Shearer shows off marae-style humour

David Shearer
David Shearer
It was the new Labour leader's first major event in Maoridom. David Shearer was endowed with his Maori name Rawiri Kutikuti ("David Sheep-shearer'') - and managed to prove to those gathered at Ratana Pa yesterday that he had at least mastered the art of marae-style humour.

He referred to senior MP Parekura Horomia as Labour's matua - "our rock'' - then added, "Although, as someone said, he's more of a boulder than a rock.''

Unfortunately for Mr Shearer, it will take more than a joke to fully regenerate Labour's relationship with the Ratana movement and wider Maoridom: between the 2008 and 2011 elections Labour's support in the Maori electorates dropped from 50 percent to 41 percent, as the Green Party and NZ First support rose, adding to the damage the Maori Party and Mana Party had already done to Labour.

Mr Shearer was one of several politicians gathered at Ratana Pa yesterday vying for attention at the birthday celebrations of the Ratana Church founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana.

Mana leader Hone Harawira was the only politician to obey a half-joking edict from speaker Joe Everitt to "please keep it to a minimum on the politics''.

Mr Shearer acknowledged the Labour Party had more work to do on maintaining its alliance with Ratana, which began under Labour leader Michael Joseph Savage in the 1930s.

He invited Ratana elders to Parliament to discuss the future of their union, and pointed to current MPs Rino Tirikatene and Louisa Wall - both Ratana morehu (followers) - as examples of Labour's commitment to Ratana.

"I know we have to work harder on that relationship - I acknowledge from our side that we have to do that ... It can't just be done on one day a year on this paepae.''

It was an implicit acknowledgement of something Ratana has accused Labour of in the past: that it had taken the movement's support for granted.

In return, Ratana did not shun him;  nor did they openly embrace him.

Instead, Ratana's Waaka Palmer delivered a message from the church tumuaki [president], Haare Meihana, telling Mr Shearer it was time to review the alliance, and the church now had to take account of the greater political diversity of its people.

Following the speeches, Ratana secretary William Meremere said that although the church had a formal view, its morehu were free to vote as they wished and now significant groups backed the Maori and Mana parties.

Mr Meremere said:  "It is encouraging that they recognise there is work to be done over the coming months and years. There are things to be done, fences to be mended. What we are asking is that we do it together.''

Prime Minister John Key claimed later the links between Labour and the church were "well and truly gone''.

"In reality, from what I can see, Maori are no different from any other New Zealanders - they're going to vote for what they think can deliver the best outcomes for them.''

He also told those at Ratana that despite the alliance with Labour, in his view it was National which had delivered more to Ratana when it was in government, citing new housing at Ratana Pa and renovation of old houses.

Otherwise, the main theme that the Ratana speakers put before the politicians was poverty.

They used the opportunity of having the ear of the Prime Minister to outline their desire for the Government to address poverty.

Mr Key responded with a serious speech, speaking of the times the country had seen over the past year, and the Government's proposed welfare reforms, and education and health measures to help address poverty.

There were two consolations for Mr Shearer: the Prime Minister had to wait for over an hour in the hot sun while the powhiri for Labour was held before he was welcomed on the marae.

The second was that his joke was better than Mr Key's, which was to claim credit for bringing the sunny weather to the occasion because the sky was blue, like his party's colour.

- Claire Trevett of the New Zealand Herald

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