Māori vote may be crucial to National's redemption

By Tumamao Harawira

National Party members spoke and the leadership listened, with the party voting to re-adopt the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi into the party constitution.

Those had been removed many years ago when Don Brash led the party’s caucus.

More than 700 National Party members met in Auckland on the weekend for their 85th annual conference, with the Treaty a main topic of discussion.

Tū Williams, of the Kahurangi branch of the National Party, says he has been reinvigorated following the party's annual general meeting

"The multitudes came from this part of the country, from that part of the country to support this annual general meeting."

He says there was a wide consensus among the members that National needed to engage te ao Māori and the principles of the Treaty.

"The Party knows that te ao Māori is a very different world. They only need to listen to what te ao Māori has been saying."

National Party deputy leader Shane Reti is immensely proud of his party for the vote but is also aware of the challenges that come with the decision.

"I am so pleased with that piece of work and can I acknowledge the people that have gone before us whose shoulders we stand on when we got that across the line on Saturday. It's a really important piece of work."

"But it's 11 words. The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand - 11 words. The hard part is what rights and responsibilities do it convey? What does it mean? How do you operationalise it? How do you implement it?"

One way perhaps is for National to re-engage with voters in the Māori electorates. Tū says he has confirmation from the party hierarchy that a serious discussion over standing candidates in those seats will take place.

"The president said to us, the Māori members of National, that we should decide. So the board will take the advice from the Māori members of the party."

So, regardless of National's Demand the Debate campaign, having a strong Māori focus may be crucial to its chances at the next election.