ELECTION2020_DIGIBANNER

The Waiariki electorate is a collection of beautiful landscapes, fascinating towns and a strong Māori culture.

It includes the whole Bay of Plenty from Tauranga Moana to Whānau-ā-Apanui extending as far south as Taupō and Tūrangi.

The electorate includes the kāinga of many diverse iwi but tends to be centred in Rotorua.

"I like to think of it less as a melting pot and more of a salad," Bay of Plenty regional councillor Toi Iti said.

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"You've got lettuce, you've got cucumbers, you don't want a salad with just lettuce, you want some tomatoes, you want some cucumbers - doesn't mean they're the same.

"It's an analogy for representation. We have Māori seats as well. It's a team sport."

The Waiariki party vote has always gone to Labour, even when Māori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell held the seat.

But last election, Labour's Tāmati Coffey, managed to wrestle it back to Labour. That pushed the Māori Party out of Parliament, and National lost its biggest coalition partner.

Coffey's win came from a strong "ground game" focusing strongly on the issues that are important to local Māori.

"In terms of the elections coming up, it's the same things: jobs, houses, standard of living," Iti said.

"Things like water are really important to Māori - our awa, our moana, the environment is really important. But I think post-Covid, unemployment is just skyrocketing."

"One of the huge downfalls for this district is economic growth," Ōpōtiki district councillor Louis Rapihana said.

"There needs to be more focus around here, around the East Coast, towards growing the economy and bringing jobs here, so they can stay within the district.

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"Unfortunately a lot of our qualified people have had to leave the district to find employment. On top of that they relocate their family and never come back.

"We want to change that to bring jobs back, bring our people home, so they can stay home and work their land."

Regional growth has been a huge focus for the current government with the Provincial Growth Fund pouring millions into Waiariki. Unfortunately this has been countered by Covid. But what will decide future policy is how people vote.

"Māori don't historically turn out at the polls, it's an issue," Iti said.

"We need to educate ourselves on the issues that matter to Māori, matter to the community. If we have a society, a constituency that is uninformed, if they feel disconnected from representation, then they don't turn out to vote."

"We need to get people onto the Māori roll," Rapihana said.

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"On top of that we also need the people to vote.

"There is a stigma around at the moment that there is no mana in voting, to me there is absolute mana in voting, it determines who is visible on the table to us.

"There's going to be people saying 'hey, we're going to fix it all for you'," Iti said. "Take that with a grain of salt, regardless of who's saying that."

"The ideal candidate will be one who is, not so much influential but has a stake within the entire area," Rapihana said.

"One who fights for the all, not just the set of individual groups."

There's no doubt working together is the answer. As the whakatauki says "Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi - With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive".

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But it's up to the people of Waiariki to decide who gets to work together in Parliament.

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