“You just have to keep on fighting” – an interview with Metiria Turei



We’re meeting in her office. It’s austere, though she does have a nice teapot. The view is startling. One can map the Bowen Triangle, though the teapot is still more interesting. A group of pink faced men are running across the rain soaked streets. I think they’re lobbyists, I do hope they get wet. Views like this work on two levels: distraction and confirmation.  You can stare into the distance and contemplate the universe or you can look below and let reality sink in – you live in a tightly packed bubble.

Not that Metiria Turei would fall for a view. She didn’t come to Parliament to embed herself in the Bowen Triangle. “I came with the view of speaking for everybody who was completely ignored. There is a huge body of Maori who have no voice at all. They are the ones I wanted to speak about in Parliament and, hopefully, represent well in Parliament”.

Speaking – person to person or politician to the people – is something Metiria does very well. “I might babble a bit” – she’s talking person to person here – but babble isn’t right. Turei speaks in tunes. I had to resist the very Maori impulse to let this Maori woman’s maternalism wash over me. I’m here to conduct a serious interview, dammit. Yet her energy is infectious. It’s not so much an energy that makes you want to get up and go, but a hypnotic energy. This doesn’t translate on TV. Metiria comes across as too earnest on screen. But it’s much easier, person to person, to spot the genuine conviction and then respect it.

Shifting roles and shifting circumstances is the story of Metiria’s life. “I’m one of those people who lives in the crack. The crack between the Maori world and the Pakeha world. When you live in the crack, sometimes it’s an unpleasant place to be, sometimes it operates well as a bridge”. I didn’t say this out load, but I’m thinking it in my head, unpleasant seems like an emotion Metiria finds hard to express. Her smiles are easy and often. Her face is round and inviting, not angular and cold. A stranger would never guess that she sometimes works 18 hour days. Her face refuses to reveal any age lines.

“I come from a working class Maori family, but we had a very strong upbringing… we were the household where everybody would come and stay if they were in trouble, particularly financial trouble. There was a constant flow of people… My parents, at the same time, wanted to create a middle class life for us. On the outside we had a very flash house, but on the inside it never had any carpet or anything”.

It’s roots like this that make Metiria an unconventional politician. Politics isn’t a career option, it’s a responsibility she has to her people. “I’m now in a very privileged position”, she tells me, “I can get on the television and I can call out Jamie Whyte… that’s the job I’ve got to do because other people can’t”. This is a theme we keep returning to – speaking for those “who have no voice at all”.

I ask whether this grinds her down. I know from experience that it can suck to always be on the wrong side of the majority. “Unfortunately they still hold the power. You just have to keep on fighting”. This reassures me. But don’t take this as a suggestion Metiria looks for political scraps – they find her. Yet she refuses to play the victim. She isn’t the sort to keep a closet full of wet hankies.

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“You do have to have a thick skin. At the same time you can never have a thick enough one. At times it can feel like you’re being completely flayed”. Flayed seems like a strong word, but given the year Metiria has had I’m surprised she didn’t choose a stronger expression. Politics is blood sport, after all.

“It’s nothing compared to what they’re doing to everybody else”. True, but it understates the sort of criticism Turei has had to suffer through… Personal criticism. Metiria Turei the person, not Metiria Turei the politician, is fair game. It gives new meaning to the saying the personal is political. It inverts the rules of engagement too: play the ball, not the man becomes play the woman, not the ball.

You’ll remember the controversy from February. Anne Tolley led an extraordinary attack against Metiria in the House. The first battle – dubbed “jacket-gate” – erupted when Tolley declared that Metiria, as middle class woman in a designer jacket, couldn’t claim to speak for the working class. Metiria’s jacket became the measure of her political credibility. Tolley channelled Judith Collins who had, only last year, accused Metiria of wearing “hideous” jackets.

I know what you’re thinking: these people really are petty. They really are, but there’s more. In the latest attack Jamie-Lee Ross used his speaking slot in the House to savage Metiria’s dress sense. The pattern is clear: play the woman, not the ball. Bonus points for doing so under Parliamentary privilege.

Metiria’s response, far from being personal, has been political. “People hated the fact I called it out as racism. They could see the implied classism and they could see the implied sexism but they could not see the implied racism. People would say ‘yeah, of course it was sexist… BUT it’s not racist’”.

