Candidates for the Ikaroa-Rawhiti electorate staked their claim for the seat last night in Hastings, by debating and promising solutions to the biggest issues facing Maori.

Ngati Kahungunu Iwi chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana hosted the debate at Heretaunga Taiwhenua as the four candidates spoke on issues including poverty, economics, representation, housing, education, youth suicide and the environment.

Incumbent and Labour Party candidate Meka Whaitiri, who also represented Aotearoa in both netball and softball, said greater leadership was required to "unlock the potential in our whanau".

Maori Party candidate Marama Fox said the most important issue facing Maori was representation.


"Today we are here to talk about the aspirations of our people," she said.

Mana candidate Te Hamua Nikora asked the audience of about 110, "what does it mean to be Maori today?".

"Once we knock off that question we will know what the most important issue facing Maori is."

He later added that poverty was a major issue throughout the Ikaroa-Rawhiti electorate.

"If poverty wasn't in place I could change the name of Poverty Bay."

Green Party candidate Henare Kani argued the protection and restoration of New Zealand's greatest asset, water, was the most important issue.

Mr Nikora called for a stop to a land-based economy in a bid to cleanse the country's rivers, streams and lakes.

"We are your puppets and we will do whatever when you pull the strings."

On the environment, Mrs Whaitiri said her party's mission was to make New Zealand's waterways swimmable, fishable and a kai source. She said Labour would scrap national standards, charter schools and reduce class sizes.

"Free education from the womb to the tomb," Mr Nikora said.

Mrs Fox, a mother of nine, said: "It's not about left or right, it's about Maori ... It's about Maori, by Maori, and for Maori and ultimately Aotearoa."

Each candidate promised to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into New Zealand's regional economies and build homes. They also unanimously agreed to completely outlaw synthetic highs if elected on September 20.