Labour's historic ties with Rātana church tested over handling of Māori issues

Labour's historic ties with the Rātana church are being tested over the Government's handling of several high-profile Māori issues, and a former Green Party candidate's deal with the Māori Party in the Rātana seat should have Labour worried.

The political year has begun in earnest with politicians inundating Rātana Pā, located near Whanganui, where the Labour Party has made the pilgrimage for decades.

Celebrations kicked off on Friday with attendees waiting on Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern who was reluctantly convinced to dance for Tiktok, the video sharing app popular with the kids. 

The Government was eventually reunited and led on to the church, and first daughter Neve could be seen shimmying up to the front row for her very first Rātana event. 

But despite the warm reception, this is a tough year for the Government at Rātana - under the pump for its handling of Whānau Ora, Oranga Tamariki uplifts of Māori children, and the land dispute Ihumātao. 

The Prime Minister acknowledged at Rātana that she's called for her Government to be held to account, and said while she's "really proud" of the work that's been done for Māori, there is "more to do". 

It probably didn't help Ardern having her Cabinet Minister Shane Jones' extraordinary evisceration of Ihumātao protest leader Pania Newton. 

Jones described Newton as a "young putiputi", basically a pretty young thing.

"Pania must not pretend that she is something in the Māori world that she's not," the minister said. "You derive your mana in te reo Māori not from pleasing Pākehās." 

Labour is facing a growing threat from a resurgent Maori Party this year. Rātana is in the Maori electorate Te Tai Hauauru and the current MP is Labour's Adrian Rurawhe.

Pania Newton.
Pania Newton. Photo credit: Newshub.

Last election, Labour's candidate got 9791 votes, the Maori Party's 8752, the Green's got 2798.

That's nearly 3000 votes now up for grabs which could tip Labour's fragile majority or 1039.

The Prime Minister said she's "not worried" because Labour has an "excellent candidate". 

National has no real hope of winning Rātana votes. But National leader Simon Bridges is building bridges and looking for mates. He's more optimistic about the Māori Party comeback.

"We work well with the Māori Party. In the past our track record was good," he said.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer was selected as the candidate in the electorate of Te Tai Hauāuru for the 2020 election, and she said the party has more alignment with Labour and the Greens.

The Māori Party failed to win any seats in the 2017 election and left Parliament.

Politicians have now left Rātana in peace. But there will be nothing peaceful with politics this election year.