John Tamihere appears to be in his angry place. The co-leader of the Māori Party and candidate for Tāmaki Makaurau stood up in front of a packed room at the St Columba Centre in Ponsonby on Wednesday evening and let rip. The topic was poverty.
"In the Budget this year," he said, stabbing out the words, "only 0.3 per cent of the money was allocated to Māori. That's 99.7 per cent that didn't."
"When Apirana Ngata sent his nephews to die in the white man's war," he said, referring to the service of the Māori Battalion in World War II, "he did it because we were promised equality. It didn't happen. Today, 50 per cent of the people on a waiting list for a state house are Māori. And 70 per cent of Māori cannot afford a house. A third have mental health issues."
"If this was happening to you," he said, furious and choking up now, "you would be screaming murder."
He called for a living wage of $25. He said, "We import slave labour, we treat them as second-class citizens, and they displace New Zealand workers. It's got to stop." He called for a wealth tax.
He said every dollar voted to health gets "taken by the Pākehā economic system" so that "when a Māori walks into a health centre, despite all the funding they still have to pay".
Tamihere might or might not have all his numbers exactly right, but few in the room were inclined to dispute his message.
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The host group for the night was the Child Poverty Action Group and the lineup was high-powered: a Cabinet minister, two party co-leaders and one deputy leader, plus NZ First's earnestly enthusiastic New Lynn candidate Rob Gore.
TOP's deputy leader Shai Navot, a lawyer standing for North Shore, got stuck in. "If we're serious about this problem we're going to need to talk about tax," she said. TOP wants to tax wealth and not let any asset classes off the hook.
She mentioned the Universal Basic Income policy but didn't explain it.
Frank Hogan, a lawyer and CPAG's housing spokesperson, was in charge. He's a large man and he says what he thinks.
"We have five parties here tonight," he said, "and two more are conspicuous by their absence. Act and National. Act are a last-minute scratching. National declined to come."
Hogan bristled. "I think it's nothing less than disgraceful that a significant party has failed to come and speak on one of the most pressing issues of our time."
Marama Davidson, co-leader of the Greens, brandished her party's Poverty Action Plan. To date it's the only policy programme on this subject announced by any party in Parliament. She ran through the key principles: people in need deserve help, housing is a human right, those unable to work have valuable social contributions to make.
Davidson speaks with a kind of measured urgency. The policy, she reminded the room, includes a Guaranteed Minimum Income for everyone not in paid employment, with top-ups for children and sole parents. "All welfare is combined into a single system of comprehensive care, with barriers to access removed."
She likes to say: "It's the right thing to do and we've worked out how to do it."
Labour hasn't released election policy, which posed a challenge for Carmel Sepuloni, the Minister of Social Development. But she has a calm speaking style and she gamely told the meeting, "We are fortunate to have been given a road map by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group."
The WEAG road map was released in May last year, at which time the Government committed to just 1 per cent of the spending required if the report was accepted in full.
"I have taken note of the 42 recommendations of the report," she said. To date, though, only a handful have been adopted.
"I have worked out how complex the system is," she added. She reminded the meeting of a change to child benefits announced just that day. Chipping away.
JT didn't seem quite sure how to read the room. "How many people here are on the Māori roll?" he asked. A couple of hands went up. He looked out at a sea of white, elderly faces. "Kia ora," he said, "At least I've got one or two punters here."
It was an odd thing for him to say. His audience won't be voting in the Tamaki Makaurau electorate, where he and Davidson are both standing, but they're all perfectly at liberty to give their party vote to the Māori Party. He missed a trick not reminding them of that.
That crowd sure gave the lie to any lazy thinking that the politics of elderly Pākehā are owned by the glum defensiveness of NZ First. The room was full of people who've spend their lives fighting poverty, as activists, service providers, advocates, researchers, carers.
Many of the country's undisputed experts were there, including economist Susan St John and paediatrics professor Innes Asher and the Salvation Army's Alan Johnson.
These people, to use Tamihere's phrase, really have been screaming murder for a long time now.
"All roads lead to housing," said TOP's Shai Navot.
JT agreed. He said there was an elephant in the room called capital gains tax, about which only TOP had anything to say. The current tax setup meant there were "180,000 ghost houses in New Zealand, 38,000 of them in Auckland".
"Did you know," he said, appearing to be angry and upset again, "that a third of Māori have to shift every three years?" For all sorts of reasons. "How can their babies have any chance when that's happening? Wake up!"
They were awake. The applause was loud and long.
NZ First's Rob Gore suggested there were actually two elephants in the room: colonisation and neoliberalism. As a Pākehā, he said, he recognised he had limited directly relevant experience but he did want to question JT's 0.3 per cent figure.
"Some mainstream welfare funding does go to Māori," he said. That's true.
Marama Davidson challenged JT over his claim that no other party had anything to say about capital gains. "We've put out a detailed policy on wealth tax," she said. "We're not ignoring the elephant in the room at all."
The Greens, she said, want to scale up public housing and have a warrant of fitness for homes. She talked about solar panels and funding for papakainga housing in Māori communities.
Sepuloni said the Government had built 4600 new public homes so far, and had a programme, budgeted and underway, to build 8000 more public and transitional homes.
Navot called for housing NGOs to be included. To their ongoing dismay, housing trusts, church groups and others have largely been ignored by the Government in its renewed public housing programme. "They know the need and they know what to do," said Navot. Sepuloni did not respond.
All roads also lead to health. Carmel Sepuloni said doctors' visits are now "cheaper for 600,000 people". Middlemore Hospital no longer has sewage flowing through its walls.
A young man called Rahul put up a hand. He was a doctor. "In the hospital," he said, "I have held the hands of many people while they die. We feel like we are mopping the floor while the tap is on."
He asked the candidates: "How will you do better?"
He probably didn't expect an easy answer. He didn't get one.