The Māori Party have kicked off their campaign to return to Parliament by announcing Debbie Ngarewa-Packer as their first candidate for the 2020 general election.
The Ngāti Ruanui Chief Executive was announced as the party's Te Tai Hauāuru candidate at their Annual General Meeting at Whangaehu Marae, near Whanganui atthe weekend.
She told Te Ao Māori News "I'm known for being pono and tika to kaupapa, and kaupapa that a lot of our people on the ground haven't got a voice for at the moment. Whether that be in the whenua, in fighting for seabed mining, my reputation speaks for itself, and in housing, education, health kaupapa. So critical to this is actually I'll be doing what I do, every day, which is helping to make sure that our whānau can live their best lives."
As CE of Ngāti Ruanui, Ngarewa-Packer has fought to protect the South Taranaki coastline from iron sand mining, and most recently, spoke-out against off-shore oil drilling on the west coast of the North Island.
Despite being swept aside at the last election by Labour who picked up every Māori seat, Ngārewa-Packer believes there is still a need for the Māori Party voice in parliament, "as long as we've got tangata whenua issues, as long as we've got disparity, as long as we're - we've got discrimination, as long as we've got issues that are impacting on us a sMāori, there is a need for our Māori voice. What I guess in going forward, what it will be about is making sure that we stay connected to the ground and doing that."
Māori Party co-vice president, wāhine, Kaapua Smith says the party are very happy to have Ngarewa-Packer announced as a candidate well before the election, due in 2020. "We've never been this prepared this far out from an election before, so watch out," she says.
The Party has used its time in the political wilderness to take stock of the results of 2017 and re-engage with their people. Ngarewa-Packer says they have engaged in discussions with their members, "what we are hearing from our whānau is that there was a need for, and a desire for change. We saw that, but what there wasn't was a desire to not be heard. I think there was not a realisation that the change would happen at the cost of everything.
"It's early days, but definitely what we will be doing is mobilising according to how our people need their voices and us to represent them best," Ngārewa-Packer said.
Having selected their first candidate, the Māori Party are now in the process of looking at candidates for the remaining Māori seats.