Jun 25, 2013

Native Affairs Review: Ikaroa-Rawhiti debate

In some ways it was a debate for the party hacks. The candidates stuck to their scripts. Marama strongly emphasised Green policies and principles - think sustainability and innovation – and didn’t shift further. Meka riffed off of her experience in iwi and the public service. Labour policy was light. Na stressed at the table narratives and Te Hamua relied on his street credibility. There was very little for the undecideds.

I'm not going to pick a winner, but here are some thoughts. 


She didn’t let herself get pushed over. There was a tussle (with Mihi) over whether or not sustainable jobs are realistic, but Marama held her ground. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but Marama didn’t concede an inch.

On other issues, though, Marama scored clear wins. On the marijuana question Marama demonstrated the most depth. Marijuana is and should be a health issues, not a criminal issue, and Marama argued the point well. 

The Ikaroa-Rawhiti race is a platform for Marama and the Greens. Partly an attempt to announce the Greens arrival in Maori politics and (hopefully) a springboard for Marama to enter Parliament off of the Green Party list. Marama, Metiria Turei and our mate Jack Tautokai McDonald have been active in Maori politics. After the byelection the Greens can credibly claim that they are committed to kaupapa Maori politics and a credible alternative in 2014. 

Te Hamua

He’s funny, right?

Humour aside, Te Hamua ran the most consistent message: I’m you, you are me – I’m real. He owned that narrative too. Each candidate emphasised their relative strengths, e.g. Marama highlighted the strong position the Greens will be in in the next left-leaning government, however Te Hamua argued his strengths the most convincingly. He was the “B.R.O”.

I imagine the brothers in Kaiti were most impressed with Te Hamua. That’s a strength. Maori political engagement is woeful. Politics doesn’t serve them and isn’t seen to serve them. Politicians (with some exceptions, think of Parekura) can be detached from the experiences of the poor and marginalised. Te Hamua isn’t.

But politics is more than that. I felt that Te Hamua was the weakest candidate on policy. He ran hot and cold. Substantive and focussed questions were his weak point.


She needs a big push. Any residual momentum is lost.

Meka found herself on the back foot. She is the leading candidate, but despite entering as the favourite she didn’t use that position to her advantage. The leading candidate should have been controlling the agenda, instead Meka was responding to it.

Having said that, possibly unfairly and the comments section is open to those who want to discuss it, Meka revealed a little fire. She smacked down Te Hamua after his ‘I still shop at the Warehouse’ speech arguing that Parliament requires an MP with the smarts. Meka was right, Parliament is a labyrinth unless you know how to navigate it, but talking down to Te Hamua won’t wash with the 18-24 demographic. The key demographic (if they turn out, which is unlikely).

It wasn’t until the last segment that Meka found her footing. She closed well (she had the most convincing political closing). The other highlight was the foreshore and seabed and the Urewera raids. Meka owned up to it. She admitted it was a mistake. She was responding to a question on honesty and, in owning up to the mistake, demonstrated more honesty than many Labour MPs before her. 


For the most part, Na did great. Arguably a technical win on points. He doesn’t excite me though. As much as he attempted to divorce the Maori Party from National I didn’t accept it. The Maori Party is in a confidence and supply agreement with National, two Maori Party MPs hold ministerial warrants and a select committee (with a National majority) just gutted one of the party’s best members’ bills. That gutting was met with meek acceptance.

Na also fell into a trap. He accepted Mihi’s framing of the Maori Party as the party of the right in Maori politics. In accepting that framing, Na legitimised the argument that a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for National. He slammed that suggestion in the first segment of the debate, only to implicitly accept it later. A tactical low point in an otherwise strong performance.

Oh, with the exception of the casual xenophobia. Na argued that migrant worker jobs should be transferred to Maori. No. Just no.

That aside, Na was strong on Parekura’s legacy: bringing people together. He also answered well on most questions. He seems like a great guy and has deep knowledge of local issues.

Maori TV

Mihi and Jodi were great. But what's most interesting is how Maori TV has changed Maori politics. Maori politicians are more accountable and the Maori electorate is more informed. The Maori electorates are no longer marginal games in far off parts of the country. Instead, the Maori electorates are becoming an increasingly important part of New Zealand politics and political discourse.


  1. Na made the point that he, through the Maori Party being in Government (partially), would potentially have the most influence of all the candidates from now until the next election.

    I don't think he will win many votes on that, but if you look at politics pragmatically isn't he right?

    Why not vote for that now, and re-assess at the next election depending on who looks most likely to be able to achieve something for the electorate?

    1. I don't think the voters of Ikaroa-Rawhiti will oblige with that argument. Although you're right, it's the pragmatic thing to do, but the byelection will be a mix of tribalism (e.g. tribal Labour voters turning out), pragmatism (e.g. some might see Na as the most pragmatic option) and principle (e.g. some might vote Te Hamua because he is seen to be more representative of the electorate).

