Unemployment and housing top Labour and Mana issues to tackle in Tai Tokerau

On the face of it, Mana Party leader Hone Harawira and Labour Party hopeful Kelvin Davis agree on major issues that have plagued the Tai Tokerau electorate for years.

Both say there's a dire need for jobs in the north, where the Maori unemployment rate is close to 20 per cent, and they also agree that people require decent housing and better health outcomes.

Mr Davis said the debate had not shifted from what he argued about in both his 2008 and 2011 campaigns, the more recent of which he lost to Mr Harawira by 1165 votes.

"I heard Hone himself saying things have gotten worse ... unemployment has gone up and housing has got worse. If you drive out of the backblocks of Te Tai Tokerau, some of the housing really is substandard and it's no surprise we are getting more avoidable illnesses."

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After deviating from his party's economic development policy by saying the Puhoi-to-Wellsford highway was essential infrastructure for the north, Mr Davis again broke ranks from Labour's positive-message campaign, questioning the relationship multimillionaire Kim Dotcom had struck up with the Mana Party.

He said Dotcom was not only insulting the legacy of the Tai Tokerau electorate, but his coat-tailing strategy brought the validity of the Maori seats into question.

"This whole dodgy deal jeopardises all of the Maori seats and my question is: What is Kim Dotcom's whakapapa to Te Tai Tokerau? "He has absolutely no allegiance to us and is using us to leverage his interests."

But Mr Harawira said Dotcom had been warmly received at marae throughout the rohe [tribal territory] and halls in the north had packed with people wanting to hear what he had to say.

"The only people who have gone away dissatisfied or upset have been people from other parties who came to criticise and ended up being won over," said Mr Harawira.

The Mana Party says it wants to eliminate poverty in the north, it wants more state housing, GST off food and essential services, community work programmes for the unemployed, loan sharks gone and a community crackdown on liquor outlets and pokies.

"These are the policies that other parties shy away from, but they are the policies which will put an end to poverty and enable everybody to become positive contributors to our society," Mr Harawira said.

Added to the mix is the Maori Party's Te Hira Paenga, who has taken leave from his role as assistant principal at Hato Petera College and assistant curate at the Auckland Anglican Maori Mission to campaign.

The stepson of Dr Pita Sharples, the 31-year-old father of five said he wanted to bring stability back to the Maori Party in the north and responded to the idea that the fight for the seat was between Mr Harawira and Mr Davis.

"I'm about promoting this kaupapa of a unique Maori voice in Parliament that's flexible, open and transparent and that will go with either the left or the right.

"I will not coat-tail on another person to get into Parliament. Neither will I step aside for some joint arrangement between one party and another."

Mr Paenga said unemployment and financial stability were key issues for the impoverished region, where he said half of all voters were under the age of 30.

He said criticism over the Maori Party's relationship with National had been disheartening but the party only went with the Government because the majority of people in their electorates wanted them to.

"If it comes to it again, we will follow the same process and go back to the grassroots and see what they say."

Te Tai Tokerau
• Held by Hone Harawira (Mana Party), who won the seat by 1165 votes over Labour's Kelvin Davis in 2011.
• Mr Harawira's margin over Mr Davis has shrunk over the last two elections.
• Mr Harawira has held the seat since 2005, although in that year and in 2008 he was a Maori Party MP.
• Labour has won the party vote in the electorate at every election since 1999.
• 13 candidates stood in the 1999 election in Te Tai Tokerau. In 2011, just four stood.