4 Nov 2011

Te Tai Tonga candidates stick to national themes

10:13 am on 4 November 2011

The fight for the largest electorate in New Zealand was on show on Thursday night when Te Tai Tonga candidates attended a forum in Dunedin.

The Maori seat hopefuls put their environmental and education policies to a forum on sustainability, held by a local radio station.

But the candidates did not stray far from national themes.

Te Tai Tonga is seen as a two-horse race, with Labour candidate Rino Tirikatene strongly challenging sitting Maori Party MP Rahui Katene.


At the meeting Labour's man brought the fight, focusing often on the Maori Party's support arrangement with National.

Rahui Katene defended the party's record, saying it had won $624 million of programmes for Maori. Mr Tirikatene called that money meaningless, saying it was just being taken from existing programmes and renamed.

But Ms Katene was not deterred, saying there was no money from Labour before for Maori "because they were too scared to be seen to be using money that was labelled for Maori."

The candidates did agree on many other things, all supporting calls for a moratorium on deep-sea oil exploration and the growing mining technique called fracking.

They also questioned South Island iwi Ngai Tahu's plans to convert 50,000 hectares of forest to dairy farms.

The Mana Party's candidate was not at the meeting, but another party member James Gluck defended the iwi's right to make that decision.

Some of the tensions of working inside a mainstream party surfaced, with Green Party candidate Dora Langsbury admitting parts of its fisheries policies did not fit within the Maori value system.


But time and again, the discussion returned to the national themes of education and employment, with Ms Langsbury saying the Green Party was the only one with a plan to create 100,000 new jobs.

When one woman in the audience said she has two Master's degrees but couldn't get a job, the Maori Party's Rahui Katene said it was an indictment on the system.

But if Ms Katene couldn't help her out, Labour's Rino Tirikatene suggested he could.

The woman said she had already reached her full potential and now just needed a job to match.