Te Tai Tokerau is one of the electorates that sees a stark contrast between wealth and poverty. It’s been a safe seat for Labour for the past couple of elections but things are shaking up and people are getting restless. Whangarei has been a centre for anti-lockdown protests which are symbolic of a rise in anti-government sentiment.
Will Minister Kelvin Davis be able to keep his seat? Can the Māori Party’s Mariameno Kapa-Kingi resurrect their support in the region, appealing perhaps to those who are calling for Māori representation that brings transformative change in parliament? Or will Billy TK Jnr take a clean sweep of those feeling marginalised by government policies?
Mai i Te Hiku o te Ika ki te tūāraki o Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Tai Tokerau covers all of northland as well as including the North Shore suburbs of Auckland City and cutting across the Waitematā to include some of Waitākere, but stopping short of the ranges. It incorporates the towns of Kaitaia, Whangarei and Helensville. It is home to a range of iwi, the main congregations being Ngāpuhi, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kuri, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu and some Ngāti Whātua, though the likes of Ngāti Porou, Waikato, Tūhoe and Te Arawa are also present. The largest grouping is Ngāpuhi with 37,752 descendants, followed by Te Rarawa with 6,894.
The total number of Māori in the Te Tai Tokerau electorate is 123,531 according to the 2018 Census, but of those that are over the voting age, there were only 73,160 in 2017. 94 percent of those are enrolled to vote and around half are enrolled on the Māori roll, 69 percent of whom voted in the last election. As of the end of August 2020, there are 35,543 people enrolled to vote in the Te Tai Tokerau electorate, the largest of that group are the 18-29 year olds. However, out of all the Māori electorates, Te Tai Tokerau has the highest proportion of Māori aged between 45 and 55 years.
For Māori over the age of 15 in the electorate, less than half are employed full time, with an unemployment rate in the electorate of 11.3 percent compared to the 10.7 percent for Māori in Aotearoa. The key areas of employment in this electorate are construction (13 percent) a high number of whom are labourers; health care and social assistance (10 percent); and retail trade (9.2 percent). Only one quarter of Māori in this electorate earn a personal income of more than 50,000, similar to the average for the other Māori electorates.
The electorate itself has been around since 1996, Tau Henare - with NZ First at the time - took the seat, followed by Dover Samuels for Labour from 1999 to 2005. Hone Harawira took over from 2005 both for the Māori Party and the Mana Party and held the seat right up until 2014 when Kelvin Davis took it back for Labour. In 2017, Labour took a clean sweep of the Māori electorates, so have they done enough to hold onto them this year?
During this term Davis has been the Minister for Māori Crown Relations (Te Arawhiti), Minister of Corrections, Minister of Tourism, and Associate Minister of Education. One of his main focuses was building the bridge between the Māori and non-Māori world, taking up the role of the new agency that consolidated treaty settlements, foreshore and seabed claims and the unit for Crown-Māori Relations. But just how well are those relations going? He also wanted to focus on reducing the number of prisoners in Aotearoa which had exceeded 10,000 people when they came into government, peaking at 10,800, in fact he made a goal to reduce the number by 30 percent over 15 years. In September, that number is now 9003, a reduction of 17 percent, however, around a third of those have yet to be either convicted or sentenced - one of the main criticisms of the remand system. Te Tai Tokerau has received a substantial portion of the current government’s Provincial Growth Fund, a whopping $553 million. The largest parts of that spend has been on Rail ($207m) and Forestry ($100m) no doubt due to NZ First’s part in the coalition agreement. So how much of a difference has this made in the electorate?
Contestants for the seat this year include newcomer to politics Mariameno Kapa-Kingi for the Māori Party and wild card Billy Te Kahika Jnr who entered the race in June.
Kapa-Kingi has said her vision for Aotearoa is one where her mokopuna could stand strong in te ao Māori. She believes parliament is missing an unequivocally Māori opinion and analysis and has spoken about clearing away the fundamental systemic, good old racist, poor, and outdated practice. She is looking to re-educate those in power as to what a Treaty-based relationship looks like and wants Te Tiriti o Waitangi and He Whakaputanga fully realised. The Māori party says iwi and hapū know how to support their whānau and are ready for the government resource in order to do that. Kapa-Kingi and the Māori Party, who missed out on any of the electorate seats last time, will be hoping to win back the support of Māori.
As for Te Kahika Jnr, his entry to politics has been swift and eventful, gaining an online following of thousands. His anti-government rhetoric has gotten stronger and stronger in the months leading up to elections, along with his discussion of conspiracy theories. At the same time, stories criticising him have continued to plague his rise in popularity. The music industry has come out swinging describing bullying behaviour and shorthanding payments for gigs, claims of time serving in the NZ Army have also been attacked and the Electoral Commission investigated his handling of certain party donations. Te Kahika Jnr is the leader of the NZ Public Party, a party registered along with Advance NZ. His key message to the public is the belief that Covid-19 is being used by international organisations and governments to strip the public of their civil liberties - a belief which has found a range of followers. Policy platforms for the party look to rebuild NZ into a democracy, restore government integrity, and investigate any United Nations Agendas as well as the use of 1080 and 5G technology.
The Hui has covered a range of issues in the north, including the impact of the Provincial Growth Fund, but the impact of Covid-19 will no doubt further entrench some of the issues the electorate is facing, whether that be housing, employment or access to health. Despite the conspiracies, this election well and truly is a Covid-19 election so which candidate will be able to take Te Tai Tokerau through the recovery period? Tune into The Hui debates to see who comes out on top.
Watch The Hui live debate on Newshub.co.nz on Tuesday, September 29 from 8pm