Oct 4, 2011

Te Tai Tonga - the lowdown

Today’s post is the first in a series analysing each Maori electorate. Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring each electorate. I’ll assess the candidates, gauge the voters, lay out the issues and, most importantly, forecast the result. I thought about endorsing candidates, but then I thought most of you probably don’t care and, for the ones that do care, it’ll be fairly obvious where my preferences lay.   

I’ll preface this post and say that each post in the series will be horrendously long. Unless you’re a political junkie, you’re probably going to find this series horrifically dry. But don’t let that stop you. I like to think this series will be important and useful as far as Maori political discourse goes.

As far as I know, no one has offered an in depth analysis of any of the Maori electorates – ever. With that in mind, I thought I’d give it a go. Commentary and analysis on the Maori electorates, and Maori politics in general, is thin.

The Stats

Te Tai Tonga is the most under analysed electorate and the most homogenous. Ngai Tahu exercises rangatiratanga (authority) over most of the South Island alongside Waitahi, Ngati Mamoe and a small number of other Iwi. Te Ati Awa exercise rangatiratanga over the Wellington section of Te Tai Tonga as well as parts of the upper South Island. Today, Maori from the East Coast, for example Ngati Porou, are prominent in Wellington while Maori from the North Island, for example Nga Puhi, are prominent in Christchurch. Maori from other Iwi outnumber Te Ati Awa in Wellington. Ngai Tahu is the most populous Iwi in the South.

The Maori population in Te Tai Tonga is overwhelmingly young, 59.8% of Maori are 29 or under. In comparison with other Maori electorates Te Tai Tonga is, for want of a better term, more well off. For example, 13.3% of Te Tai Tonga households earn over $100,000 while only 8.1% of households in neighbouring Ikaroa-Rawhiti earn over $100,000. Te Tai Tonga is also, relatively speaking, more educated than most other Maori electorates. 9.2% of Maori in Te Tai Tonga hold a Bachelors Degree or higher compared with only 5.6% of Maori in bordering Te Tai Hauaru.

In the 2008 election Rahui Katene won, rather easily, with a majority of over 1000. Labour’s Mahara Okeroa was the second placed candidate gaining almost 42% of the vote while the Green candidate polled at almost 11%. In 2005 Okeroa secured 47% of the vote (in 2008 the situation reversed with Katene winning 47%). The Maori Party candidate won 34% of the vote while the Green candidate, Metiria Turei no less, gathered 12% of the vote.

In both the 2005 and 2008 election Labour cleaned up in the party vote stakes with 57% of the vote in 2005 and 49% in 2008. The Maori Party, Nats and Greens polled second, third and fourth respectively. The Maori Party increased their share of the vote from 17% in 2005 to 22% in 2008. National increased their vote from 7% to 11% while the Greens remained largely static rising less than a percentage point from 2005 to 2008. In the 2002 election Okeroa annihilated his competitors and the Greens and New Zealand First outpolled National.

The Candidates

Ok, hopefully you managed to make it through that. Political forecasting, if you will, combines a number of factors including historical trends, the contemporary situation and a little bit of intuition. To make an informed judgement you need to lay out the facts. Hence the above.

Four candidates will contest Te Tai Tonga. The incumbent, Rahui Katene of the Maori Party, Labour’s Rino Tirikatene, Clinton Dearlove of the Mana Movement and Dora Langsbury from the Greens.

Rahui has held the seat since 2008. Rahui is a qualified lawyer and a former policy analyst and nurse. She is a member of a number of select committees and connects to Iwi across the entire South Island.

Rino Tirikatene is, for want of a better description, a political pedigree. His Koro, Eruera Tirikatene, held the Southern Maori seat (aka Te Tai Tonga) for a number of years as did his Aunty Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan. Rino has worked for top law firm Simpson Grierson as well as Maori development organisations for 12 years. Rino stood for Te Tai Tonga Te Puku O Te Whenua in 1996:

“This is not my first time representing the Labour Party. At the tender age of 23 my father passed away, he was to stand for Labour in the Southern Maori seat. I took up his mantel in 1996 and carried on his journey”.