Metiria returned fire, but in a way that got under her opponents skin. Rather than availing herself of the enemy’s weapons – personal politics – she exploited what they left unsaid: the political context. Politicians must remember, she explains, that “it’s not actually about you”. “It’s not me they’re attacking… As a genuine challenge to their power and authority, of course they’re going to make awful accusations and do hideous things”. (“Hideous” being a reference to Judith Collin’s attacks). In other words, it’s the idea of an effective Maori woman that Tolley, Collins and Ross are attacking.

Thus Metiria is dangerous because she is making a political critique. “[Racism] affects Maori every day”, I’m nodding furiously at this point, “and in all sorts of ways that can’t be named”. We’re back at that theme again:  speaking for those “who have no voice at all”. The job of an effective politician, then, is to name what the victims can’t. Calling out racism, classism and sexism – rather than being a tired trifecta of isms – is a challenge to the government’s mind set. If Turei is seen to “babble” about it, it’s because she has found the government’s soft spot. I think this is a testament to Metiria and person and Metiria the politician – that ability to transform the personal to the political.

Personal to political. It’s another theme that keeps popping up. Metiria didn’t come to the left through historical materialism, Lenin’s theory of imperialism didn’t drive her left, it was whakapapa that did it. “We” – meaning Metiria’s whanau – “didn’t speak about politics at all, but you can’t help but know that people are being done over. The question then becomes what do you do? What we did is take care of people. The connection between being compassionate about people’s needs and being political melded together”. “My upbringing gave me the narrative”.

She’s drawing me into that maternal glow again, but for a different reason now. Here’s a kindred spirit. “At the end of the day no government ever paid attention to the people I’ve cared about”.  These are words which could have come from my own mouth. “No government has put their interest at the heart of what is done”. And this is why I trust Metiria. She hasn’t lost touch with her roots. She reaches for her teapot, which I only now notice is green, and my gut is telling me to vote Green.


  1. I´m in Brazil and am trying to follow the election from afar.

    Anyway, I first heard Metiria speak a few days ago on RadioNZ, re the ‘dirtypolitics’ affair – and, well, she won me over straight away.

    How many other expats have never heard of her? We are very light on news and information overseas, but we represent a large part of the NZ ecology – the ‘hidden vote’. It’s not fair that the media focus on the main parties at the exclusion of others, well, it certainly favors those in power and protects ‘interests’.

    Metiria – go, lead NZ, I say.

  2. Such a genuinely warm, caring woman, with a strong sense of social justice. Her gentle, bright smile tells her story.

    Is it any wonder with a co-leader such as Metiria Turei, the Greens’ star is on the ascent?

    Go Metria, a positive asset for NZ 🙂

    • If she is really “speaking for everybody who was completely ignored”, why is there no mention of cannabis? Cannabis users are the ones who are completely ignored in the political circus. Metiria used to be a cannabis activist – she was secretary of NORML some years ago – but that has now been thrown down the memory hole as the Greens disgracefully wimped out over legalising the herb.

      • Um, there has been some mention of it in the mainstream media a month back when a poll showed most people favour decriminalization and the Greens spoke up on this, as that’s been their policy on it for years now.

  3. Yes I remember when the Nats dirty politics team turned their sights on Metiria …………. and recently some sleazy nat took a sly sneaky stalker like photo of Metiria working in parliaments debating chamber.

    This photo like much of the stuff this national government do ended up on whale soil ……….

    The greens and Metiria have always had far higher standard of ethics, morals and democracy than the two main political parties.

    Good on them and I hope they do well this election.

    Time to clean up parliament.

  4. I’ve been mostly a Labour supporter though flirted with NZ First in 1996. I might try the Greens this time. Greens are supposed to be good for you…..

  5. Both Metiria and Russel are good performers in the House and are skilled at asking intelligent difficult questions of the ministers. They also have an ability to shrug off the s…t that is frequently flung at them by the right. I hope to see them in the next parliament, whether it be government or opposition. Either way, they are good value.

  6. “You just have to keep on fighting” – but as a backup plan you can also get one of your party members and a sleazy foreigner to set up a gullible writer to publish a book filled with innuendo and bile.

    Then you can stand back and fan the flames, hoping that the storm of ignorance and hatred gives you the opportunity to sneak through with your Labour buddies to grab power – against the clear wishes of the majority of New Zealanders.

