The steps of Whakatane's Little Theatre created division between Te Ururoa Flavell's black-clad Maori Party supporters and Tamati Coffey's Labour-backers in red.

The final pre-election debate for the Waiariki constituency was held in Whakatane last night and attracted a 100-plus crowd that divided itself into the two sides of the theatre.

They niggled, yelled and applauded and, at times, had to be told to quieten down as the speakers could not be heard.

Hosted by Te Puna Ora o Mataatua and adjudicated by television presenter Jasmine Pearson, the debate traversed a range of topics with water ownership a common theme.

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Te Ururoa Flavell during last night's debate. Photo/Katee Shanks
Te Ururoa Flavell during last night's debate. Photo/Katee Shanks

First up the candidates were given a minute to answer why people should vote for them.

Mr Coffey said he and his party represented the change needed in New Zealand while Mr Flavell said it was imperative Maori had their own party, representing their own interests, uninhibited by anyone else's.

Mr Flavell pushed Whanau Ora as a flagship of the Maori Party while Mr Coffey extolled the virtues of Labour's KiwiBuild programme that promises 100,000 high quality, affordable homes to be built over 10 years.

Topics introduced by the adjudicator included water ownership, whenua (land) ownership and home ownership, mental health, suicide and poverty while questions regarding the Accident Compensation Corporation's rules in relation to families of PCP sufferers, Veteran's Affair's treatment of veterans, their families and the state of Veteran's Affairs houses, and the lack of iwi involvement in a disaster (Edgecumbe) were raised from the floor.

Tamati Coffey during last night's debate. Photo/Katee Shanks
Tamati Coffey during last night's debate. Photo/Katee Shanks

The Te Ture Whenua Maori Bill currently before Parliament drew emotive responses from both Candidates with Mr Coffey saying it was the one law he would repeal while Mr Flavell said the bill allowed individual iwi, as opposed to the Maori Party, to have their own discussion about their own land.

But it was the debate over water ownership that caused emotions to run high.

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"Maori have freshwater rights," Mr Flavell said.

"Maori do have rights but so does every other New Zealander," Mr Coffey responded.

His comment drew vocal protest from Maori Party supporters and also saw Mr Flavell comparing Labour's policy that every New Zealander owns the water with what he described as Labour's Seabed and Foreshore arrogance.

"Tamati has talked about Labour bringing 12 more Maori coming in as members of Parliament but when it comes to defending Maori rights, you can depend on one party and that is the Maori Party."

When asked by the adjudicator if they would both work together in confidence and supply arrangement post-election Mr Coffey responded "ae, if that's the way the cards fall," with Mr Flavell also agreeing and then adding with a smile "if that's the way the cards fall."

At the culmination of the two hour debate, Mr Flavell thanked the organisers and the audience and also thanked his opponent.

"This is our last debate and, at the end of the day, we always shake hands and get on."

In conclusion Mr Coffey said this election was a lot more exciting than its predecessors.

"This time we have a choice and we can effect real change."