Pen Portrait
Age: 52
Married: Divorced
Children: Two teenage sons
Previous roles: Chief executive of Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, senior advisor to Minister of Maori Affairs, senior manager of Community Employment Group of the Department of Labour
Likely future role: May retain current primary industry and economic portfolios


While much remains undecided for Ikaroa-Rawhiti's winning candidate Meka Whaitiri she is determined to improve the lives of Maori in Hawke's Bay.

The incumbent Labour MP sat in opposition since she entered office in 2013, filling the shoes of her predecessor, the late Parekura Horomia, after a byelection.

Speaking at the Whataku freezing works, where she was first employed as a teenager, she said the parliamentary job had been and would continue to be hard work.

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"You have to take this job on knowing it's going to be hard graft and that the people of Ikaroa-Rawhiti will catch you out if you're not true to what you say, if you're not turning up.

"They'll call you out on that sort of stuff. They're judging you on what Parekura [Horomia] did so I knew coming in it was going to be hard work."

Emulating her predecessor's visibility at community events, Ms Whaitiri said she worked hard to replace Mr Horomia while also building up her own reputation.

"Yes, I had big shoes to fill but I've created my own and I like to think the fact people have voted me back as their MP is because I've maintained their trust in me.

"I've championed our Maori land reforms and helped those in need like the 70 homeless families my office helped."

Ms Whaitiri comfortably won her seat on Saturday night with more than 10,200 votes; well above the 6436 votes cast for Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox who came in second.

The victory was not without its sorrow, however, as the MP turned teary eyed when reflecting on her late father Wirangi Wiremu Whaitiri who passed away two years ago.

"Dad's around, he's around. I just miss him. Not just because I was a daddy's girl, but I just miss his strength.

"My dad was a speaker of te reo and as the first woman in a Maori electorate there's a lot of customs to adhere to and one of them, unfortunately, is that I'm not allowed to speak on the marae [until males have spoken].

"My dad used to do that for me. He would open the cultural doors for me to get up and speak."

Born in Gisborne, raised in Whakatu and now working in Wellington, she said she was planning to tap into the primary industry economy that spread the length of the East Coast electorate.

"My plan was always to do something in the primary industry space. I think we need progressive policies and we need a government that is open to doing things differently. I think water quality and land use is part of that, but also putting New Zealanders first.

"As a Maori MP, there are a lot of young people in my electorate that have been neglected and I'd like to see that we use primary industry to be a stepping stone for those people."

In the last term Ms Whaitiri was spokeswoman or associate spokeswoman for local government, primary industries, associate food safety, economic development and trade and export growth.

However, whether she sits in opposition or not is yet to be decided by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, who holds the balance of power.

"There's all these things lining up so until Winston makes his call I'm really hoping that we might see a change of government, and if not we might go to plan B," she said.

Her plan B was to work with Maori in the primary industry, consolidate her knowledge and grow jobs and opportunities in the electorate.

"I just hope Winston keeps a long term vision for what's best for this country. I'm hoping he will passage the way in for an exciting new leader in Jacinda Adern but politics is really about the long game...and I have every faith in Jacinda."

If she were to sit in opposition again, she said her greatest concern was the Maori land reform bill, Te Ture Whenua, that she fought in the previous term.

"If we didn't make government my priorities would be on seeing that bill not come back into the house, but then again when you're not in government you don't have that say."

Despite much hanging in the balance, Ms Whaitiri aired her ambitions of getting on to Labour's front bench of 12 MPs (currently number 13 on the list) and making herself relevant to mainstream issues.

"I'm a Maori MP but I also believe there's room for a win-win. I can talk about Maori issues but can also see the benefit there can be for everyone else."

Maori Party's Ms Fox refused to concede to Ms Whaitiri at the weekend and, after the Maori Party received a dismal 1.1 per cent of the party vote, likened voters' choices to that of a battered wife returning to her abuser.

Ms Whaitiri said Ms Fox's comments disrespected the people who voted for her.

"We've got a saying in Maoridom; let the hara [rubbish] lie where it started. Leave it there, don't you take that rubbish on so I'm not taking her rubbish on I'm giving it back to her and saying you keep that.

"The 10,000 people that came out and voted for us know what it's about and I'll leave those tasteless comments with her."