Koro Wetere passes

breaking By Te Kāea
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty

Former Labour MP, the Hon. Koro Wetere, who represented the Western Māori electorate for twenty-six years has died.  He was 83.

Mr Wetere died at Te Kuiti Hospital this morning surrounded by family.

He is survived by his wife, his two daughters, three sons, 16 grand and 14 great-grandchildren. 

Born in Te Kuiti in 1935, Koro Wetere was of Ngāti Maniapoto descent. He worked as a farmer in the King Country and served as an Āpotoro in the Ratana Church before moving into public service.

Strong relationships with both Māori and non-Māori communities would become key to the landmark developments which occurred during his time in politics.

Mr Wetere entered parliament in 1969 with the largest majority of any candidate.  He later served as a minister under David Lange’s Labour-led government.

As incumbent MP for Western Māori, he reinforced the Labour Party’s longstanding alliance with the Ratana Church and revitalised the party’s strong connections with the Kingitanga movement.  The headquarters to both institutions were domiciled in his Western Māori electorate.

He became Minister of Maori Affairs in 1984. Five years later the ‘Māori loans affair’ erupted when his senior Maori Affairs’ staff planned to arrange unauthorised overseas loans to promote Maori business.  He offered his resignation but it was turned down by his senior cabinet colleagues.

In 1986, Wetere oversaw the passage of the Maori Fisheries Act, whose provisions established the role of Te Ohu Kaimoana to distribute Māori fishing quota to Iwi.

When the 1987 Māori Language Act was passed during his time as minister making the Māori language an official language of New Zealand, Mr Wetere told Parliament that te reo Māori was not only for Māori, but for the whole nation. The Act also established the Māori Language Commission.

As Minister, Mr Wetere introduced the Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act which extended the Waitangi Tribunal’s powers to investigate claims dating back to 1840.

In 1989, following a landmark court case, Wetere convinced his Cabinet colleagues that the Treaty of Waitangi should over-ride the sale of State-owned asset such as Crown forests.  The result was the 1988 Treaty of Waitangi State Enterprises Act which placed a memorial on all State-owned assets subject to Treaty claims.

In 1990 Wetere caused an uproar by replying to questions in the House in Māori and refusing to supply an immediate translation, contrary to practice. His stance in favour of equal status for both languages helped to establish the current system of simultaneous translation of Maori language speeches in Parliament.

Mr Wetere left politics in 1996 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato for his contribution to the advancement of Māori and a lifetime award in 2008.

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1996 New Year Honours, for services to Māori.

Whānau spokesperson, Hone Edwards said Mr Wetere will be taken to Turangawaewae Marae this afternoon.  Details of his funeral service are yet to be confirmed but it is expected he will buried in the family cemetery at the family farm just south of Te Kuiti on the Awakino 4mile. 

Post Parliament:

1997 – Appointed chairman of Tainui’s land purchasing company, Tainui Development Ltd. Company, formed in 1996 to maximize value of land returned in tribe’s $170 million cash and land settlement for raupatu. Chairman/ director Tainui Development Ltd 1997-1999, 2002-2003. Director Tainui Group Holdings, 1998-1999, 2002-2012

1998-2001 - interim chairman, Tekaumarua (Tainui tribal council). In 2000 replaced Sir Robert Mahuta as head of Tekaumarua.

Member, Te Kauhanganui (tribal parliament and ultimate governing body of Waikato-Tainui), representing Te Tokanganui-a-noho Marae, Te Kuiti

During the reigns of the late King Korokī, the late Dame Te Ātairangikaahu and the present King Tuheitia, Wetere has been a prominent speaker on the paepae.

Honours:

Appointed CBE in 1996 for services to Maori people.

2008 – Waikato University lifetime achievement award – Te Tohu Whakamaharatanga ki Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu.

2014 – With Kara Puketapu, one of first two recipients of Kingitanga award Tohu Honore o te Taniwha.

2014 - The Pae Roa 2040 award was presented to Dr Wetere by Massey University Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey.