NZ Election 2020: Te Tai Tonga electorate contenders to face off in The Hui debate

Four candidates from Te Tai Tonga electorate are going head-to-head in a debate hosted by The Hui on Tuesday night.

Te Tai Tonga has had a consistent Labour presence for the past three elections, with Rino Tirikatene getting more than 40 percent of the vote each time. This year, the Māori Party is bringing newcomer Tākuta Ferris to the table and the Green Party, following Metiria Turei's loss in 2017, will also stand a newcomer - Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati. Legalise Cannabis, who are no newcomers to politics, are standing Anituhia McDonald this year.

Te Tai Tonga is the largest electorate of the Māori seats and it is over four times the size of the next largest electorate (Te Tai Hauāuru). Stretching from the motu of Rakiura, the southern-most point of Aotearoa, it includes all of Te Wai Pounamu stretching north to Te Ika a Māui to include Pōneke and some of Hutt Valley. It also includes Wharekauri to the east of the country. Iwi from the South Island include Kai Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, and Waitaha. In the north, Te Āti Awa ki Whakarongotai and Ngāti Toa Rangatira, with Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama and Moriori in Wharekauri. Kai Tahu make up the largest iwi present in the electorate, followed by Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Porou.  

The total number of Māori in the Te Tai Tonga electorate is 155,937 according to the 2018 Census, but of those that are over the voting age, there were only 93,975 in 2017. Of those, 90 percent are enrolled to vote - less than half, however, are enrolled on the Māori roll. Last election, only 68 percent of those on the Māori roll voted. As of mid-September 2020, there were 36,200 people enrolled to vote in Te Tai Tonga.

Labour's Rino Tirikatene,  the Māori Party's Tākuta Ferris, the Green Party's Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati and Legalise Cannabis' Anituhia McDonald.
Labour's Rino Tirikatene, the Māori Party's Tākuta Ferris, the Green Party's Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati and Legalise Cannabis' Anituhia McDonald. Photo credit: Labour, Facebook

Only one in eight Māori in the electorate speak Te Reo Māori (12.6 percent), the lowest share among the electorates where the average is 18.4 percent. The Hui has reported on the work being done by Kai Tahu to reclaim their identity and reo through re-indigenizing the spaces in Canterbury during the rebuild process. But they say it's taken fires, floods, earthquakes and other disasters to be recognised for their partnership role. So has the Government done enough to support these initiatives in the South? And with COVID-19, unemployment in the electorate could get considerably worse, especially with the closing of Tiwai Point Smelter, Southland's largest employer. 

Labour's Rino Tirikatene has held the seat fairly comfortably since 2011. The Tirikatene name is also well known in the electorate from last century, when Rino's grandfather and aunty held the electorate between them for 64 years. In opposition, Tirikatene was the Labour Party spokesperson for customs, fisheries, tourism and Treaty of Waitangi negotiations. In Government, he has been a chairperson of the Māori Affairs select committee. During this time he worked on Treaty Settlements and to entrench the Māori seats - despite his bill not making it past the second reading. Leaning conservatively, Tirikatene voted against the same-sex marriage bill and the Abortion Amendment Bill, he plans to do the same for euthanasia. Tirikatene has mentioned Government initiatives such as Mana in Mahi and funding for Whānau Ora as some of the key supports available to Māori from this last term. He is keen to build on this and continue the work. In Southland specifically, the electorate has seen infrastructure decarbonised, investment in public transport and key roading routes, and funding for the Milford Fibre Link which will offer better internet and cellphone coverage in the area. Tirikatene's key messaging this election is to ensure the Government's COVID-19 economic recovery plan is implemented in Te Tai Tonga, to promote Māori partnership and delivery of government outcomes across the electorate, and advocate protection and recognition of Treaty rights across all spheres. 

Contesting the seat from the Māori Party is Tākuta Ferris who is a Māori advisor for Massey University. Ferris calls himself a staunch advocate and champion of Māori independence and empowerment. He has accused the Labour Party's Māori caucus of being invisible during the COVID-19 response and believes the Māori Party's return to Parliament is necessary to ensure iwi Māori have a staunch voice. Ferris is asking voters to be strategic this election as a way of getting more Māori MPs into parliament as a bottom line. He has stated he will fight for the clean waters of Waikoropupū Springs, to protect and prepare whānau in the path of the Alpine Fault, to restore the lives of families impacted by earthquakes throughout the electorate, and to support those who are suffering from the massive losses in tourism, trade and retail. His key messaging this election is to ensure Māori are resourced to lead their own COVID recovery plan using solutions built by Māori for Māori. 

The Greens are also putting up a contender this year, Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati has a background in social work and Māori development. She has worked in Government, in NGOs and for iwi/ hapū and been involved in campaigns for indigenous rights, to build more state houses, end child poverty, stop the sale of state assets, ending oil and gas exploration. These commitments extend to her messaging as a candidate for the electorate, particularly in regards to social and environmental justice. Paretutanganui-Tamati will advocate for more state housing, and generate options for iwi to build homes. She will advocate for a raise in benefit levels as well as raising the minimum wage to a liveable wage. She will also look to extend funding to community, business and iwi to generate sustainable jobs.

And finally, but perhaps most consistently, the Legalise Cannabis party will also put up a candidate this election. They have contested each election since 1996, for the last six elections though they have not received more than 1 percent of the party vote. However, this year might very well be the most important for them with the Cannabis referendum on the table. Anituhia McDonald has spoken about coming from a childhood of poverty with no access to education, identity or culture. She wants to bring a voice to Parliament for whānau who are disconnected from their identity and culture. McDonald wants to see more re-training, education, financial and cultural awareness taught and supported by government and local iwi. She also believes the legalising of cannabis would be a positive impact on society and the economy. Beyond these kaupapa she is also keen to focus on advocating for positive poverty solutions.

Tirikatene's hold on the seat could also be a result of having such strong contenders from both the Māori Party and the Green Party - their votes combined would have defeated him in 2017. This year could very well be a continuation of Tirikatene's presence, or is the electorate looking for a change? Tune into The Hui's Te Tai Tonga debate tonight to find out who the best candidate is to lead the largest Māori electorate through the COVID recovery period. 

Watch The Hui's live debate from 8pm on on Tuesday night