Politics | Kelvin Davis

‘I want her to see me as a grandfather’ - Kelvin Davis retires for his mokopuna

Former Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said rehabilitation programmes had been impacted by Covid and Corrections staffing issues.

Labour MP and former cabinet minister Kelvin Davis has confirmed he will retire from Parliament on Waitangi Day, saying the recent birth of his first mokopuna has prompted his decision.

“Since I became a member of Parliament, whānau has always sort of had to be kept to the side. I want my mokopuna to see me as her grandfather, her koro and not some angry fella on TV getting frustrated and pahupahu ana to the government.”

Davis had hinted at retiring before the election in the event of losing his seat. He subsequently lost Te Tai Tokerau, which he had held since 2014, to Mariameno Kapa-Kingi of Te Pāti Māori but was re-elected to Parliament as a list MP for Labour.

He told Te Ao News he chose Waitangi Day to walk away from politics because of the symbolism it holds for him.

“It’s really significant to me. My tupuna, Pōmare, signed the Treaty. It’s in my DNA. I was born and bred in Kawakawa, right near Waitangi, it’s all part of me. But I also need to go up there and say thank you to the people of Te Tai Tokerau as an MP on that formal occasion.

“And when the sun sets on Waitangi Day, then the sun will set on my career as a politician.”

Legacy is Waitangi Day

In his time in Parliament, Davis served as Labour Party deputy leader and held ministerial portfolios in Corrections, children and tourism and most notably the first inmister for Māori-Crown relations (Te Arawhiti). One of the legacies he hopes to leave behind in that particular portfolio is one where Waitangi commemorations have been for all New Zealanders.

“Te Arawhiti put a lot of effort in to make sure that the focus of Waitangi Day was the Treaty and it wasn’t about the politicians.

‘Sadly, I think this Waitangi Day things will regress, and I just hope that Māori and Ngāpuhi aren’t blamed for what may happen. I’d like to think that the government will have the strength of character to turn up in front of the people. I’d like the ministers to be there in the forum tent at Te Tii Marae and try to justify all their decisions and policies to the people.”

He concedes he walks away not having achieved everything he would have liked to but is proud of what he has done, especially with Māori-Crown relations.

“The Treaty hasn’t been honoured but I’d have to say we made huge progress and steps in that direction.

“I think the most telling fact [with Te Arawhiti] that lawyers found it hard to litigate against the previous government was testimony to the way we really tried to sit down with Māori and work through issues and we’ve already seen with this new government that Māori are lining up to take them to court for the decisions that are really impacting not just on our rights as Māori but also our dignity as Māori.”

Mate atu he tētēkura, ara mai he tētēkura

He says the timing is right and is confident other members of the Māori Labour caucus can step up including Peeni Henare, Willow-Jean Prime, Jo Luxton, Arena Williams and Cushla Tangaere-Manuel.

“I’m not the future of the parliamentary Labour Party. I’ve done my dash. I would still be here if I were a minister, if we were in government but that isn’t the case. I didn’t win the mandate of our people to represent Te Tai Tokerau, I’ve got to acknowledge Mariameno Kapa-Kingi, she’s now the MP.

“But what that has done now is it’s cleared the way for me to leave on my own terms. There will always be Māori coming through to fight the fight, and the Treaty is the foundation of all the decisions that I made.”

Davis plans to enter into consultancy work after leaving Parliament but wouldn’t go into details other than he would be largely be based at home in Kaitāia and have opportunities to use his Māori-Crown relations expertise in Australia. He is also keen to provide any help and knowledge he can toward Ngāpuhi moving into the phase of its Treaty settlement process.

But most of all he is looking forward to being with his whānau more.

“I don’t know what my wife will be saying two weeks after I retire - she’ll probably be wishing I was back in Wellington and out from under her feet. But the general sense from my children is ‘good, you’re leaving that place’ and I can be a father and grandfather and a husband.”

Davis is the second former Labour minister to retire from parliament since the election defeat in October, following Andrew Little who retired before Parliament resumed. His resignation will see the next member of Labour’s list enter Parliament, which is currently former Banks Peninsula MP Tracey McLellan.

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