Tauranga by-election: 'Absolutely no evidence' to back up Te Pāti Māori decision

6:03 pm on 13 May 2022

Tauranga by-election candidates are upset and feel insulted about Te Pāti Māori's decision not to stand a candidate for safety reasons.


Te Pāti Māori president Che Wilson announced the decision earlier today and labelled Tauranga a hotspot for white supremacy.

"A Department of Internal Affairs Report published in April this year confirmed that hate speech from white supremacists on social media is the largest form of hate speech in this country," said Wilson.

"Tauranga is a hotspot.

"By standing in the by-election, we would be consciously sending our people into an unsafe environment and can only imagine how hard this is for our whanaunga and iwi of Tauranga Moana.

"The first hate-speech conviction and the belittling of te reo Māori at a public event took place in Tauranga," he said.

"Tauranga residents have been subjected to white supremacist leaflet drops, and even our co-leaders have been the recipient of threats and hate speech by Tauranga residents."

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The upcoming by-election is to replace retiring National MP Simon Bridges.

Minister of Internal Affairs and Labour candidate Jan Tinetti said she was upset the party didn't think it was safe.

"I'm really sad for them that they feel that way, but it's a decision that each individual party does have to make," she said.

"It is a charged political environment at the moment and, so each party needs to take that into account when they're looking at what they're going to do in this by-election.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi has received threats and hate speech from Tauranga residents.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi has received threats and hate speech from Tauranga residents. Photo: Sun Media

Act candidate Cameron Luxton said he was insulted to hear Tauranga labelled a hot spot for white supremacists an called for the party to apologise.

"There is absolutely no evidence to back up this claim," he said.

"It's just wrong to say something like that, about a group of people who go about their lives, treating each other with dignity.

"And when that sort of slander is thrown against a whole town it's not right," said Luxton.

New Conservative co-leader and Tauranga candidate Hele Houghton agreed with Luxton.

"I think it is absurd to claim a whole city is racist because a few people have a view that might differ from others," she said.

"Racism is an individual issue, not a city's issue.

"Racism is thrown about too frequently by extremist views of a small number of people who do not often speak on behalf of those they claim are victims of racism."

Independent candidate Peter Wakeman claims Te Pāti Maori aren't standing because they "don't want to face up to election scrutiny".

"Te Pāti Maori's decision not to stand in the by-election for safety reasons is very disappointing," he said.

"I do acknowledge some small pockets of racism, but I believe the real factor stems from inequality."

NZ Outdoors and Freedom Party's Sue Grey said she hadn't seen racism in the month she'd been living in Tauranga.

"I've been amazed at the diversity of the people that I've met at the meetings I've been to," she said.

"I've seen a lot of people who are really concerned about the changes in New Zealand over the last couple of years.

"And I've seen a lot of concern about this, almost intentional divide and conquer sort of attitude of dobbing your neighbour in, but I haven't seen it on a racist ground.

"We are all in this waka together. The more we listen, understand, respect and cooperate with each other, the more chance we have of enjoying the journey"

Tinetti's agreed about Tauranga's diversity and said it had grown in the 16 years she has lived there.

"One of the things that has upset me in recent times is the narrative around Tauranga has a lack of diversity," she said.

"That's not the Tauranga that I know, we have a growing diversity within the city. We have a very strong mana whenua and other cultures coming in."

When asked if Tauranga was a racist city, Tenetti said: "There's a growing diversity and I think that Tauranga is richer for it".

"But I think the Māori Party has a point," she said.

"There are people who have put their head up above the parapet and we know that those people certainly have a racist element, but really that's not what I see on a day-to-day basis," said Tinetti.

"I think it's very much becoming minority. Sometimes unfortunately, it's a loud minority."

The white supremacist flyers Wilson referenced were pasted to the windows of Tinetti and fellow Labour MP Angie Warren-Clark's office in April.

The leaflets were titled "it's all right to be white" and had previously been distributed in the suburb of Matua.

Tinetti condemned the pamphlets but did not want to "glorify the behaviour".

"I will call out racism, call it out every single time, because if you don't, you're complicit in it," she said.

"I think that these people do things like this to get noticed and it, almost glorifies that for them."

When asked about the leaflet drops Luxton said: "If I had the power to ask the question of parliament about what police are doing to investigate these issues, [I would] absolutely do that."

"But that doesn't mean that you would string an entire group of people [together] based on the actions of a few," he said.

"I grew up in this city and I'm raising my family here. It's full of wonderful, hardworking and caring people.

"Like all cities, there are isolated incidents of racism. What we need is political leaders that reject racism and seek common ground.

"Instead, the Māori Party is trying to fight racism by stereotyping a whole group of people," he said.

Wilson said Te Pāti Māori was focused on a more just Tiriti-centric Aotearoa.

"We know Tauranga Moana is an amazing place; rich with history and there is hope, but sadly, this is politics, and the race card will mean that Māori will be used by some as a political football and we are unwilling to expose our people to that rubbish," he said.

Candidates from the National Party, New Nation Party and Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party have been approached for comment.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air