Te Tai Tonga looks intriguing contest

Rino Tirikatene looks on from the back as colleagues David Parker, Jacinda Ardern, Clare Curran...
Rino Tirikatene looks on from the back as colleagues David Parker, Jacinda Ardern, Clare Curran and Annette King hustle for votes in South Dunedin in 2017. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
New does not really have political dynasties, but the Tirikatene family comes pretty close to the definition.

Someone from the Tirikatene family has held Te Tai Tonga — and the Southern Maori seat before that — for 70 of the past 85 years.

In 2017, Labour regained its historic paramountcy in the Maori seats, claiming all seven and in the most part by convincing majorities.

Rino Tirikatene has held Te Tai Tonga for nine years, but his 4676 majority last time is not necessarily indicative of a firm grip on the seat.

In all three elections, Mr Tirikatene has benefited from strong showings by Maori Party and Green Party candidates — twice, their votes combined would have defeated him.

The Maori Party is not the force it once was, and party leadership concedes it is struggling to find a candidate with sufficient profile, tenacity and mana to field in Te Tai Tonga.

The Green Party will also probably battle to find a 2020 candidate with the presence of former co-leader Metiria Turei, who scored a very respectable 5740 votes in 2017.

While Mr Tirikatene may find his path back to Parliament less rocky this time, there is more than a little interest in Te Tai Tonga and the other six Maori seats this election.

Quite apart from the electorate races, there are about 160,000 party votes that are very much in play and which will be crucial to who wins on September 19.

Strangely, given they do not stand candidates in the Maori seats, it is National which may be the most acutely interested in how those party votes are cast.

With Simon Bridges’ declaration last Sunday ruling out any sort of post-election arrangement with New Zealand First, National will need to find political allies from somewhere — or hope Labour’s allies fail to reach 5% — if the party is to regain power.

There will be few Act New Zealand party votes to count on in Te Tai Tonga — just 48 in 2017 — but National topped 3000, 1000 up on the Maori Party. The Maori Party lost its remaining seats in 2017 but is very hopeful of returning in 2020, with a particular focus on Te Tai Hauauru, Waiariki and Tamaki Makaurau.

While party leadership would love to think it had a chance in all three seats, its best hope to make a meaningful return to Parliament may be to win one electorate and then to bring an MP or two in via the list.

Party votes have always been a weakness for the Maori Party, but whoever it selects for Te Tai Tonga is likely to be focused entirely on them.

Mr Bridges has already said National could work with the Maori Party again, as it has before ... not that there is any guarantee that the Maori Party would work with National again.

That said, National’s coalition-building hopes would probably be much stronger if the Maori Party returned to Parliament, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the party could encourage tactical voting if it looked like that was a realistic possibility.

New Zealand First does not field candidates in the Maori seats either, but there is a core party faithful remaining from the days when the party contested and won Maori electorates, including Te Tai Tonga in 1996.

As ever, 5% is New Zealand First’s primary target, and in 2017 its party vote in Te Tai Tonga slipped from 2657 in 2014 to 1926; in an election likely to be decided on fine margins, it will want those voters to return and bring extras along with them.

That 5% threshold is equally vital for the Green Party and it has always quietly focused on the Maori seats, not so much with the intent of winning one as in boosting what has become an important source of party votes.

Co-leader Marama Davidson will once again stand in Tamaki Makaurau, setting up an intriguing three-way fight from which the Maori Party will hope to derive benefit.

In Te Tai Tonga the Greens will be looking to regain ground lost in 2017; while Ms Turei performed admirably as an electorate candidate, the 3402 party votes long-time candidate Dora Roimata Langsbury had managed to build up by 2014 slumped in 2017 to 1963.

Like the Maori Party, the Greens will be focused purely on party votes, and those 1400-odd lost votes will be an important target.

It will not have the high profile of some electorates contests, but Te Tai Tonga has the potential to be an intriguing contest in 2019.

Gold digger

He is no doubt expecting to make it back to Parliament, but Clutha-Southland NZ First list MP Mark Patterson seems to have a back-up plan, having spent part of his holiday’s panning for gold at his brother’s stake on the Clutha.

"As always NZ First in favour of sustainable extraction," Mr Patterson said on Facebook as he showed off the meagre fruits of his labours.




I cannot believe New Zealand still supports segregation and racial discrimination laws.

Simply awful. When are we going to move forward into the 19th century?

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