NZ Election 2020: Māori Party's Debbie Ngarewa-Packer explains importance of renaming New Zealand

A significant percentage of New Zealand's young people support renaming New Zealand as Aotearoa, argues Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who believes the party's controversial policy to revert back to historical Te Reo place names will instil a sense of national pride and unity.

Speaking on Magic Talk's Road to the Election series on Sunday, Ngarewa-Packer - a respected leader of the Taranaki-based Ngāti Ruanui iwi - argued against host Mitch McCann's point that many Kiwis will be unwilling to back the policy, which proposes renaming New Zealand as Aotearoa and reverting national place names to their Māori equivalents by 2026.

She says the policy has received significant support from young people and rangatahi, many of whom believe a return to Māori place names will help foster national pride in New Zealand's deep cultural history, and will contribute towards greater unity and representation.

"There's a lot of young people that are really for it, so we have this really interesting dilemma in Aotearoa. I'm half Irish and a lot of my family are like, 'We've had this [name] forever', and then I've got our rangatahi saying, 'We're over it, we want to see ourselves in our nationhood... we want to know more about ourselves'," Ngarewa-Packer said.

"It is actually about pushing the fact that we are a Pasifika nation that has its own history. [It's] not just Māori - a lot of us are wanting to make sure we assert that so we continue to be a really proud nation.

"Most importantly we use [our history] to go forward as a really strong nation. I think this is the time - we saw our rangatahi led Black Lives Matter, they led the climate strike, so that's where a lot of that feedback came from. We know we're reconciling errors, we've got different age groups and different areas that refuse to change, and those that are forcing change."

Ngarewa-Packer, the former Deputy Mayor of South Taranaki District Council, is contesting the Te Tai Hauāuru Māori electorate - and has been dubbed the Māori Party's best chance of getting back into Parliament. While the candidate is polling behind incumbent Labour MP Adrian Rurawhe - who has retained the seat for two terms - a third of voters in the electorate remain undecided, according to recent data.

A recent Māori Television-Curia Research Poll found 38 percent of voters are backing Rurawhe to win, with just 20 percent putting their support behind Ngarewa-Packer, despite her increasing popularity in the Taranaki region.

The electorate spans from Porirua, north of Wellington, to Tokoroa in Waikato, and includes Taranaki, Whanganui and Palmerston North.

The electorate was represented by Tariana Turia from 2002 to 2014, for Labour and for the Māori Party respectively. Following Turia's retirement, the seat was succeeded in 2014 by Rurawhe, who again retained the seat in 2017.

Ngarewa-Packer hails from Taranaki's Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāruahine and Ngā Rauru iwi.