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Maori party co-leader defends budget

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Pita Sharples
Pita Sharples

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, May 20 NZPA - No Maori person would be worse off because of today's budget, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples defiantly told media today after a budget increasing GST.

There is friction within the Maori Party ranks over the GST increase from 12.5 percent to 15 percent given the high rate of Maori people on lower incomes but the party is bound to back the budget under its agreement to support the Government.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira this morning issued a statement revealing he had been denied permission by his party to cross the floor to vote against the budget over the issue.

"GST hits poor people the hardest because nearly all of their money is spent on things that you pay GST on -- food, petrol, electricity -- so any increase is going to really hurt them."

Mr Harawira said he found it difficult to support a budget that "made things easier for the wealthy at the expense of those in need".

His concerns were also picked up by Labour finance spokesman David Cunliffe today.

"People in the middle and bottom will go backwards after inflation... (The budget) does nothing to help middle and lower income earners get ahead, once increases in GST, rents, tobacco, ACC and other taxes are taken into account."

Dr Sharples, who is Maori Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of Corrections, said there were many initiatives in the budget that would benefit Maori.

One example in today's budget was $19.8 million over four years for building and operating two new Whare Oranga Ake, reintegration units for prisoners.

Another was $4.5m of new money allocated for Maori productivity and export growth and to support Maori innovation. A further $4.5m was tagged for Maori tourism initiatives.

Also secured was $134m previously announced funding for the Whanau Ora policy aimed at changing the way welfare is delivered.

The Maori Party has been vocal in its opposition to a GST increase and Mr Harawira said he could not keep his silence.

Dr Sharples readily admitted that the party's preference was for no increase, but he felt there was no choice but to support the budget and so would Mr Harawira.

"He has (supported it) that's part of being in coalition that we've agreed that we sign to honour our agreement," he said this afternoon.

The party would continue to push for removing GST from healthy food.

Asked if he was happy with the tax package that gives more to higher income earners Dr Sharples said the Government had to reach a balance between encouraging economic growth and people's welfare.

"There's a lot of stuff in there that one doesn't like," Dr Sharples said.

However lower income people would not be worse off, he said.

"We're in coalition with them so we have to look for gains for our people and we won them. And I am really happy about that.

"No Maori is going to be poorer off because of this budget. All right, do you understand that?"

Dr Sharples said apart from the budget wins the party had secured many gains such as a review of the controversial foreshore and seabed legislation and getting the Government to support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

"No other Maori group in Parliament has ever made the gains that we've made."

Dr Sharples did not think the party would lose votes over backing the bill because its supporters wanted the party to honour the support agreement.

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