    • Bile, oh you mean the stuff that comes out of Slater, Graham, Ede and Farrar’s mouth. To suggest that others on the left set Nicky hager up to write this is sheer stupidtiy. He has now written 5 books, all of which seem to have stood up to scrutiny. I am not aware of him being sued at anytime over anything he has written. And don’t forget one of his books was aimed at the dirty stuff that Labour did around GE! How could Labour etc get voted in without the clear wish of New Zealanders. I am so pleased all this filthy dirty political manipulating has come out, I have never voted for National and I stopped voting for Labour back in the eighties when they sold us out.

    • @JohnC:

      Lol. I love to see the Nat supporters being try hards, and showing everyone their cage is rattled!
      Don’t bother going to the voting booth – yours will be a wasted vote!

      And JohnC I have this very serious thing to share with you:

      FJK, FJC, FHP, FBE, FNS, F all National Pigs!


    • “against the clear wishes of the majority of New Zealanders”

      We have this thing called democracy, maybe you’ve heard of it. Everyone gets to vote, and each vote is counted equally. That means that if Labour + Greens + NZ First and / or Internet Mana get MORE votes than National + Act + Conservatives then the majority of NZers voted to change the government.

      Its very simple math, its just addition. Surely you can handle that?

      And forming a coalition of more than one party is called consensus, finding common ground, to represent the majority of those who voted.

  7. Metiria has always impressed me a fine orator. She speaks with incredible passion and clarity. She would make a fine Prime Minister and is most worthy of the title “leader”. This is in stark contrast to what we have at the moment. Whilst Crosby Textor remains Prime Minister, talent and positive energy as seen in Metiria goes to waste.

  8. I think its exceedingly good that NZ has such a nice straight up Politician who can look a camera straight in the eye and speak with such honesty and integrity.

    Compare this to our flash Wall Strret Bamker type politician whose to scared talk and answer direct question because he is shitting himself because all roads lead back to the 9 th floor of this national party.

    If Eagleson Keys chief of staff and a former top executive of marketing for DB Brewries gets thrown under a bus to protect johnny two face and his ‘i didn’t’ know nothin’ facade then he can go back to working in the piss industry.

    He’s been very successful with the nats caving in to intense liquor lobbying ( read that as drug corruption nz style ) and gutted any meaningful alcohol reform.

    He’s also closely affiliated the prime minister to a hate blog which ran attack pieces on health professionals who are only concerned with curbing and reducing “alcohol abuse” …… and that in turn would reduce the number of things like what the roast busters were doing .

    We now can see right in front of our eyes what happens seen when you mix alcohol industry ethics with a greedy Wall St Banker type prime minister.

    Time to clean up parliament and take back democracy from those conniving rats.

    vote clean vote green 🙂

  9. I’m really impressed with both Turei and Norman in the IVs and debates I have seen them take part in so far in this campaign. Every opportunity they can, they put policy discussion first.

    But I have a question mark over whether the Greens truly support Maori aspiration. Intuition? Gut feeling? I can’t put my thumb on it and I will readily concede that my views may be completely irrational. But I won’t deny there’s a part of me that feels when push comes to shove the same kind of paternalism that exists within National and Labour when it comes to their relations with Maori could easily manifest within the Greens. As far as I’m concerned no one has my votes yet.

    • I suggest having a look at their Maori candidates more closely including Turei. As an example of their deep-set stance in supporting the interests of Maori, the Greens were the only party to stand up in parliament on the side of Maori on the foresaw and sea bed debate (before the Maori party formed). The Greens have a key value and policy in relation to government that all communities will have the right to have a say in how they are governed and participate in this process. No other party I understand has this policy (perhaps Mana is an exception). All of their policies in my view look to support tangata whenua in their aspirations to develop positive healthy communities that they themselves guide. For instance their education policy calls for community and school hubs that local communities develop (with the financial resourcing from the government etc). The treaty and the rights of tangata whenua are also written into the backbone of the party’s core values (as shown on their web site). So, I don’t at all agree with you on this. Perhaps where they may appear to potentially appear colonizing is their middle class image. They are slowly growing their membership and I for one know a number of members who are not usually associated with being middle class. They have 9 Maori candidates – with 5 of them in their top 20, so that’s not ignoring Maori in my view too…

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