Who has got your vote for a kaupapa Maori voice in Parliament?

Heading into the 2017 New Zealand general-election Māori are spoilt for choice. The Māori Party together with Hone Harawira’s Mana Movement are hell-bent on gaining the seven Māori electorate seats. If achieved, they will dominate the Māori political landscape. The remarkable rise of Kelvin Davis as the newly appointed Deputy Labour Party leader has upped the ante, backed by the majority of Māori MPs in Parliament. Labour is well on their way in the polls to potentially becoming the new Government.


HELENA BETHUNE talks to Mr Davis on the campaign trail, still buzzing from Labour’s rapid success, provides some insight for Māori and profiles political leaders and candidates who want the Māori vote. 


Winning the Māori seats is more urgent than ever for the Māori Party. In a recent Māori Television poll for all Māori electorates, the Labour Party continues to rise in the polls as does Jacinda Ardern as preferred Prime Minister, over Māori candidates. Ms Ardern leads with 42.2% followed by Winston Peters at 17.5% and Te Ururoa Flavell at only 3%.


It is paramount the Māori Party gain at least three of the seats, which could tip the balance and allow the National Party to govern by a majority if they win the election. The best chances based on voting patterns are these electorates - Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Tai Hauāuru, Te Tai Tokerau and Waiariki.


Minister Te Ururoa Flavell was asked what does the Māori Party offer Māori.


“The 2017 General Election will be a turning point in this country’s history. It is our time – we must make it count,” says Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.


“The Māori Party as a permanent fixture and a natural partner in the political landscape is never more important than right now,” he adds. “We must vote for kaupapa Māori. This has been the enduring message of the Māori Party since we first entered Parliamen t in 2004.”


Right now the slim chance of success for the Māori Party against what media are describing as a ‘red wash’ is the seemingly impossible mission of attempting to take 7% of the Māori vote and unseat six Labour MPs - Nanaia Mahuta, Rino Tirakatene-Sullivan, Kelvin Davis, Adrian Rurawhe, Peeni Henare and Meka Whaitiri. If they manage to pull it off it will be a momentous victory.


Labour MP Kelvin Davis has enjoyed a meteoric rise in politics this year. As the newly appointed Deputy Leader, Mr Davis will be relying on two things to stay in favour. First, his own ability to influence and achieve gains to help get the people in his electorate out of poverty. That will be the true test for him because he is now in a prime position to put kaupapa Māori at the top of the political agenda.


Mr Davis has emerged from the launch of the Labour Party campaign, attended by former Prime Minister Helen Clark. He seemed incredibly optimistic about their future. I had a kōrero with him as he was travelling up North on the election campaign.


He spoke about his promotion, Labour’s priorities, his whānau and being compared to Ken Doll, an iconic sex symbol.


Q It’s been a busy few weeks for you being appointed as the first Māori Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Has that really sunk in yet?


KD Oh crickey. Well I’m just getting on with it, really. Politics is politics and you don’t want to dwell on things. We’re on the campaign trail. It’s been candidate debate after debate. I’ve just been up north planting riparian plants at Kokopu school (Whangarei) and now head back to Auckland.


Q I suppose people are quite optimistic now that you’re in a more powerful position?


KD Support from people has been overwhelming. The leadership change has changed the dynamic of the election and the Labour Party. Māori television had Jacinda as the preferred prime minister – and that’s by Māori voters. NZ First, I think Winston was second. We’re on about 46% and that’s reflective of the change.


NOTE: Labour is on 42.2% (slightly less than Mr Davis’ recollection and NZ First Winston Peters was on 17.5%) The Māori Television poll for the week 1-17 August sampled more than 1354 voters in seven electorates.


Q The Māori Party are aiming to take the Māori seats. Are you worried about that?


KD No I’m not worried about it. They will struggle. Tamati Coffey is only 1 point behind Te Ururoa Flavell. He could be in the lead. He’s been out on the marae, building momentum in the streets with energy. That’s the kind of vibe we’re getting.



Q What are your biggest concerns about proving yourself as a Māori leader.


KD What do you mean about proving myself?


Q I guess you’ll be scrutinised by Māori, Iwi and Hapū


KD There’s no doubt in my mind about proving myself. The only people who are threatened by me are the Māori Party. I’ve got no doubts or concerns.


Q What are people saying to you that they want from Labour?


