Rātana speech to be Ardern's final as PM

By Contributor

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Rātana Pā in 2020. Photo / RNZ

Today's Rātana festivities will mark a major changing of the guard for Labour and a potential change in the party's relationship with Māori.

Jacinda Ardern will deliver her final speech as prime minister this afternoon at Rātana Pā - near Whanganui - at its annual commemorations.

Incoming Labour leader Chris Hipkins will then follow. National leader Christopher Luxon will also attend the event this morning for the first time.

The annual political pilgrimage traditionally marks the beginning of the political year though Ardern's announcement last week saw that superseded.

The event will serve as a de facto farewell for Ardern and a test of both Hipkins and Luxon's connection with Māoridom.

Former Labour chief of staff Matt McCarten, of Ngāpuhi descent, told RNZ he expected it would be a "very emotional" day for both Ardern and mana whenua.

'Huge loss'

"Jacinda's had a very strong relationship with Māori. [Her departure] is a huge loss for Māoridom because she was an ally in public but also in the backrooms."

McCarten, who worked under David Cunliffe and Andrew Little as Labour leaders, said Hipkins would have a different approach and focus from Ardern.

"Chris is a campaigner, he's a strategist, and he's got to put through a leadership team and a policy platform that is going to win the next election."

McCarten said, as such, he predicted Hipkins would ask some hard questions about certain policies advocated by the Māori caucus and put some on ice.

"You can't fight on too many fronts. He's going to have to say to the Māori caucus: Is this going to help us get elected or is it not? He's going to take a very practical position.

"Obviously, things like co-governance: Most Pākehā and Māori don't even know what it means but they feel uncomfortable with it."

'Māori issues won't disappear'

McCarten said Hipkins would not be too worried about losing some voters to the Greens or Te Pāti Māori if he could win back those who've decamped to National.

Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait arrived at Rātana yesterday. She said she expected a warm farewell for Ardern and a challenge to Hipkins.

"Māori have very high expectations of the prime minister and the government, so it can't afford to drop the ball."

Raukawa-Tait said she had confidence in Hipkins to work constructively with Māori.

"The Māori issues won't disappear off the agenda because of those 14 Māori [Labour] members of parliament. They will keep them live, no doubt about that.

"You can't push important issues aside and take them off the agenda. Because those issues don't only impact Māori - they might impact Māori in the short term but, certainly, in the long term they impact all New Zealanders."

'Suspend Three Waters'

NZ First leader Winston Peters paid a surprise early visit to the Pā yesterday, along with party member Shane Jones, but is not expected to be back today.

Jones told Morning Report co-governance "blighted" Three Waters and the best thing would be to suspend it.

"I think (Hipkins) can only go so far before the Māori caucus of his own party fractures," he said.

He said people were concerned about the impact of the recession and law and order rather than co-governance.

In the North, he said, "no one is tossing and turning about co-governance other than the fact it's a major distraction and has polarised people, and too many people feel it means special privilege for the local hapū and iwi and that's very, very divisive."

"Chris has been part of what has already come to pass over the last couple of years.

Long Labour link

"Unless he can clearly change from what Jacinda represented I think the issues on the ground will continue to bedevil them and I doubt very much whether they'll change the current trajectory."

Labour MPs are to be welcomed onto the marae, alongside the Greens, at 2pm before whaikōrero (speeches from both sides).

National and Te Pāti Māori are expected to arrive in the morning and will be welcomed at 11am.

The political history of Rātana goes back to the late 1920s, when Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana announced that members of the church would stand in the then-four Māori seats.

The church announced a formal alliance with the Labour Party in 1936.

- RNZ