Regional | Harete Hipango

Hipango 'privileged' to carry on the journey of tīpuna in Te Tai Hauāuru

Harete Hipango says National standing candidates in the Māori electorates this year will connect the party better with Māori voters and show what the opposition has on offer to address the issues that matter most.

Hipango has been confirmed as the party's Te Tai Hauāuru candidate, the first time it will contest a Māori electorate since 2002, after the former Whanganui MP announced she would seek the nomination in February.

One of three high-profile candidates already confirmed to contest the seat, Hipango has strong whakapapa connections to the region. The proverbial saying "E rere kau mai te Awanui, mai I te kāhui maunga ki Tangaroa. Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko au" (The river flows from the mountains to the sea, I am the river, and the river is me) is from one of her iwi, Te Ātihau-nui-a-Pāpārangi.

Hipango, who is also of Ngāti Tūpoho, Ngāti Tūmango, Whanganui, Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Tamakōpiri, Ngāti Whitikaupeka, Mōkai Pātea, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, is mindful of what that means to carry into an election.

"It is a privilege to have been selected as the candidate to carry on the journey of many of our old people,” she says.

Excited to stand for Te Tai Hauāuru

Hipango was MP for Whanganui from 2017 to 2020 before losing the seat to Labour's Steph Lewis. After initially missing out on a seat on the list, she returned as a list MP in 2021 when Nick Smith resigned.

National has previously campaigned against the Māori seats, with previous leaders Bill English and Don Brash actively campaigning to remove them. The party's vote in Māori electorates has been reflective of this, receiving just 3 per cent of the votes in Te Tai Hauāuru in 2020.

“We talk about percentages, a low turnout of voters for the National Party but I think that's very much indicative and reflective of the fact the National Party has had a low turnout in value of Te Tai Hauāuru, as a Māori seat. So, I am now there tasked with that burden and weight, although with excitement, the responsibility, and the journey of travelling through Te Tai Hauāuru being of presence, being a voice, being an option to value the Māori voters” Hipango said.

The seat could be one of the most hotly contested leading up to October 14. Current MP Adrian Rūrawhe is seeking a list-only seat for Labour, leaving Hipango to challenge against other wāhine Māori, and fellow sitting list MPs, Soraya Peke-Mason (Labour) and Debbie Ngārewa-Packer (Te Pāti Māori).

Legal experience

“I'm also mindful of the importance of strategy here," Hipango says.

"I'm mindful that as Māori in a democracy, we only make up 18 per cent of the total population of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm mindful that governments will come and go, and I'm mindful that as the only Māori woman within the National Party, the importance of having the presence, that voice, that representation, that visibility for all of our Māori communities we come from.”

Hipango is National's spokeswoman for Whānau Ora and Children and Oranga Tamariki. She also says she is "committed to lowering the cost of living, making our communities safer, and delivering better health and education so our communities can not only survive but also thrive."

Hipango cites her experience working as a lawyer among communities with the greatest vulnerabilities, disparities, deprivations, and challenges. She said it helped having worked in that space, and the health sector, in hospitals, in the mental health units, having worked in Māori communities and alongside Tariana and George Turia back in the 1980s setting up the first Māori health provider.

National is also planning to put up a candidate in the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate, with applications due to close at the end of this month.