Don’t bet against Whata
You’re not alone if you’ve seen signs the Maori Party is not the Rolls Royce operation many of us would like it to be.
There’s been too much sputtering, stalling and backfiring to convince us this is a high-tech political machine.
First there was Tariana Turia changing her mind about quitting politics. Then Pita Sharples got in a tangle over emissions, got nowhere on Maori representation in Auckland’s supercity, and became the victim of dirty work by National’s backroom boys when Maori TV was set to get the Rugby World Cup rights.
Then at the annual meeting we had president Whata Winiata being persuaded that at 74 he should postpone his retirement.
None of those manoeuvres suggest the party is in any trouble. They’re more a reminder of what great strides it’s quickly made.
The experiences remind us the Maori voice in Parliament is still small and that Nats pay attention only when they have to – which is not often, especially when they see there are only five Maori MPs.
But that won’t always be so and that’s why it was encouraging to see Whata stay at the helm.
Whata’s leadership has been a major reason why the Maori Party has been so successful.
He has been labelled a ‘dreamer’ for wanting too much instead of compromising.
But his style of leadership – a combination of calmness, confidence and great strength – has attracted legions of supporters over the years.
He’s done that in the Anglican Church, in tertiary education, where he established the first Maori University Te Wananga o Raukawa at Otaki, and as part of the team that went to court in support of Maori language he’s one of the main reasons we have Maori TV.
Now he’s talking of more Maori on the Maori roll, and the party winning all the Maori seats and list seats as well.
He’s suggesting that could all lead to there being 18 Maori Party MPs after the 2017 election and their being a political force that can’t be ignored. Pie in the sky? Maybe. But you wouldn’t bet against Whata.