Walking in the footsteps of the greats


Introducing Peeni Henare

Peeni Henare, new MP for Tāmaki Makaurau, grew up surrounded by inspirational leaders. From his grandfather, soldier and kōhanga reo pioneer Sir James Henare, to David Lange, who was “like a quirky uncle who popped by every now and again”. 

There were great mentors too, from Labour stalwart Tapihana Shelford through to his principal at Whangarei Boys High, who had faith in him to balance the role of head boy with the challenges of being a teenage father.

Having first joined the Labour Party while a student, becoming an MP had been a long-held ambition but Peeni had turned down previous calls to run for selection.

“Timing is everything in politics,” he says. “This election felt like the right time. The first weeks in Parliament have been something of a baptism of fire, but I am really enjoying it.

“I am encouraged and very optimistic, because I believe that after our election result we can only work harder, plan better and strive for better results in the future. I am excited to be part of that.”

 Originally from the Bay of Islands, Peeni’s father’s career in the Foreign Affairs led to a well-travelled childhood living in different locations around New Zealand and several years in Los Angeles.

When his grandfather and the then Māori Queen launched the kōhanga reo programme, Peeni was one of the first pupils.

“It was the 1980s and I was two-and-a-half when it started. We had no choice but to go, and the key was that we spoke Māori at home all the time.  So, even though I started school in the US system, Māori is my first language.  I am passionate about Te Reo Māori and have been part of revitalising it within my tribe. 

The family came home from the United States when he was seven or eight, first to Auckland and then to Whangarei.

From school he went to Auckland University to study politics and Māori. He cemented his long standing interest in the Labour Party by becoming a paid-up member – “Although, being a poor student, my membership sometimes lapsed.”

“My views have always been aligned with the Labour Parity. My father was one of Helen Clark’s confidantes and I would regularly meet her and other MPs when they came to Waitangi.

“Tapihana Shelford, who passed away last year, was a mentor. He was grandson of Tapihana Paraire Paikea, the Northern Māori MP who took over from my great grandfather Taurekareka Henare, who was a Reform Party MP for Northern Māori from 1914 to 1938.

“Tapihana Shelford had quite a bit to do with my upbringing and then there was my grandfather and the late Māori Queen, so I was always around Māori leaders and political figures.”

After graduating he became an analyst for the Ministry of Social Development, and has spent the past decade working between Auckland and Wellington. He combined this with his role as a sports commentator for Māori TV and membership of several boards including Ngati Hine Forestry Trust; he also chaired the trust which administers Ruapekapeka Pa.  

Peeni and his wife Maia, a teacher, took the decision to raise their family in Moerewa in the Bay of Islands, despite the challenges of commuting.

“There are not any policy analyst jobs in the Bay of Islands but that’s where we wanted our children to grow up,” he said. “So I have always worked in Auckland or Wellington for most of the week and gone home to my family at weekends.

My mum lives in Moerewa, my aunty and sister work at the nursery our children attend. I had that family time when I was growing up, and we want that for them too.

“I was in my senior years at college when our son was born and my wife had a young son, who is now 21. We were very fortunate to have family who supported us through that time and I had a fantastic principal at school. School really looked after me.”

Their 18 year-old is now in his first year studying medicine in Auckland and they also have three daughters aged six, two and one. The seventh member of the family is Taika the British bulldog.

The routine the family is accustomed to means less upheaval than there might have been as Peeni establishes a programme of commuting between Parliament, his electorate and Moerewa.

Meanwhile, he has been enjoying getting to grips with his new challenge.

“Parliamentary Services is a well oiled machine and everything has been done to make the journey into parliament enjoyable and ensure we are well informed to get us up to speed as fast as possible. We have done a whole heap of induction courses re roles and jobs and parliamentary systems and processes, and had our Māori caucus meetings.”

In entering Parliament he is very aware of walking in the footsteps not only of many of the illustrious people he grew up around and of his great grandfather, but of his predecessor in Tāmaki Makaurau.

“Dr Pita Sharples left a great legacy and I am here to build on that legacy,” he said. “I am passionate about my family, about equality in terms of services for Māori and about my electorate.  As an MP I am here to serve the people of my electorate and to serve them well.”