Heartbreak, scandal and intrigue are never far away in the new conversations with former Māori MPs. Leonie Hayden points to the highlights.
Maybe it’s only ever possible to see the true humanity of politicians once they’ve left politics. Take away the campaigning, the party lines, the spin and the relentlessness of the job, and you’re left with relatively normal but still complex human beings that think and feel much like you and me.
In the second series of Matangireia, named for the carved Māori Affairs Committee room at Parliament House, eight former Māori politicians talk about their time in parliament and their respective legacies in depth. Produced by Aotearoa Media Collective for RNZ, three hosts share interviewing duties – Mihingarangi Forbes, Scott Campbell and Maiki Sherman – and although each is (or was, in Campbell’s case) a formidable journalist in their own right, they’re not there so much to challenge, but to prompt and let their subjects tell their stories.
As in season one, they discuss their childhoods, their triumphs and their darkest days, and reveal hitherto unknown parts about life in our nation’s seat of power. It makes for fascinating and sometime heartbreaking watching. Here are some of the most interesting revelations.
Hone Harawira couldn’t get on the dole after he left the Māori Party
Harawira was a founding member of the Māori Party, which formed in 2004 in the days following the 50,000-strong protest march against Helen Clarke’s Foreshore and Seabed Act. In 2011, he left the Māori Party after a disciplinary hearing proposed he be kicked out, and formed the Mana Movement. Harawira says he has no regrets about joining or leaving the Māori Party ,or starting his Mana Movement, but revealed that after his MP salary was stopped, he was unable to go on a benefit. He says the entire time he was campaigning for Mana, for which he won the Te Tai Tokerau seat in 2011, he had no income of any kind.
Paula Bennett told a roomful of iwi leaders how many children from each iwi were in state care, and then said it was their doing
In one of the most ballsy moves on record, Bennett reveals to interviewer Maiki Sherman that as a way of addressing the number of tamariki Māori in state care in her role as minister for child, youth and family, she went to a hui at Tūrangawaewae in Waikato, and told the room, iwi by iwi, how many children had been taken from their families by the state. Like a wolf demanding that lambs explain why they continue to be eaten by wolves, she then asked why they had let that happen. After a period of shocked silence, Bennett was, unsurprisingly, asked to leave. Even more shockingly, in her recollection of the incident, Bennett doesn’t seem at all aware of the offensiveness of the action (and even recalls an ashen-faced, trembling aide telling her it was going to go very badly), and says she believes it contributed “in a small way” to positive changes for child welfare in this country. Credit (or an Oscar) goes to Sherman, whose horrified reaction registers for only a millisecond before regaining her professional, serious interviewer face.
Te Ururoa Flavell became depressed after the Māori Party was voted out
In one of the saddest moments of the series, a clearly still traumatised Flavell describes how much he struggled during his three terms in parliament, admitting that he “wanted to go home after a year”. If he struggled in parliament, it seems it was nothing compared to the distress and depression that followed when the Māori Party were voted out in 2017. He says the night of the election “destroyed him”.
“I felt our people had let us down, after all the work that we’d done.” The most heartbreaking part comes when he’s asked what he hopes his mokopuna will see when they look back on his legacy. Breaking down into tears, he replies: “That their pāpā did the best by his people.”
Denise Roche really hates John Key
When John Key accused Labour of backing “rapists” detained by Australia on Christmas Island, Roche and a group of women MPs, all survivors of sexual abuse, staged a walkout in protest. They demanded an apology but it never came. Roche’s one word to describe the former prime minister? “Prick.”
Ron Mark was employed in the private army of the Sultan of Oman
As one-time minister for defence, Ron Mark’s armed forces background is known to many, as is his reputation as a loyal, stand up guy. Mark revealed that a turning point in his army career had come after he had nearly been dishonourably discharged for hospitalising someone in a pub fight. Rising quickly through the ranks after that, some years later, he was blocked from entering SAS training so decided to take a job in the Sultan of Oman’s armed forces. A year on, he entered the special forces where he worked on the Yemen border for four years. Another fascinating revelation: his full name is Rongowhitiao Maaka.
Dover Samuels regrets not giving Richard Prebble an ‘uppercut’
Only a year after taking up the Māori Affairs portfolio, Dover Samuels was stood down from his post after historic sexual abuse allegations were made by the mother of an alleged victim. He was cleared of the allegations after a criminal investigation but was dismissed by prime minister Helen Clarke anyway, after other charges on his police record came to light. Today Samuels says that then-Act leader Richard Prebble was the “architect” of the campaign to get rid of him, and he wishes he’d socked him between the eyes.
Harete Hipango was assaulted by police while working as a lawyer in Whanganui
As a young criminal defence lawyer, Hipango found herself standing alongside whānau at the occupation of Moutoa Gardens Pakaitore in Whanganui, while also working in the courts, where she defended family members after arrests during the protest. She says as a result she was treated appallingly by judges, police and other court staff. Hipango tells the story of entering the courts with a Pākehā colleague, and a police officer giving the command for her to be stopped and searched. She says two officers restrained her while another patted her down, and then she was slammed into a wall, before being “frog marched” and forcibly thrown out of the courts, her place of employment.
At the time of filming, Hipango had lost her seat in Whanganui, but this week she reentered parliament following the abrupt departure of Nick Smith.
Georgina Beyer never made it into Helen Clark’s orbit
For someone whose past is more colourful than all other parliamentarians put together, Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transgender MP, has the least to reveal. Her days as a sex worker and the abuse she suffered is well documented, as are her former lives as a drag queen, an actress and a mayor. She says of her time in parliament as a Labour MP, the foreshore and seabed act was the beginning of the end – describing it as a “nightmare” and a “disaster”. Beyer explained that she had never been close to prime minister Helen Clark (“I was not within her inner, outer, or extra-outer circle, really. I was just a cannon fodder backbench MP”) but after Beyer asked to abstain from the vote on the foreshore and seabad legislation, her request was rejected and Clark’s demeanour towards her became even more frosty. “I vowed and declared from that time on that I would never be torn between who and what I am as far as my heritage is concerned, and political expediency.”
Watch series one and two of Matangireia, made by Aotearoa Media Collective for RNZ.