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Tai Tonga’s Two-Horse Race

TE TAI TONGA is the largest of the six Maori seats, being the southern half of the old Southern Maori seat.

It extends from just north of Pukerua Bay across to Stokes Valley, and down to take in the whole South Island. There are almost 120,000 Maori in the area but only 27,000 on the Maori roll.

While the region is tribally dominated by Te Ati Awa and Ngati Toa, most Maori in the area are Taurahere (those whose ancestral homes are elsewhere). The largest two tribes are Ngati Porou, with 9000 members in the Wellington region, and Ngati Kahungunu.

About 40% of the voters are under 35, mostly “working class” with about half the roll being on benefits of some sort.

A City Voice analysis of the 1996 Te Tai Tonga polling booths within our circulation area shows the former Labour MP, Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, won 229 votes (33.4%), a whisker ahead of 226 (33.8%) for the overall victor, NZ First’s Tutekawa Wyllie.

Across the electorate Wyllie won with 38% against Labour’s 36.6%. Alliance got 9.5%, National 5.5%, Mana Maori 6.1% and Legalise Cannabis 4%. This year the election looks to be a two-horse race between Wyllie (NZ First) and the new Labour candidate Mahara Okeroa.

A Marae/Digi Poll of 247 voters a month ago gave Wyllie 44%, Okeroa 22%, Vern Winitana (Alliance) 12% and Atawhai Tibble (Mauri Pacific) 11%, with 14% undecided. Over 50% believed Wyllie had done a good job. Labour won the poll for the party vote with nearly 50% compared to 22% for NZ First.

Wyllie won last time largely on a platform of resolving treaty claims and establishing a Maori economic base.

He is asking voters to judge him on his loyalty and commitment to the electorate saying, “I don’t believe I’ve done anything to warrant being dumped.”

He cites his achievements as the $170 million Ngai Tahu settlement, the Maori Reserve Lands legislation, free medical care for under six-year-olds, $20 million for Maori health providers and $1 million for kapahaka. At the 1996 election, he says Maori turned to NZ First because, as Matiu Rata once said, “Labour has done nothing for Maori.” Wyllie says he is convinced that his father would be still here today if it wasn’t for the Labour health reforms. “That’s why my whanau and I, like many others, left Labour. We will not forget.”

He says NZ First would emphasise strengthening community employment initiatives, small businesses and home ownership. Marae development grants would only go to marae that are willing to become auahi kore or smokefree. National’s fiscal cap would be abolished and Maori wardens would be better funded.

He says he is willing to work with Labour in any future government but opposes Labour’s proposal to support urban Maori groups such as the Waipareira Trust.

Mahara Okeroa, formerly Te Puni Kokiri’s Taranaki regional director, has been tagged a “carpetbagger” largely because of his decision to keep his Waitara home during the campaign. To his credit he has been putting in the miles.

He is a passionate advocate of Maori language education, and wants to see more kura kaupapa Maori at secondary as well as primary level. He sees social issues like health, education, housing and justice as critical. Other big issues for him include the claim to the seabed in Marlborough and the South Island Landless Native Act forests. Vern Winitana (Alliance) is a long time runanga worker and community activist. He believes Alliance policies “would lead to real gains for Maori” and more jobs, citing low interest finance for new businesses as an example. He says Tino Rangatiratanga is happening right now, just not fast enough. Atawhai Tibble (Mauri Pacific) is the education advisor to Maori Affairs Minister Tau Henare. The only candidate with his own website, he is also an entertainer, author and Maori language activist.

He says he stands for Tino Rangatiratanga, which means “getting Maori as far away from government dependency, and control as possible. I’m committed to reviving our identity as an independent and self sufficient people”.

He says the Mauri Pacific way is a no–nonsense party, with strong leadership to make sure that the government of the day does good by the people. To him this means a government that is pro-business, free education, a fair health system and promotes NZ culture, arts and music.

Other known candidates include Miiria Mako (Freedom Movement), Erana Rigby (Piri Wiri Tua), Win Murray (Future NZ), Cliff Bedwell (National), Tania Mataki (Mana Wahine) and Bessie Karu (Mana Maori).

•Te Tai Tonga Candidates Hui, Beehive Theatrette, Thu 11 Nov, 7.30pm, 385 6711 x 811 or 471 9761.


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