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O’Sullivan would bring new life to the Maori Party

Opinion Piece

Developments in the Maori Party give hope for a revival at the next election, with the possibility of the much-admired Dr Lance O’Sullivan as its leader.

The Northland doctor, who was New Zealander of the Year in 2014, is a dream candidate for any party.

He and his wife Tracy have worked together establishing Te Kohanga Whakaora (the nest of wellness) in Kaitaia, a school-based health clinic and a scheme to upgrade rundown homes in Northland. His mana extends well beyond Maoridom and he could lift the party back to where it was previously, and even further.

There is one hiccup in that O’Sullivan says he will only take a leadership role if it is a sole one. That is contrary to the kaupapa of the Maori Party, which since its foundation has always had male and female co-leaders.

The party president Tukuroirangi Morgan has resigned and called for fresh leadership, suggesting the present co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox should stand down.

It is hard not to feel sympathy for Flavell in particular, whose disappointment at the party’s ejection from Parliament was palpable. He and Fox had worked hard but were swept away by Labour’s strong showing in the Maori electorate seats.

Neither had the high profile of founding co-leaders Pita Sharples and Dame Tariana Turia, and Sharples in particular failed to create room for Flavell to develop his own leadership style and skills.

O’Sullivan does have that sort of public profile, and the party may be tempted to break from its previous position and accept a sole leader.

A revival of the Maori Party would be welcomed by National, whose absence of potential support parties cost it the government seats at this year’s election. The Maori Party achieved successes by being in government, but its link with National was a deterrent to many Maori voters and it would normally sit more comfortably in a left-of-centre coalition.

Lance O’Sullivan is a well-established maverick and would be nobody’s lapdog. He would bring new life to both the party and New Zealand politics as a whole.