National | Labour Māori MPs

Could this be Rino Tirikatene's easiest re-election run ever?

Te Tai Tonga comprises the Te Wai Pounamu, Rēkohu (Chathams), part of Wellington and the Antarctic ocean islands.

This huge electorate is serviced by Rino Tirikatene, who took the seat from Māori Party incumbent Rahui Katene in 2011.

Taking Te Tai Tonga from the Māori Party

Tirikatene (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Hine) is as unassuming as he is well known. His grandfather Sir Eruera Tirikatene, then his aunt Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan held the Southern Māori (now Te Tai Tonga) seat for 64 years.

He drew on those deep connections when encouraging voters to vote him back in after his first term. In 2014 he said, “E te whānau o Te Tai Tonga! Pōti mō Reipa. Pōti mō tō koutou whanaunga. Ko ahau tēnā!”

“Family of the Southern Electorate! Vote for Labour! Vote for your relative! That’s me!”

Rino Tirikatene campaigning for Te Tai Tonga in 2014. Skip to 4:50 for his call to action.

Can the coalition government save Tiwai Point?

The nine-year southern veteran is on the campaign trail yet again. Employment is a huge issue in his rohe, as the closure of Tiwai Point Smelter, Southland's largest employer, looms overhead. Tirikatene says Tiwai Point's closure is not a surprise, as the writing has been on the wall for a while now.

"We know it's a blow for the region but it has long been signalled," Tirikatene says.

"But we're all about standing alongside with the leaders of Murihiku, coming up with a plan that will help support and develop industries."

Earlier in the month, Invercargill deputy mayor Toni Biddle advised Te Ao Māori News her council had created a contingency plan for this very outcome. She says it is seeking government support in implementing this plan if it is unsuccessful in keeping the 39-year-old smelter open.

A silent kumara, a quiet servant

Rather than make headlines, Tirikatene says he prefers to be the kaimahi (worker) in the background.

"My tūpuna, my whānau, have always been pononga. We're servants of the people," he says.

"I'm very relational in terms of how I go about my business. Māori politics especially is all about your relationships with people, with places. That spans generations."

He says his work to entrench Māori seats, Treaty settlements, and his work on the Māori affairs select committee are examples of his service to his electorate.

"I like to think of myself as a quiet achiever," he says.

"I work very actively among my people, and I get the job done."

A two-horse race

Tirikatene faces a Māori Party campaign from Tākuta Ferris. Ferris (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Kahungunu me Ngāti Porou) is a Māori advisor for Massey University. In the past Tirikatene has faced strong campaigners including former Greens co-leader Metiria Turei and former Labour MP Georgina Beyer.

Tākuta Ferris talking politics - Photo / File