Hone Harawira yesterday delivered a fiery state of the nation speech calling for a war on poverty and promising Mana would work with any party to address the issue.

Party supporters waving flags and singing Pacific hymns packed Kia Maia Ratana church in Mangere. They were told that 270,000 children living in poverty was unacceptable in a land of "milk and honey".

"Failure to act is simply not an option. We call on all those who profess a love for our country to join with us in a war on poverty before it's too late," the Mana leader said.

Parties needed to "park their politics at the door" and commit themselves to work together on legislative change before poverty became normalised in New Zealanders' lives.

He reiterated his party's policies to abolish GST, get rid of pokies, loansharks and liquor outlets in poor communities, give free meals at schools, provide jobs for everyone on the unemployment register, lift the minimum wage and make the first $27,000 of annual income tax-free, build more state homes to be rented at 25 per cent of the family's income and provide free healthcare.

Combined, they would have an immediate effect by increasing incomes and reducing prices. The plans would be paid for by a new taxation system led by a financial transactions tax.

It could be that Mr Harawira's days in Hawaiian shirts are over. Instead he was dressed in a black suit and a high-buttoned shirt he has worn in televised debates.

But his campaign has been as loose as one of those old favourite shirts of his. There have been few of the volcanic outbursts which coloured the Tai Tokerau byelection or his Maori Party political career. The politician who used to repeat he would never have the diplomacy required for leadership looks as if he is enjoying being the boss.

He still does not have much diplomacy. When describing how his fellow activist Mana candidates Sue Bradford, John Minto and Annette Sykes have relaxed him, he levelled backhanded criticism at former colleagues.

"One of the reasons I've been so relaxed and so, dare I say it, so statesmanlike, in some of the debates is I don't feel the pressure to be constantly out there by myself. We've got such a good team.

"I think with the Maori Party my difficulty was because my mates were always sliding back I felt I had to keep pushing hard and fighting harder. I don't feel that in Mana at all.

"I've become a lot less of a firebrand because the team I have is so good."