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Te Heuheu stripped of role

Published: 1:47PM Tuesday February 03, 2004

National MP Georgina Te Heuheu has been stripped of her Maori Affairs portfolio after refusing to back the party's new hardline stance on Maori issues.

National leader Don Brash announced on Tuesday morning that his deputy leader Gerry Brownlee would take over the portfolio from Te Heuheu, raising doubts about her future with the party.

Her position had been under question since she distanced herself from a speech delivered by Brash last week.

In the speech Brash accused the government of leading a dangerous drift towards racial separatism, and pledged to abolish any special privileges based on race.

Brash says there is strong support among the rest of the caucus for the general position he took in his speech.

"Georgina has reached the view that she can't support all aspects of that speech. For that reason, I have decided she should not hold the Maori affairs portfolio."

The party's sole Maori MP acknowledges she and National are heading in different directions.

"My sense is that there is a deep chasm between myself and the leader and the caucus about the place of the Treat of Waitangi in New Zealand today and under those circumstances the outcome is probably the right one."

The new messenger for National's Maori policy, Gerry Brownlee, does not share Te Heuheu's concerns.

"Maori are clearly over-represented in sad statistics around the country and we do have to do something about that. What Don Brash has said is look to need, rather than race."

Te Heuheu describes the appointment of a Pakeha Maori affairs spokesperson as "disappointing", but Don Brash disagrees.

"Gerry is deputy leader of the party. We are elevating these issues to the front bench," Brash says.

Te Heuheu, who was the first Maori woman to obtain a law degree in New Zealand, says she came to National in the mid-1990s because of its record of settling treaty grievances.

Now, she says, she feels it is a different party from the one she joined.

"I hope that those who know me and know my work for the last 20 years in the area of the treaty will know why this outcome has been reached."

Te Heuheu will keep her broadcasting portfolio and Brash says he will offer her an additional one soon.

But with her long-term future in question it appears unlikely that Brash will keep her in the party past the next election.

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