12 Oct 2020

Labour MP Meka Whaitiri leading Ikaroa-Rāwhiti electorate

7:27 pm on 12 October 2020

Three wāhine are in the race for the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, with Labour incumbent Meka Whaitiri holding a strong lead in the polls.

The electorate extends from the top of East Cape to the Wellington region, including Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa.

Labour's Ikaroa Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri

Meka Whaitiri Photo: Supplied

The experienced MP has the backing of 46 percent of voters in the electorate according to a Māori Television Curia Research Poll, with 19 percent backing Māori Party's Heather Te Au-Skipworth, and 3 percent backing Greens' Elizabeth Kerekere.

Whaitiri credits the result to her relentless grassroots campaign, the popularity of her leader Jacinda Ardern and her advocacy for investments across the region.

But she said the campaign wasn't over.

"We've always campaigned on the basis that we've got to go hard and not to get complacent," she said.

"That poll for me really is a reflection of our grassroots campaign. It's our third general election and we have a good ground-swell of supporters and of course being a major party, and having the capacity to campaign strongly is in our favour.

"But until the polls close, we are just tracking along as we've planned."

The electorate has 35,000 people enrolled to vote.

Housing remains a critical issue in many areas, with a waiting list of more than 500 in Te Tai Rāwhiti, and more than 400 families living in hotels in the Hawke's Bay.

Whaitiri said work was already underway to address the need for housing by building the construction workforce and creating partnerships with relevant stakeholders.

But she would explore opportunities for utilising Māori land for housing if elected.

"A lot of land sitting idle in my electorate is in the hands of Māori, then you've got Māori who hold general title land.

"It becomes an issue of applying through council building processes, which brings up the RMA, which people say inhibits the quick turnaround of building homes, so Labour is looking into that."

Trailing behind Whaitiri in the electorate is the Māori Party's Heather Te Au-Skipworth, who is best known as the founder of IronMāori.

Heather Te Au-Skipworth, Māori Party candidate for Ikaroa-Rawhiti

Heather Te Au-Skipworth, Māori Party candidate for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. Photo: Supplied.

More than 50,000 people have taken part in the half-marathon triathlon event to date, and Skipworth said she wanted to translate the values underpinning the programme to parliament.

"IronMāori was never about the swimming, the bike, the run or the walk. It was about the environment we created that made people feel equal," she said.

"IronMāori was created out of frustration because the current health system wasn't aiding our people. It's about translating the ethos and the values of IronMāori into another sphere, and taking my experience and knowledge of people to parliament."

The Ikaroa-Rāwhiti hopeful, who has also worked for the Hawke's Bay District Health Board for the last seven years, has been travelling the length of the electorate during her campaign, and has found housing, employment and meth addiction to be among the critical issues facing the people.

"My son was seduced by that drug, so I know the horrid impacts that it has on a family, as well as the person that is on that substance. But it's not just about that person, there are nāt enough wrap-around services for the whānau or the wider whānau," she said.

"New Zealand racing got more than 70 million during Covid-19 lockdown... can you imagine if they invested that into mental health and addiction. You can always say there will never be enough money, but it needs to go into concentrated kaupapa-Māori valued services."

"We've got lots of services that are doing this stuff for free. Imagine if we resourced them."

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, Green Party candidate for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. Photo: Leigh Marama McLachlan/RNZ

Green Party candidate Elizabeth Kerekere, who is number nine on the party list, admits she is not as well known in the electorate as her competitors.

"I've been working nationally and internationally for a long time, and my travels don't often take me to parts of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, so I acknowledge that I'm up against two wāhine who are well known in their areas, they're amazing, and I've been quite clear that I'm asking for the party vote," she said.

Kerekere has spent her life as an activist and community worker, advocating for the Māori LGBTIQ and Rainbow communities, treaty relations and youth development in various settings including at the United Nations.

"I'm a person who has been working for our people for the last 40 years, most of that is un-paid because that is what I'm driven to do, and that is what I care about," she said.

"I have a particular heart for our young people and our takatāpui and rainbow people, but really for the mana of each person to have their own voice."

She said she would work closely with iwi and marae leaders if elected, to come up with collective solutions to lift Māori out of poverty and into houses.

"Housing is key, it's an issue everywhere, and it is urgent... I'm very much driven to work with our local providers, our people who are on the ground, our marae leaders and our iwi and hapū leaders, to say what is the need and what is the best way we can support what you see needs to be done?"

"Whether it be papakāinga housing, or rent to own- type schemes or just building a pile of affordable state housing to give people some security, because everything else flows onto that."

Her passions include suicide prevention, violence prevention, healthy relationships, housing and research.

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