Muller defends lack of Māori on opposition National front bench

Nikki Kaye & Todd Muller
National's deputy leader Nikki Kaye (left) and leader Todd Muller ... under fire overt lack of Māori on the front bench. Image: Dom Thomas/RNZ

By RNZ News

New opposition National leader Todd Muller is backing his front bench, saying he chose the shadow cabinet line-up on merit and talent.

While three out of National’s top four ranked MPs are women, there are no Māori MPs on the front bench, or of any other ethnicity.

Māori Party founder Dame Tariana Turia told RNZ she was “gobsmacked” by National’s new line-up given her experience working closely with the party in government.

READ MORE: Todd Muller’s car crash of an interview on Q & A

“Here is a political party that I thought valued the Māori voice… It’s very disappointing to now see that in 2020 there is no Māori voice on the front bench,” she said.

However, Muller told RNZ Morning Report he went with who he believed were his best MPs.

“I looked at it through the lens of my shadow cabinet and I looked at it through the lens of the talent that I have at my disposal which is quite extraordinary in terms of my 55 MPs and the third thing I did, which is different to what has happened in the past, is rather than loading up the shadow cabinet with all the portfolios, I spread the critical and substantive portfolios across the whole team, including Dan Bidois for example who has Workplace Relations and Safety.

“When I put it (party list) forward I didn’t rank it and I also said this isn’t our final list ranking.”

Māori MPs in shadow cabinet
Muller pointed out that his shadow cabinet does contain Māori MPs.

“From my perspective the shadow cabinet is what counts,” he said.

“In that shadow cabinet I have Dr Shane Reti who I brought beside me when I won the leadership as someone who I rate highly and think is already a huge contributor to the National Party and the country and will be a substantive senior minister in my government, and of course Paula Bennett … then beyond that a caucus with Māori representation that is connected hugely in the Māori community.”

Dame Tariana also acknowledged the likes of Dr Reti, ranked 17th, and Harete Hipango, ranked 39th, and believes they deserve a promotion.

“One thing I know about politics – everything is about votes. And if they think that the Māori vote is not going to go their way, are they going to choose any Māori people to be in their top 10? Doesn’t look like it.”

Dame Tariana Turia
Māori Party founder Dame Tariana Turia … “gobsmacked” by opposition National’s new line-up. Image: RNZ

There was also confusion at yesterday’s announcement when Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith was declared Māori by deputy leader Nikki Kaye.

Muller said he didn’t consider Goldsmith Māori when sorting out his front bench.

‘That was an error’
“That was an error and we admitted that yesterday,” he said.

“She (Nikki Kaye) obviously wasn’t 100 percent clear on his whakapapa. Mistakes happen and that was acknowledged at the time.

“Certainly from my perspective I am very comfortable with the team we have, I think it is remarkable talent.

“I think my shadow cabinet bests this government’s cabinet in terms of person for person contribution, capacity life experience, lived experience and the ability to help frame up with the wider team a recovery plan for this country that will have substance.”

National MP Shane Reti.
Dr Shane Reti … rated highly but ranked only 17th. Image: RNZ

Muller’s front bench was not only criticised by those outside his party but inside as well.

National list MP and Māori development spokesperson Jo Hayes publicly critiqued Muller’s front bench on Radio Waatea.

“This is not good. We need to remedy this or you need to front it and take it head on and say why. You need to give a better explanation,” she said.

Muller would not say whether he was happy with Hayes voicing her concerns but said he had a conversation with her last night about the issue.

“She was passionate and she obviously shared a view and we talked about it.”

Muller would not disclose if he told her not to speak about the issues in the future.

  • This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.
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