Whakatau 2023 | Hauraki-Waikato

Hauraki Waikato: the election cliffhanger?

The nail-biting race of the Māori electorates has to be Hauraki Waikato where long-serving MP Nanaia Mahuta is facing her closest and riskiest challenge.

The 27-year Labour veteran, and the first MP to wear a moko kaue, has had what may have been the most difficult three years In Parliament of any MP. As local government minister, she introduced the most controversial Labour government reform - Three Waters – intended to improve funding for water infrastructure for local bodies. The project suffered when local bodies took exception to elements of co-governance planned for the new water bodies.

Combined with the largescale rejection of Hei Puapua, a discussion document on implementing the UN Declaration on Indigenous People, signed by the John Key National government, Three Waters became an object of scorn, even when Mahuta’s successor in the role turned the Three Waters into Ten Waters but still retained some elements of co-governance.

Mahuta faced more flak over government contracts her husband William Orsmby and several of his family members won. The Public Service commissioner investigated the contracts and, while he found several government departments didn’t follow their own rules over conflict of interest, he also found “no evidence of favouritism, bias or undue influence over agency decisions”.

At the last “red tide” election Mahuta was so popular she recorded 9000 more votes than her nearest rival.

But, in this election, she faces Te Pāti Māori’s political newbie Hana-Rawhiti Maipi Clarke, and a Whakaata Māori poll last month put Mahuta at 36%, only four points ahead of Maipi Clarke, with 14% undecided.

If the election goes Mahuta’s way, she will hold the seat and be in line to match and beat the long service record as a wahine Māori politician of the late Whetu Tirikatene Sullivan.

But Maipi-Clarke, 21, has a second chance because she is fourth on Te Pāti Maori’s list so may become the youngest MP since James Frederick Stuart-Wortly in 1853, who was 20 years and seven months old when he was elected.

Maipi-Clarke is not without her own controversies. She comes from a politically active family and her great-aunt, after whom she is named, was Hana Te Hemara, who spearheaded the Māori language petition 50 years ago.

This election has been notable for the social media attacks on candidates, especially wāhine. However Maipi-Clarke claimed there had been threats, her home had been invaded, hoardings stolen, and items left in her letterbox. Police later said someone had been trespassed from her home and that it had been burgled rather than invaded.

Donna Pokere-Phillips has stood in this electorate for The Opportunities Party NZ, Te Pāti Māori and this time the Outdoors & Freedom Party of which she is co-leader. She did not register on the Whakaata Māori poll of this electorate last month.