23 Sep 2020

First leaders' debate failed to take on Māori issues

6:15 pm on 23 September 2020

Political commentators seemed to be lauding National leader Judith Collins' performance in last night's TVNZ leaders' debate, but social media had entirely different takes, with some people complaining of a distinct lack of focus on Māori issues, and the one young brown voice being essentially ignored.

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Photo: Fair use / Screenshot

Talofa, Judith

Nothing quite gets social media going like a perceived racial blunder, and Judith Collins was its instigator last night.

It started when Aorere College head girl Aigagaleifili 'Fili' Fepulea'i Tapua'i put forward a scenario that concerns far too many young people in her community: "Over the course of this year, due to Covid-19, I've seen a lot of students, including my own friends, sacrificing their youth to provide for their families by dropping out to work. So what are you going to do to ensure that our students futures are taken care of in the oncoming years? So none of our students are left behind?"

The National leader opened with a remark that's given the internet a new breath of life. "Well Fili, I understand actually, my husband is Samoan - so talofa - and he was actually taken out of school when he was 15."

The response that followed outlined a need to create more jobs, "so parents can look after their children rather than the other way around."

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern echoed a similar sentiment, with the addition of raising the minimum wage and "making sure that jobs actually pay."

This led into a lengthy back-and-forth on the subject of minimum wage and tax cuts and ultimately, neither leader actually ended up answering Fili's question.

A Māori voice, or lack thereof

In its entire 90-minute run, there wasn't a single mention of Māori issues in last night's debate, and this didn't go unnoticed.

Moderator John Campbell opened with a mihi and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern ended with a whakataukī, gestures that - off the back of te wiki o te reo Māori and with glaringly Pākehā discourse in between - felt performative to some.

The debate didn't entertain a single question about Māori rights or interests, or include a Māori voice in the series of pre-recorded audience questions.

Out of touch, hesitant answers

Judith Collins doesn't know what the minimum wage is - she reckons it is "not quite $20 an hour" - and her second home sits in a trust.

Meanwhile, Jacinda Ardern could not give a concrete answer on lowering the voting age to 16 - it was "not yet" - and a question from John Campbell regarding a possible capital gains tax was met with a roundabout, reluctant 'no' from the Labour leader, who essentially conceded to the fact that voters - and her coalition partners - didn't agree with it but "not for a lack of trying" on her part.

A misinformation campaign?

The National Party and its MPs live-tweeted the night's events, pulling comments and one-liners from the two leaders to provide ongoing commentary for those who missed the debate.

The problem was, a lot of the tweets weren't actually correct. In fact, many of Jacinda Ardern's answers were misquoted, in something Damian Christie called a "deliberately organised misinformation campaign".

The Pākeha leaders debate

The TVNZ panel concluded that Judith Collins won the first debate. RNZ's Jane Patterson said Collins put Ardern under pressure.

Political commentor Morgan Godfery said Ardern is impossible to beat.

But audiences weren't particularly impressed with either leader's performance.

Some felt it epitomised Pākehā politics at its worst, failing to address issues that affect Māori and Pacific Island communities.

In short: Pākehā people discussing Pākehā issues that affect Pākehā people on a mainstream Pākehā platform designed for Pākehā people and judged by a panel of Pākehā. Āmene.

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