IF the last one is anything to go by, next week’s debate between incumbent Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell and Labour party contender Tamati Coffey is likely to be the best show in town.
Social and health provider Te Puna Ora o Mataatua is hosting the debate between the two political hopefuls on Tuesday night at the War Memorial Centre from 5.30pm. It will be the second time during this election period that Mr Flavell, the leader of the Maori Party, and Mr Coffey, a former television personality, have faced off against each other in Whakatane.
Last week they attended a debate at Te Manuka Tutahi Marae. With a lack of publicity, less than 30 people attended the event.
However, the debate was still heated with some in the crowd criticising the Maori Party, which helps to make up the coalition Government with National and United Future, perceived lack of results in key issues such as freshwater, customary marine title, homelessness and poverty.
Mr Coffey said while he had great respect for Mr Flavell, he believed the Maori Party had failed its constituents while it had been in Government.
“In the Waiariki electorate we have more than 6000 homeless people, Rotorua having the second highest homeless rate in New Zealand – that’s occurred in the last nine years,” he said.
“In the last two years Housing NZ has not replaced 4000 homes that have either been sold or demolished, but we have waiting list of 2676 Maori whanau needing a house and the Maori Housing Initiative has only returned 11 built houses and 66 consents for the grand price tag of $122 million.
“Suicide has hit record levels every year for the last three years in a row, all while health funding for health has been cut.
“There is a pay gap of $213 per week difference between Maori and non-Maori. Charter schools are being touted as successful, but they are experimental education, have some accredited teachers and get an extra $21k per student than Whakatane High School or Opotiki College and it’s our Maori kids in mainstream kura that are missing out and need the most help.”
Mr Coffey said the Government had also failed to design any good policy to protect freshwater from over-pollution.
“The Maori Party has achieved gains, in some areas, but it’s not enough. Labour intends to achieve gains for our people in the areas they tell us they need it most – homes, healthcare, education and mental health.”
However, Mr Flavell said while he believed the criticism was unfair, he could understand that people would always demand more.
“To be clear, we aren’t in Government, through our relationship accord; we have been a support partner to Government for the past nine years,” he said.
“It is often easier to criticise than celebrate success but over the last three years we’ve fought for more than $400 million directly for kaupapa Maori initiatives in the budgets.
“But the party’s influence has extended well beyond that – we pushed hard for the first increase to benefits in 43 years and our imprint was all over this year’s $2 billion family income package which will lift 50,000 kids out of poverty.
“Without us bending the ear of the Government do you think these would have happened?
“Aside from the $110 million in extra funding over the last three budgets for Whanau Ora, its influence extends well beyond its funding – we have transformed the way the Government thinks about Maori by putting whanau front and centre of its policies.”
Te Puna Ora o Mataatua chief executive Chris Tooley said the organisation decided to host next week’s debate because it understood the importance of political engagement.
“An important part of the work of Te Puna Ora o Mataatua is advocacy, providing policy submissions to Government to bring about positive change for the Eastern Bay of Plenty community.
“But it’s also about acting as an intermediary so that whanau can have direct access to politicians so they can communicate with them directly and form their own views.”
Waiariki a former Labour stronghold
WHILE Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell has held the Waiariki Maori seat since 2005, the electorate region was previously a Labour stronghold.
The seat was first established at the 1999 election when it was won by Mita Ririnui, who collected more than double the votes of second placegetter, Te Tawharau’s Tuariki Delamere.
The 2002 election saw Mr Ririnui take a commanding lead, with 9361 votes. His closest rival, Rihi Vercoe of the newly-formed Mana Maori Party gained 2644 votes.
Then, along came the Maori Party to challenge in the 2005 election and Mr Flavell’s entry to Parliament was assured, after beating Mr Ririnui, 10,392 to 7521.
Mr Flavell’s majority increased in 2008, with the votes 12,781 against Mr Ririnui’s 5969.
However, in 2011 the vote was much closer, with Mr Flavell’s 7651 not a great deal ahead of Mana Party hopeful Annette Sykes’ 5768, and Labour’s Louis Te Kani on 4355.
Mr Flavell’s majority increased again in 2014 when he gained 9726, with Labour’s Rawhiri Waititi on 5837 and Mana’s Sykes on 5482.
This election, Mr Flavell is up against former broadcaster Tamati Coffey and a Labour poll taken in July puts Mr Coffey snapping at Mr Flavell’s heels, with the gap a close 1.5 percent.