      Na has been running that argument strongly, but he's struggled to make headway. The quick response is 'if the Maori Party is in government why is Maori unemployment still double the national average etc etc'

  2. I agree.

    But does anyone seriously think a Labour or Green or Mana (or Maori party) MP will make a significant difference to Maori unemployment, whether associated with Government or not?

    Especially unemployment in rural areas - this was touched on last night but not explored. How many manuka honey beekeepers will be needed?

    1. I think there is a reasonable expectation that government MPs, especially Ministers (i.e. Turia and Sharples), will make a difference in unemployment, health, education and other measures . Especially when the Maori Party have campaigned and continue to campaign on the premise that the Labour Party did nothing for Maori.

  3. "There was a tussle (with Mihi) over whether or not sustainable jobs are realistic, but Marama held her ground. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but Marama didn’t concede an inch."
    - Hopefully the depth of the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti Employment Plan to be released this week will demonstrate to you and voters that the Greens are the only party that have done serious work on what has been the main theme of the campaign - sustainable jobs for the people. Instead of mouthing popular platitudes we understand the strengths and limitations of the people and places in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, have looked at the local, national and global economies, and thought about the role the state should play in building new industries that will pay decent wages and not wreck Papatūānuku.

  4. The biggest problem is the man they are trying to replace. None of the candidates come close to matching Parekura. I know that it is always hard to follow a legend, but I think all the candidates need to learn a lot more about politics. Of all of them, I think Marama Davidson has the makings of a good politician, but still needs more experience. I would like to see her get a good list placing for the Greens in 2014. In the meantime, I think the by-election is quite ho-hum and I wouldn't be surprised if there is a very low turnout (lower than ever).

  5. Existential CrisisJune 25, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Personality politics at its worst!

    Credit to Mihi Forbes for trying to scrutinise these candidates' populist (but empty) policies, but she failed to ask some fundamental questions about the costs each candidates' policies also bring.

    I heard plenty about raising the minimum wage - and bugger all about the effect on inflation or employment.

    Te Ao Maori can ignore these questions if it likes, but it shouldn't be surprised when Treasury economists shoot down any hopes of their policies having long-term benefits. The first spending to be cut when the books tighten are policies like these.

    Na made the point that the State shouldn't be assuming the role of parent when it comes to feeding the kids, well that's just as true when it comes to wages and employment; whether we like it or not Maori are competitors in an international labour market, developing our potential may include some state assistance (health/education parity would be a start!) but if our goal is income increases by way of legislation, or employment by way of 'stimulus' we shouldn't expect those things to last long.

    Na's levelled a solid criticism at Labour's promises for jobs when he mentioned that the incumbents have reignited the type of Trades Training that Labour scrapped. It's these 'hand-up' policies that make a real, intergenerational, difference. Trades Training in itself is risky, last time the economy went pear-shaped (the late 80's)a lot of those skilled workers failed to re adjust and ended up in the same positions their unskilled friends and cousins were in. Inter-generational unemployment and poverty has inflicted upon Maori, a great sense of hopelessness and to some extent (and not invalid) a sense of victimhood. Changing these attitudes is something re-connection with traditional maori philosophies can alleviate, and that's a really good space for post-settlement iwi entities to be working in.Developing economic independence is absolutely key to throwing off the shackles of our colonial history. Meka should have brought up this point.

    We need to make sure we tautoko all the angles that support Maori development but at the centre is the need to harness innovation and entrepreneurship. If Maori aren't willing to move out of the rohe to study or find jobs, with a tight fiscal climate, the best policies for Maori development will be those that build capacity among individuals to innovate and come up with new business ideas with a competitive edge leveraged out of their localities. Here is another point where I am surprised Meka didn't make any reference to any work undertaken by Kahungunu.

    On this subject, Marama was right to highlight that the government currently balances the economy in such a way that it promotes extractive and primary industries - the former being heavily opposed by all candidates. With the exception of Marama, no one seemed to promote any ideas as to how we might rebalance that economy to fit the core values of Te Ao Maori but perhaps this was for the same reason Marama received criticism from Mihi, that it cannot be done by any of these candidates. Of course, no individual (not even Parekura) was capable of such a task - but that shouldn't prevent them from opining a way it could be done [which is indeed the first step]. For a region and demographic steeped in the worst effects of the GFC and structural unemployment, it was disappointing that none of the candidates seemed to have a good understanding of economics.

    Te Hamua was certainly charismatic, witty and likeable - but Meka's shot pierces through that like a .303; the fact remains he does not seem to undertand policy or politics. His heart of gold probably can't convince Wellington to give Ikaroa-Rawhiti the resources it needs on the ground.

  6. This should have been a walk in the park for Labour, the fact that it's so close, is an indictment on how fragmented they are. Nanaia should lead Maori caucus and with a possible 6th seat in South Auckland who we presume will be Lousia Wall's, it will be a disaster if Labour don't win by a massive margin. I think they'll win in the end but just. A win is a win but is this a reflection of an internal Labour crisis? One of the worst Labour campaigns I have seen. Credit to the others, Greens and Mana have had enormous campaigns.



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