Labour candidate Cushla Tangaere-Manuel holds a slender lead over incumbent MP Meka Whaitiri but, with almost a third of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti voters undecided, the seat is wide open.
After a delayed start tonight, the two leading candidates in the eastern seaboard Māori electorate faced off in the second debate on Whakaata Māori earlier tonight, with both saying they are committed to advocating for the issues in the electorate.
Whaitiri, who held the seat for more than nine years as a Labour MP changed allegiance to Te Pāti Māori earlier this year, in the process making it one of the most interesting races at this year’s election.
Both candidates know convincing the large number of undecided voters to get to a polling booth is critical and also are aware of the difficulty many will have across the electorate.
“Obviously I need to work hard In Ngāti Kahungunu, and I’ve worked hard all the way down through Wairarapa down to Wainuiomata as well. And I will be spending more time - I’m coming back whānau. I don’t know when I’m going back to Ngāti Porou, to be frank. I’m committed fully,” Tangaere-Manuel said of her whirlwind campaign which began in late June.
Whaitiri said while she is up for the fight to win some of the undecided votes, she is realistic about the circumstances many still face.
Will homeless people vote?
“It’s a struggle for the electorate because of Cyclone Gabrielle. We still have communities that don’t have any homes, we still have marae that aren’t open. So for our people, the priority is actually where they’re going to live. And then we are trying to ask them to stand up to vote. Of course, I want our people to vote, but I’m realistic that there’s a lot on the plate at the moment throughout Ikaroa Rāwhiti from Hawke’s Bay north.”
While the two are relatively neck and neck, the third candidate in Ikaroa Rāwhiti, Ata Tuhakaraina is barely registering according to the Whakaata Māori-Curia Market Research released in tonight’s debate.
Whoever wins the seat will have the task of advocating for an electorate that includes multiple regions still grappling with the aftereffects of Cyclone Gabrielle and other weather-related catastrophes in recent months.
Continuing to support those communities is important, Tangaere-Manuel and Whaitiri both said.
Tangaere-Manuel highlighted the funding the Labour government has put into recovery efforts throughout the cyclone-ravaged electorate, especially in Te Tai Rāwhiti, including another boost for the community of Te Karaka near Gisborne.
“And we haven’t stopped investing. It was great to be in Te Karaka yesterday to announce more pūtea for them to recover. The point is, whānau, while we have made investments along the way, we’re committed to seeing our whānau through.”
‘Unashamedly unapologetically Māori’
However, Whaitiri says that money was allocated because of her advocacy before she left the party but the timing is a reason why she left the party. When asked by panellist, Chris Wikaira how she could continue advocating for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti despite not being in a government party, Whaitiri said she feels being in a Māori-focused party makes it easier.
“Because I’ve joined Te Pāti Māori I proudly talk about Māori issues without having to navigate – to put into into friendly speak - it’s just unashamedly unapologetically Māori. And it’s a real lift and a burden off me to now be in a space that I enjoy one hundred per cent.”
Wikaira also challenged Tangaere-Manuel on how she would advocate for kaupapa Māori in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti as a member of a large mainstream party. She responded with the E tipu e rea proverb of another Ngāti Porou politician, Sir Apirana Ngata.
“It talks about mastering the arts of the Pākehā for your physical wellbeing while maintaining your ngākau, tikanga, whakaaro Māori me tō wairua ki te Atua. And no matter what I do, I preserve those values. Yes, I talk about my grassroots values, but I’ve also worked in corporate and executive environments where I’ve maintained that.”
The next Whakaata Māori debate with the leading Te Tai Tonga candidates will take place on Tuesday night live on Whakaata Māori, MĀORI+ and teaonews.co.nz