Clinton Dearlove is, in Wellington political circles at least, an unknown quantity. I had never heard of him nor had anyone I’d spoken to. Dearlove affiliates to Waitaha and Nga Puhi (the second most populous Iwi in the South). Dearlove holds an honours degree in Science from the University of Otago (very few Maori hold any sort of science qualification) and his primary interest appears to be education (he is a secondary school teacher of 10 years).

Dora Langsbury stood for the Greens at the last election. Langsbury is of Ngai Tahu, Waitaha and Ngati Mamoe descent and works for Te Wananga o Aotearoa. According to the Greens website Langsbury policy interests are:

Areas of interest include Maori Affairs, Treaty of Waitangi, Seabed and Foreshore, Iwi settlement process, sustainable housing and transport, buy local, water management, education, mental health, public health, humane standard of living, disability affairs

The Analysis

Readers will know I’m picking Rino Tirikatene to snatch the seat.

Rahui Katene is the invisible Maori Party MP. Sharples and Turia are the leaders, Flavell is the workhorse and Hone was the principled voice (or the big mouth). Rahui, however, was not known for much beyond being Turia’s lapdog. She breathlessly followed her leaders despite pressure from within, read from Hone and his supporters, and pressure from without, read from Maori generally (think the foreshore and seabed hikoi etc).

The vote in the Maori electorates is a personality vote. Most Maori don’t vote along party lines. However, Rahui is one of the few Maori MP’s to ride off of the success of her party. In 2008 the Maori Party had built enough momentum to launch an assault on Te Tai Tonga without having to stand a moneyed or widely known candidate. The party’s credibility peaked in 2008 and so to did their support among voters and their support from politically minded Maori (i.e. campaigners etc).

Another factor that played into Rahui’s hands was Mahara Okeroa’s age and perceived uselessness (or actual uselessness is how I see it). Maori snubbed Labour in 2008 - their share of the party vote dropped and only two Labour MP's managed to hold their seats. 

Having said all of that, one factor will benefit Rahui’s chances – the Christchurch earthquake. Rahui has received, and rightly so, kudos for her work in Christchurch. From day one Rahui has moved across the city lending a hand or a sympathetic ear to her constituents. As the MP for Te Tai Tonga this is her job and she has, by all accounts, performed it with distinction.

However, Christchurch is not where the electorate will be won. Support in the South Island is, for the most part, evenly split between the Maori Party and Labour. Labour cleaned up the candidate vote in Bluff and the party holds an acceptable lead in Invercargill and Timaru. It is fairly even in Dunedin and Christchurch with the Maori Party enjoying the most slender of leads. 

(here is the link to the booth by booth breakdown of the electorate)

Wellington is where the electorate will be won. Rahui thrashed Mahara Okeroa across Wellington. From Rongotai to Petone to Wellington Central Rahui cleaned up. So, assuming Rino Tirikatene holds Mahara Okeroa’s support in the South, Wellington will become the key battle ground.

My money is on Rino Tirikatene to win in the South and peel back Rahui’s lead in Wellington. Petone and Rongotai, and most other Wellington suburbs, are traditional Labour strongholds and will follow a strong Labour candidate. Wellington Central Maori, many of whom are public servants, will also punish the Maori Party for their alliance with the public service bashing National Party. Then again, the only Maori I know who ever voted or vote National are public servants. I still can’t figure out why this is, but that’s for another post.

Tirikatene has run a clean campaign across the entire electorate. Nothing flashy, nothing nasty, just an old fashioned campaign focussing on the issues and exploring the solutions. Rino will benefit from a reflex backlash against the Maori Party and, according to the latest Marae digipoll, he already enjoys a healthy lead. However, as a qualification I must add that I do not place too much faith in the results of that poll and will tell you why in my next post.

Ultimately I think the vote will follow whoever is perceived to be the strongest and most effective candidate. In my mind, and from what I have ascertained from living in Te Tai Tonga, the strongest candidate is Rino Tirikatene. Rino comes from an illustrious line of Maori politicians and demonstrated out in the traps that he is the smartest and most promising candidate. His experience in the corporate world and in Maori development roles gives him the experience he needs to cut in the throat slitting world of Parliament and the challenging world that is contemporary Maoridom.

Rahui is perceived as nice, but weak. She followed her leaders like a puppy, despite numerous protestations from her constituents (especially Ngai Tahu re the MCA Act).

