New Zealand will need a "party for the poor" more than ever as the world's markets destabilise and the Government slashes welfare, says the Mana Party.
With the Green Party becoming more mainstream and business-friendly, and the Maori Party cosying up to National, Mana sees itself as the most sincere representative of social justice and grassroots activism in this election.
Polls show Mana leader Hone Harawira could retain his Te Tai Tokerau seat, but the party is hoping it can get four or five MPs into Parliament to fight for low-wage workers, the unemployed and Maori.
Also in with a chance of a seat is Mana's No 2 on the list, activist and lawyer Annette Sykes, who is trying to unseat Te Ururoa Flavell from the Waiariki electorate (Tauranga, Rotorua, Whakatane and Taupo).
At a beneficiary advocacy street meeting yesterday in Rotorua, Ms Sykes said she was a rare political voice for the downtrodden. "We're really clear that we are a party for the poor and dispossessed, and unfortunately in my [area] 62 per cent of the unemployed are Maori. But there's also a burgeoning Pakeha poor, and they don't have support."
She told the Herald she was following in the legacy of 19th-century Maori leader and rebel Te Kooti, and wore her radicalism as a "badge of honour".
She was moved to enter politics by the "constitutional outrage" of the Urewera 18 terror trials, in which she gained discharges for 14 members of the group.
Asked whether the party's radical roots could limit its share of the vote, she said: "There is no limit for a party for the poor, at a time like this ... we are needed more than ever."
The party's social policy focused on a higher minimum wage, 20,000 new state houses, full employment and no tax or GST for those who earned less than $27,000. Mana has proposed paying for these developments with a financial transaction tax - named the Hone Heke tax - which levied banks, corporates and speculators.
Ms Sykes said there was a growing appetite for this levy overseas, where it was known as the Robin Hood tax.
"We have been watching Europe with interest, because [Nicolas] Sarkozy and the German [chancellor Angela Merkel] support the tax. Bill Gates and the Pope support it too. Because it is a morality question there is a huge amount of wealth being redistributed towards corporates and the rich and then there's this huge disparity with the poor."
She was joined at the forum yesterday by Mana candidate and former Green MP Sue Bradford, who chose to run in the Waitakere electorate so she could go head-to-head with Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.
Ms Bradford believed the Government had lost sight of the welfare system set up in the 1930s, and now used it as a tool for stigmatising and harassing beneficiaries instead of giving them a chance at dignity.
"I'm very disturbed by the way National is scapegoating beneficiaries as a way of getting votes," she said.
Ms Bradford has been the subject of bitter criticism for her role in getting the "anti-smacking" bill through Parliament, but supporters yesterday claimed it was proof she could "get things done" against the odds.
Mana's message was lapped up outside the Work and Income offices in Rotorua, where Maori comprise 62 per cent of the unemployed.
A middle-aged Maori woman, clearly pained, stood on a wooden pedestal with a megaphone, and said: "You have got the mandate, Sue Bradford, to make a change for us. Will you do that?"
Ms Bradford, visibly moved, replied with arms outstretched: "Of course."