John Tamihere 'knows exactly how to behave', his Māori Party co-leader insists

Female Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has defended her controversial male counterpart John Tamihere, saying he "knows exactly how to behave" if he wants to get back into Parliament.

Tamihere was once a Labour MP and member of Cabinet, but in 2005 made a series of shocking comments and was knocked out of Parliament in that year's election by then-Māori Party leader Pita Sharples.

In just a single interview, Tamihere claimed "the Labour Party Wimmins Division" were getting promoted because they had "front-bums" and the party had an "anti-men agenda", said he'd "had enough" of the party promoting LGBTQ+ friendly causes, and said he was "sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed" in the Holocaust.

In 2013 he lost his radio show after he and co-host Willie Jackson - now a Labour MP - asked an 18-year-old friend of an alleged rape victim about her sexual habits and dress sense, including at what age she lost her virginity. Tamihere later apologised.

"I think JT knows exactly how to behave," Ngarewa-Packer told Newshub Nation on Saturday, in a joint interview with Tamihere (JT). 

"I'm extremely supportive of JT. I've always had political clarity. JT has gone, like a lot of our whanau, through his own journey to get to where he is today. And we are the richer for that experience. At the end of the day,  JT will be accountable for what JT says. 

"But we are really good mates, and I tautoko his commitment and what he does for a lot of us, a  lot of our whanau out there in the community."

More recently, during his failed Auckland mayoralty campaign last year, Tamihere responded to Mayor Phil Goff's decision not to allow a pair of far-right racists speak at council venues with "Sieg Hail" - a Nazi phrase - and called his opponent a "little Hitler". 

Asked by host Simon Shepherd if he might "clean up" his act this election, Tamihere said he didn't have to.

"I don't have to win you over to that persuasion, right? Because you'll be voting for one of the Pakeha parties," he told Shepherd. 

"All I need to do is win over my people. And that's a totally different conversation to a mayoralty, and it's a totally different conversation to standing in the Labour Party. I'm just after my own people's mandate for the first time in my life. And I'll get there."

But it's likely the party will rely on Labour if it's to get into Parliament. They're polling well below the 5 percent threshold, so will need to win a seat to make it in, and they've ruled out working with National as long as Todd Muller is leader, believing him to be racist with "no respect for tāngata whenua needs".

Tamihere said it's up to the major parties to change their ways, rather than for the Māori Party.

"Ultimately, National or Labour always hold the whip hand. So you have to ask the big boys whether they're going to work with us or not. And that's the question."

Asked if they'd work with Labour, in its current state, Tamihere said "of course". 

The party under its previous leadership spent years in partnership with National. Its willingness to side with the right-wing party led to a split, with Hone Harawira quitting to lead his own party, the left-wing Mana. 

Tamihere said since 2017, several "Mana people" have come back to the Māori Party.

"So we're a totally different machine altogether."

The duo said the problems still faced by Māori in 2020 haven't changed in 60 years.

"There have been consecutive failings," said Ngarewa-Packer. "It doesn't matter which Government is in, these are not issues that have come about in the last three years, nine years; they have continuously grown. 

"And the first thing we need to do is address the biggest issue that there is - systemic racism in Aotearoa. And stop denying it. And our role as a party is to address that, and address that with action in a way that doesn’t go away, no matter which Government is confronting our issues."

The election is in September. Tamihere will stand in Tāmaki Makaurau against Labour's Peeni Henare, and Ngarewa-Packer in Te Tai Hauāuru against Labour's Adrian Rurawhe.