Māori Party's John Tamihere reflects on time with Labour, remembers feeling 'assimilated, integrated and subjugated'

Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere has revealed he felt "assimilated, integrated and subjugated" during his time as a Labour MP. 

The 61-year-old politician, who unsuccessfully ran for Auckland Mayor in the 2019 election, was a Labour MP from 1999 to 2005 and he served as a Cabinet minister from 2002 to 2004. 

Despite Labour currently holding all of the Māori seats in Parliament, Tamihere - who was selected by the Māori Party in April to co-lead alongside Debbie-Ngarewa Packer - is confident the Māori Party will make a comeback. 

"All we want is to ensure that we change policies away from imbedding us for bowing, scraping and putting our hand out for hand-outs and releasing the progressive potential that our people have," he told Magic Talk on Monday. 

"When you're building a political movement you have to start somewhere and keep going and be committed to it. I'm doing that for my children and my grandchildren."

Tamihere hit out at his cousin, Māori Labour MP Willie Jackson, who described Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern as an "angel" at the Labour Party Māori caucus campaign launch in Auckland on Sunday. 

"I've never seen someone undergo such a transformation. You see, I used to be the Willie Jackson in the Labour Party. I know what it's like to be assimilated, integrated, and subjugated," Tamihere said. 

"This chap here, he is a cousin of mine - there's no doubt about that. We've worked together over the years. But I've never seen such a transformation."

Jackson told Newshub it's Tamihere who has transformed.

"I just wonder if he's fallen on his head," Jackson said. "This is a guy who wanted me to go into the Labour Party… he was my negotiator. So, I think he's fallen on his head and forgotten what happened three years ago.

"I think he's forgotten that he applied to join the Labour Party 18 months ago and he was considering taking the Labour Party to court. I'm worrying a bit about him because the transformation is not from me – it's from him."

Tamihere, who predicts up to 35 percent of Māori will be unemployed because of COVID-19, told Magic Talk he wants the Māori Party back in Government to assert policies that will stop Kiwis being dependent on hand-outs. 

"Around 75 percent of Māori have to rent somewhere to just get a housing proposition, and as you know rental sucks up a lot of your income. What we've got is intergenerational welfare, and you know, charity poorly provided actually imbeds dependency," he said. 

"What we've got in Government after Government is this imbedded mentality in a number of our communities and then you're really kept on the tipping point all the time because your income has a stress level where if your car breaks down or there's an illness or domestic violence or if there's an issue in the whānau, they tip over. 

"But here's the thing: they've been kept there by a welfare system that is not about lifting them out and making them progress as citizens, but actually making them more dependent on more hand-outs, and we've got a Government that it's in their DNA to do this."

Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere.
Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere. Photo credit: File

Tamihere said he wants to stop low-income jobs being given to Pacific Islanders in New Zealand.  

"We've got the solutions now. You don't import slave labour from the islands, put them in conditions that no Kiwi would accept, pay them a wage lower than the minimum wage when you rack it all out, and them put them on a plane or a boat home after you've used and abused them," he said. 

"It displaces employment in New Zealand. It also lowers income expectations. If a businessman can't do that then he shouldn't be in business and he shouldn't be allowed to do that."

The Māori Party wants a quarter of all Government spending on the recovery from COVID-19 to be funnelled into projects led by Māori and involve Māori-led businesses.   

Tamihere said in June COVID-19 has highlighted "major racism and inequity" in New Zealand and Māori wellbeing was being impacted.

"The evidence for this across the whole of Government is best identified by our unemployment status in our own country. We cannot tolerate a post-COVID environment that makes our whānau lives worse than they were pre-COVID." 

Tamihere recently described Pākehā people "asymptomatic racists"

Ardern said at the Labour Party Maori caucus campaign launch that the impact of COVID-19 would be felt across New Zealand for years to come and "that is why it is so important to re-elect" Labour at the election. 

"At times of deep economic pain, it cannot be our whānau and our rangatahi [young people] who pay the highest price and we have seen in years gone by where that has been the case, and it will not, we will not let that happen," she said.

"I am asking you today to take nothing for granted, to continue to show the support for our Māori MPs and candidates that they have earned through three years of hard mahi."

The Māori Party supported the previous National-led Government through confidence and supply, but it was voted out of Parliament at the last election. 

The party is standing candidates in all of the seven Māori seats in September.