KD It’s housing for Te Tai Tokerau. Social issues. I’ll start with P, sexual violence, domestic violence, mental health, youth suicide. That’s massive for Te Tai Tokerau and New Zealand. Housing is the biggest. It’s taking up all of our time. We need to build houses, state houses, tax people who build houses for profit and house more people in accommodation. Prisons is something else I’m interested in.  (Mr Davis referred to his work around creating better conditions for inmates in his current role as Corrections spokesperson).


Q So your whānau must be pretty stoked with your promotion?


KD Oh yeah, they said congratulations, but I’m nothing special. When I’m at home I still grab a potato peeler and peel the spuds. That’s the great thing about being around my cousins. It’s like an escape.


Q So they keep you grounded then?


KD Yeah, whānau keep you grounded. They know what I’m like. I don’t have to put on any airs and graces. If I’m having a beer with my cousins, I know I’m safe. Out in Wellington in a bar I’m on guard. Under scrutiny. I probably wouldn’t even have a beer.


Q Some Māori commentators are calling you and Jacinda, Ken and Barbie. What do you make of that?


KD (quiet laugh) Well I don’t think Ken is a 50 year old guy with grey hair. It’s flattering but highly inaccurate. Jacinda fits the bill … but I don’t.


Q Jacinda said in an interview with Anika Moa she’s a fan of the TV programme Friends. She likened herself to Ross, the Ph.D geek. Does that make you Rachael, a fashionista and sex symbol?


KD I’m neither a fashion icon or a sex symbol. I’m more like a stunning rugby player and frustrated All Black with the talent to only make it to senior reserve club rugby. If I had to say I was like someone on a TV programme I’d have to say I’m like a frustrated All Black.


Q If you had to build a hangi pit and you needed help who would you ask – Hone Harawira or Te Ururoa Flavell?


KD Neither. I’d probably choose my cousin who I can trust.


Mr Davis does have a challenging role ahead of him to influence the political beast that is the Labour Party and all its supporters and members.


That also means strengthening the pivotal base of Māori caucus MPs. The other critical lever for Mr Davis is his professional relationship with Jacinda Ardern. Aesthetically the two look polished and ready to go for it and lead. Only time will tell if this pairing of rising star politicians works.


There’s an internal dialogue Māori will consider before they vote. Which Māori voice fits best with their own aspirations. Is it the radical voice of the Mana Movement or the conservative voice of the Māori Party or the liberal voices of the Labour-Greens?


Māori will also consider social class and how they personally compare to the options in front of them. When I talk to rangatahi, some say they admire political leaders who exude “good vibes” or people with “good energy” and who can inspire and motivate. So it seems some youth might vote based on visual appeal and gut instinct.



Marama Fox, more popularly known as ‘The Fox’ in social media, was also asked what she thought the Māori Party had to offer Māori. This is her response.


“The Māori Party was established to ensure that as tangata whenua, we have our own strong, independent Māori voice in Parliament,” says Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox.


Ms Fox earned credibility in having the gumption last year to stand up for the Christmas Island detainees, by travelling to Australia to lobby the Government on the issue. Mr Davis also made an effort to travel to Christmas Island in support of the detainees.


Similar to Mr Davis, Ms Fox is outspoken and we have also seen her outrageous sense of humour. She is able to lift spirits and keep us laughing when life gets too gloomy.


Co leader of the Māori Party Te Ururoa Flavell has proved his worth and delivered in this last term of Government with the Te Reo Māori Bill, and a commitment to keeping the language alive for Iwi, Hapū and Whānau.


He led a Māori business contingent to China this year to seek out economic development opportunities and he has gained funding for rangatahi to study towards a potentially lucrative career in the ICT sector.


Perhaps Māori could benefit from considering, where do they sit on the Māori paradigm – how strongly do they identify with Iwi, Whānau, Hapū. That self-identification plays a significant part in whether someone would utilise a vote for a Māori voice in Parliament.


My Pākeha mother by adoption asked me recently if I identified more as a Māori even though I was raised in a Pākeha environment by non Māori. When it comes to my ethnicity as an indigenous person there is no doubt in my mind or heart about my Māori identity.


Elections raise interesting questions.


The Green Party is hoping to win over Māori this election by standing more Māori candidates than ever before, despite facing extinction. But with Winston Peters polling at number 2 as preferred Prime Minister, it leaves the Greens out in the cold in terms of being seen as a desirable partner for Labour. Greens leader James Shaw said recently they had “hit rock bottom”.


