori Party constituency.

Interestingly it appears they have also enjoyed general respect from the rest of the population as well.

Therefore the decision for Sharples to step down is a risky one for the Maori Party. Te Ururoa Flavell represents many of the things that the current party leaders do but he falls short in terms of the broad-based appeal and compelling political personality.

I would hesitate to suggest that the party cannot survive beyond the big personalities but retaining their influential position with government is going to be a big challenge for 2014 and it is possible they will go the way of nearly all the minor parties over the past few decades.

Tainui-Waikato and Ngai Tahu commercial arms continue to perform well and 2013 also saw a controversial injection of capital as a result of the relativity clause being triggered. This is a clause that guaranteed that the iwi would maintain the value of their settlement relative to all the other settlements.

Aotearoa Fisheries Limited had a disappointing year mainly due to an underperforming Sealord Group, who have had to sell down overseas investments and write off several million dollars in value.

Meanwhile, the Maori Trustee, which manages about $1 billion in Maori assets, has had a new lease of life with a new CEO and a revamped business model.

There is genuine potential for a different style of leadership and significant partnerships across the Maori economy.

On a less flattering note, John Tamihere has made his own headlines again thanks to some ill-considered comments about the girls implicated in the Roastbusters non-consensual, underage sexual antics.

Potentially tracking his way back in to the Labour Party inner circle, his comments have led to him losing his job, and it is almost certain that he can kiss goodbye to any further political aspirations.

I can't imagine that 2013 will be remembered as a spectacular year for Maori affairs but there has been plenty of activity and there is certainly an interesting foundation laid for Maori manoeuvring heading in to the 2014 elections.

The Press