Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Sykes brings years of battling social issues to election campaign

Annette Sykes believes she will be the first Maori woman to represent Waiariki. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Annette Sykes believes she will be the first Maori woman to represent Waiariki. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Candidate profile: Annette Sykes - Internet-Mana candidate for Waiariki

With her Auckland ties, Annette Sykes says she could have easily stood in the Tamaki Makarau electorate.

"But here's the thing, I'm not an Auckland girl. I'm a Kawerau girl."

A strong and famously fierce figure around her Bay of Plenty rohe, the Rotorua lawyer grew up in a Kawerau much different to what is today New Zealand's poorest town. There was plenty of work and money for the likes of boilermakers and electricians when the mill town still had a healthy economy.

"There was an upper-middle-class lifestyle, everyone knew each other - you go to Kawerau now and it's a place for the working poor."

Beneficiaries who managed to find work could only secure low-skill jobs with low wages, and some could only get part-time positions.

"All around my area, there are extreme levels of poverty; Kaingaroa, Minginui, Murupara, Rotoiti ... you go down the coast and it's the same thing."

Poverty, she said, was Waiariki's enemy.

"We want to develop a raft of policies that don't just tinker with, but end poverty."

She said these policies had been keenly embraced by those in the region's struggling communities, as had been measures to preserve te reo, to close the "digital divide" in classrooms, to abolish youth rates and ensure pay parity for Maori, particularly those in education.

"I was talking to one nan recently; she's been in kohanga reo for 20 years and had started on a salary of $10 an hour - today she's only on $13.75."

In and outside the courtroom, the sought-after defence counsel has been battling over social issues for most of her life.

In 1981, she was among the 2000 anti-Springbok tour protesters involved in the infamous battle of Molesworth St; 25 years later, she was in the thick of Seabed and Foreshore furore, joining the Maori Party that was borne from it.

She later joined the Mana movement in 2011 as "a buddy" for leader Hone Harawira, throwing her hat into the Waiariki ring when the party was just three months old.

Incumbent Te Ururoa Flavell gained 43 per cent of the vote, retaining the seat with a margin of 1883 votes.

"She never got much of a shot last time," Mr Harawira told Rotorua's Daily Post this year. "We were rushing around trying to save the world all at once."

This time around, Ms Sykes believes the 2011 result will be reversed.

Having taken steps to terminate her partnership at her firm Aurere Law, the first Maori woman lawyer to present to the Waitangi Tribunal is now convinced she's also about to become the first Maori woman to represent Waiariki.

"This is home for me; I've been through the Edgecumbe Earthquake, I've sponsored rugby and hockey teams here for the last 20 years," she said.

"I thrive here ... and I believe I can represent the desires of those who also call Waiariki home just as well as anybody else."

- NZ Herald

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