11 Sep 2017

Hone Harawira's last stand? Not if he can help it

7:41 pm on 11 September 2017

The tussle for Te Tai Tokerau this election has two old rivals shaping up for the seat: Mana's Hone Harawira versus Labour's Kelvin Davis.

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Labour's Kelvin Davis, left, and Mana's Hone Harawira Photo: RNZ

By agreement with Mana, the Māori Party is not standing a candidate in the north this time - and Mana is contesting only Te Tai Tokerau.

It's possible both men will be back in the Beehive - if voters buy what Mana's calling the 'two-for-one' deal.

Mr Harawira first took the Tai Tokerau seat for the Māori Party in 2005.

After he was expelled from the party in 2011, he formed the Mana Movement and held it through a by-election - and general election.

But voters punished him in 2014 for teaming up with internet businessman Kim Dotcom and he lost the seat to Kelvin Davis by 734 votes.

Mr Davis, a former school principal, was about to stake his political career to repeat his 2014 win, taking his name off the Labour list, and chasing only the electorate vote.

But as Labour's new deputy he was back on the list whether he liked it or not at number two.

Mr Harawira and his supporters have been quick to capitalise on that.

Mr Harawira said the groundswell started after Ngāpuhi actor Rawiri Paratene posted a video supporting him.

"He said, 'Kia ora! I'm the father of the Green Party MP Marama Davidson. But if you're on the Tai Tokerau roll, I'm recommending you vote for Hone Harawira, because if you do, we'll get two Tai Tokerau MPs.' Because Kelvin's already in there [on the list] and you'll also get Hone [as electorate MP]."

The deal's been endorsed by Dr Lance O'Sullivan and Tame Iti.

The Green Party also appeared keen. At a recent debate, Te Tai Tokerau candidate Godfrey Rudolph urged supporters to give their electorate vote to Mr Harawira.

'That's the difference between voting for me and voting for him'

Mr Davis said the two-for-one idea was a dead duck and Mr Harawira was living in a bubble.

If people wanted more Māori MPs they should party vote Labour and make sure its Northland candidate Willow Jean Prime got in, along with North Shore's Shanan Halbert, he said.

Mr Davis said Labour was poised to have the largest Māori caucus in the history of Parliament.

"That's the difference between voting for me and voting for him. I'm going to have possibly 12 Māori MPs around me as well as a caucus of around 45 MPs, maybe more.

"And we're going to achieve a heck of a lot more than someone sitting on the sidelines like [Harawira] has for the past nine years," he said.

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Labour's Kelvin Davis says Mr Harawira is living in a bubble. Photo: RNZ

Mr Davis was most proud of his campaign to improve the lives of prisoners both in New Zealand and on Christmas Island detention centre, seeing off the private prison company Serco, and walking 20 marathons to rally resistance to sexual violence.

He has also been praised for revealing the rise in homelessness in places like Dargaville this year, and he rated housing as the number one issue for Te Tai Tokerau.

"So many other issues hang on that: you can't have good health if you are homeless and you can't have a good education if you're doing your homework in the back of a car," he said.

"People are working two or three jobs and they're still broke and still struggling to pay the bills and feed their families. What's the benefit of a few people benefiting from a strong economy when the majority of people, and particularly in Tai Tokerau, are just not feeling that love?"

Judging by their debates, there was not a lot the two Te Tai Tokerau candidates would disagree on when it came to the plight of their people in the north.

Mr Harawira is respected for his plain-speaking on Treaty issues, on poverty and its causes, and his hard line on drugs and cigarettes.

If he had his way, New Zealand would be shooting the importers of P, he said.

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Mana's Hone Harawira says Te Tai Tokerau needs a fighter. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker-Wilson

Mr Harawira has also been praised for initiatives he has pioneered over the years with the help of his wife Hilda - who recently retired as the principal of the successful kura the couple founded near Kaitaia.

In the three years, since he was dumped as MP, he's busied himself with projects like 'Open the Curtains' for families who have given up on life - and organising an independent rugby league competition for the Far North.

He said voters punished him last time for teaming up with Mr Dotcom, but he believed they were ready to forgive him.

"I'm answerable to the people of Tai Tokerau and I love that. Last time they gave me a kick in the arse and said 'go home, boy'. So I got that, I understand where they're coming from."

This time he believed they would send him back to Wellington because they could - without losing Mr Davis.

And also because Te Tai Tokerau needed a fighter, he said.

But Mr Davis said the record showed Mr Harawira was likely to hurt and divide the political parties he teamed up with.

"When he can't get his way - he splits. He is destructive rather than constructive.

"Having said that, he's done some good stuff in the community and that's where he should stay."

But Mr Harawira said he had mended his fences with the Māori Party and he could work with others.

"People say I can't, but I know I can. I put up the Feed the Kids Bill and Labour and the Greens and the Māori Party and New Zealand First all supported that. I also led the campaign against tobacco and Labour supported that. You've just got to look at my record."

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