Yet they are still in the race for the Māori electorate seats and their priorities are ending poverty, cleaning up our rivers and climate change. But the Greens do need a white knight or a miracle to survive.


Right now, the Greens are the underdog in the election race.


These are some significant influencers that will also determine how much of the Māori vote will go to which candidate and party – Labour has historical voter support from the Ratana Movement, the Māori Party and Mana Movement are on side with Kingitanga (The Māori King Tuhetia) and the Greens are a support partner to Labour, but only just establishing as contenders for the Māori vote.


The general make-up of successful candidates for the Māori seats tends to be a mixture of those who have Māori pedigree, and note there are a few, such as Rino Tirakatene-Sullivan and Mae Reedy-Tare, who are both competing for the Te Tai Tonga seat.


What I like about Tamati Coffey standing for Labour in Waiariki, is that he hasn’t come from ‘status’. He’s an ordinary Kiwi bloke, without as far as I know, existing opportunities of prominence to draw from. He seems to be a hard-working, business owner of a cafe in Rotorua - a self-made individual.


The Māori seats are a big political pawn in this election and whoever stakes a claim knows this. The winners will gain so much more than political power. They will also gain the Mana Motuhake of the people of Aotearoa.


Here’s a snapshot of some of the more prominent candidates standing in the Māori electorates in the 2017 election.


Te Tai Tokerau


Te Tai Tokerau, friendly rivals, Kelvin Davis and Hone Harawira, will compete for the sixth time. Despite being on opposing sides there seems to be some humour remaining between the two after all these years. They’ve both worked hard - Mana has made notable efforts to get unemployed rangatahi off the streets. Kelvin has progressed issues such as eliminating domestic and sexual violence, and ensuring issues about housing and mental health and youth issues are addressed. Greens are also running a candidate for the first time in this electorate Godphrey Rudolph.


Tāmaki Makaurau


Māori represent about 83% of the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate. Whoever wins this seat needs to appeal to urban Māori. Labour MP Peeni Henare, an eloquent speaker in Te Reo and English, seeks to retain the seat. Shane Taurima of the Māori Party is known to Aucklanders for the past 10 years as a broadcaster. Hard-working Green MP Marama Davidson is ranked No 3 on the list and, if they remain in Parliament, members will probably vote her as the new co-leader alongside James Shaw.




Despite media polls, Waiariki is not a done deal for the Labour Party. Te Ururoa Flavell has held the seat since 2005 and he hasn’t made any slips ups that could cost him the seat. Mr Coffey does not speak fluent Te Reo Māori, which is important in the hearts and minds of many Te Arawa people. Mr Coffey seems to like the limelight, but politics is a long game and it may be too boring for him. It will be a close finish.




Hauraki-Waikato is a Labour Party strong-hold for Tainui’s Nanaia Mahuta. Māori in the electorate have had mixed views on King Tuhetia’s decision to back her rival candidate Rahui Papa of the Māori Party, which will continue to play out on the election campaign. Ms Mahuta has received some criticism on her usefulness as an MP after 20 years, but she will strongly contest the seat.




Marama Fox of the Māori Party will face-off against Labour MP Meka Whaitiri in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. Ms Whaitiri won the electorate seat in the 2013 by-election after the death of Parekura Horomia. Both candidates are formidable wāhine toa and would represent the electorate well. Ms Fox will be aiming to garner support from Iwi networks, friends and whānau although Ms Whaitiri has the home advantage.


Te Tai Hauāuru


Te Tai Hauāuru - Howie Tamati, former CEO of Sport Taranaki and New Plymouth District Councillor, is well liked and respected by both Māori and Pākeha in his electorate. He has a strong chance of becoming a first time MP. The seat is currently held by Labour’s Adrian Rurawhe and was formerly held by Māori Party leader Dame Tariana Turia and Māori Party president Tuku Morgan. Greens candidate Jack McDonald is standing again this year after standing in 2014. He’s part of the new generation of Green MPs.


Te Tai Tonga


Te Tai Tonga is the largest electorate of the Māori seats covering the entire South Island. Rino Tirakatene-Sullivan, Labour MP, currently holds the seat, but there has been some debate on what he has achieved for the electorate in two terms of Government. He is being fiercely challenged by Māori Party’s Mae Reedy-Tare who, in media interviews, looks and talks like she has already won.


DISCLAIMER: Helena Bethune is not a member of any political party and her views are a-political. She is a published writer and editor.