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Labour’s Māori strategist Willie Jackson admits the fight for the seven Māori electoral seats will be close but is confident of holding at least four crucial seats.
The Labour Māori caucus launched its 2023 campaign a fortnight ago at Jackson’s Ngā Whare Waatea Marae in Māngere, South Auckland.
Jackson admitted the two Te Pāti Māori MPs had performed well in this term of Parliament, and would be tough to beat in Waiariki - held by co-leader Rawiri Waititi - and Te Tai Hauāuru, where the other leader, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, is standing.
Ngarewa-Packer stood against speaker Adrian Rurawhe and lost by just over 1000 votes. Rurawhe has opted to stand on the Labour Party list only - almost giving Ngarewa-Packer an armchair ride back to Wellington.
“I’m saying Te Pāti Māori are favoured in two electorates but I’m not saying they’re going to win them,” Jackson said.
However, Jackson said voters in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti - the electorate held by Meka Whaitiri, who defected to Te Pāti Māori for this election - will stay true to the Labour cause because they know why she left Labour.
“We are going to see some tight races and it’s going to be pretty close,” Jackson told the Herald.
“But I’m quite comfortable where the polls are, considering the last couple of months.”
Jackson said Kelvin Davis will hold Te Tai Tōkerau, and he had the same certainty for Peeni Henare in Tāmaki Makaurau, Nanaia Mahuta in Hauraki-Waikato and Rino Tirikatene in Te Tai Tonga.
Te Tai Tōkerau:
“Let’s talk about Kelvin Davis, what he brings. Kelvin is solid and is a reliable and good minister. I don’t expect him to have too many problems in the seat. His toughest opponent was always Hone Harawira but he’s not involved anymore. I don’t expect any particular surprises there,” Jackson said.
“The challenge in Te Tai Tōkerau is there are a variety of opinions. It’s really hard being a leader up there as there are so many factional issues that are challenges for Māori there.
“The Māori Party representative Mariameno Kapa-Kingi is a neat woman too. I’ve worked with her, at a community, community level, and she is a good advocate for her people at ground level and - don’t get me wrong - but it’s Kelvin all the way.
“Peeni Henare has been a solid minister and will hold Tamaki Makaurau. He’s up against Natasha Kemp and, no disrespect to her, she’s not John Tamihere. I don’t expect Tāmaki Makaurau to be close and mainly because my mate JT is not running. JT ran against Peeni and Marama Davidson from the Greens in 2020 and lost by less than 1000 votes. I’m pleased JT is not running. He would have been a huge threat.
“National have Hinurewa te Hau and Hannah Tamaki is also running. Hannah will get the Destiny Church vote and the votes of the confused.
“Natasha is a terrific CEO and she’s got the backing of some of my closest mates and relations out South Auckland,” Jackson said, adding that Kemp has done some incredible work for South Auckland whānau - but Henare has been the MP for three terms and he expects to see him win a fourth term too.
“Nanaia Mahuta will win. Nothing more to be said,” Jackson said.
Te Tai Hauāuru
“Labour candidate Soraya Mason didn’t want a list placing and wanted to go head-to-head with Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, the Māori party co-leader. Soraya’s line is Debbie, you’re gonna get in anyway, off the list and so if the people of Te Tai Hauāuru want two Māori for the price of one, give me your vote - you’ll get two for me,” he said.
Jackson says Mason’s got a strong ground campaign and her not going on the list will help her a lot, as she made a very clear decision that she would go against Ngarewa-Packer head to head.
“Soraya’s move is very courageous. In terms of the seat, obviously Ngarewa-Packer is favourite and as a first-term MP has had a good one. But I say, don’t write off Soraya,” Jackson said.
“Mustn’t forget Harete Hipango, who is standing for National.”
“Rawiri Waititi is the favourite to hold his seat but like Soraya, don’t write off Toni Boynton. She knows she is up against the Māori Party co-leader but Toni will give him a good crack down there. When you’re an incumbent, you should not lose your seat and the odds are I would think 70-30 in Rawiri’s favour - but Toni is a fighter and out to get the party vote.”
“I want to make a special shout out to Cushla Tangaere‑Manuel, who has taken on this job in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. Cushla will make the electorate proud because there’s a overhanging question which no doubt will be debated at every event for Mika Whaitiri: why did you leave Labour? She makes this big stand in terms of as a call in her puku yet seeks safety off the Māori Party list. There’s a contradiction there because you would have thought Meka would have taken a stand. She has never fully explained her defection.
“I thought it was a 50:50 electorate, but I think Cushla is getting around the electorate and getting herself out there.
“As such, as the Māori Party has tried to explain the move as a resentment against Labour, Ikaroa-Rāwhiti has deep Labour roots and I expect that to be the case come election night.
Te Tai Tonga
“In Māoridom, names carry a lot of weight and there’s no bigger than Tirikatene in Te Tai Tonga. Rina Tirikatene carries on that dynasty and his work around Parliament has seen him promoted to a Cabinet position. I don’t expect that to change, but in saying that, Takuta Ferris is a talented up-and-coming Māori candidate. I quite like him. But, you know, he’s up against the dynasty and it’s his second time standing.
“Maori Party probably say they’re favourites in seven seats but reality is we are overwhelming favourites in four or five and have some work to do in Waiariki and Te Tai Hauāuru.
“My advice to Māori voters, get out and vote. Your vote will make a difference.”
Joseph Los’e joined NZME in 2022 as Kaupapa Māori Editor. Los’e was a chief reporter and news director at the Sunday News newspaper, covering crime, justice and sport. He was also editor of the NZ Truth and prior to joining NZME worked for 12 years for Te Whānau o Waipareira.