I doubt the Mana candidate, Clinton Dearlove, win a significant amount of votes, but he will, despite this, make an impact. Only a well known and moneyed candidate could gain a large number of votes this late in the game. Clinton Dearlove is largely unknown and Mana is perhaps weakest in the South so he cannot fall back on the party branches in the South. Mana is, however, strong in Wellington. I tend to think Dearlove (cool name eh) will steal more than a few votes from Rahui in Wellington and, thus, hand the city to Rino and, consequently, the electorate (as I said the winner must win Wellington). The natural transition for disgruntled Maori Party voters is to Mana. Mana also enjoys a strong set up in Wellington so despite Dearlove’s low profile he can rely on strong party support to push his name and message in the city. Given the makeup of Te Tai Tonga (i.e. the young age profile of the electorate) Dearlove is likely to pick up a few votes in the South thus handing Rino a slight advantage in the South too. Dearlove is also of Nga Puhi descent and Nga Puhi is the second most populous Iwi in the South. Having whakapapa to the most populous Iwi will work in Dearlove’s favour.

I haven’t heard anything from the Green candidate and as a result I doubt she will impact the race in a big way. The Greens are focussing on the party vote – not the candidate vote.


The key battleground is Wellington. As I said, the Mana candidate will snatch enough votes from Rahui in Wellington to allow Rino to charge up the middle and win the city and the electorate. Rahui has not done enough in the past term nor enough in the last few months to fend off the strong challenge Labour is mounting.

Should the Maori Party lose Te Tai Tonga the National Party has reason to worry. Given the pathetic state of the Act Party and the unprecedented possibility of the governing party obtaining an outright majority, a strong Maori Party increases the chances of a second term National Government.

The next post in this series will examine the other marginal electorate – Waiariki. The next post will examine Te Tai Tokerau in the wake of the results from the Marae Digipoll. At this point I’m unsure whether or not I will have time to finish this series and examine the other electorates. Exams are approaching for me. Hopefully I can find the time.


  1. Very interesting analyis Morgan.

    Two minor issues...

    "Rino stood for Te Tai Tonga in 1996" - actually his Aunt, Dame Whetu was Labour's candidate in Te Tai Tonga in 1996. He stood in Te Puko O Te Whenua, after his father, the Labour candidate, died unexpectedly at the start of the campaign.

    "In the 2008 election Rahui Katene won, rather easily, with a majority of over 1000." - this is relative. Her win was not in doubt, and was rather unsurprising, but it must be noted that her majority is much smaller than any other MP in a Maori seat.

    If anyone is vulnerable to a challenge, it is Rahui. And it seems that Labour's Tirikatene is just the man to provide it.

  2. Thanks for clarifying that, Patrick.

  3. A good detailed overview, keep these coming.

  4. "Ultimately I think the vote will follow whoever is perceived to be the strongest and most effective candidate."

    Whoa! Where do you get off making ballsy calls like that?

  5. History of electorate votes under MMP in Maori seats I assume.

    Morgan, you have missed one thing the MSM has used. The similarity between Rahui Katene's and Rino Tirakatene's last names has intruiged me and it was of no surprise when articles said they were cousins.

    Are they cousins in the European sense or whanau in the Maori sense?

  6. Kia ora Ross,

    They are both of the same hapu.

  7. Whakamoemiti.

    Yes I cheated and used a translator online :P However, I think that learning Maori is definitely a useful skill to have.

  8. Hugh, the Maori vote does not always follow the strongest candidate. Rawiri Taonui says that this election will be a "mana whenua" vote meaning Maori will vote along tribal lines. So the candidates with the most extensive whakapapa connections will win - think Parekura, Nanaia, Rino, Sharples, Harawira and Sykes/Flavell.

  9. Opps, I am forgetting my manners again. Tena koe.

  10. So Morgan, does that mean that Dora Roimata Langsbury of the Otakou whanau of Karetai has a lesser whakapapa than her cousins from the northern regions of Ngai Tahu. I am sure her Karetai cousin, Tahu Potiki, might take you to task on that one. All three Ngai Tahu candidates have very strong whakapapa's and to dismiss Dora's whakapapa is disrepectful. This is the "clash of the cousins's" and Dora is one of their cousins!

  11. What the hell are you talking about, anon? I didn't say that. I am not dismissing Dora's whakapapa. Not only is that disrespectful to her but to her tipuna as well.



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