Battle for Maori seat is under way

ROB MACINTOSH
Last updated 13:23 13/09/2011

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The first jabs have been thrown in the fight for Te Tai Tonga electorate, with sitting Maori Party MP Rahui Katene and Labour candidate Rino Tirikatene both confident conditions are more favourable than in 2008.

Ms Katene, who visited Marlborough yesterday, won the seat from Labour candidate Mahara Okeroa by just over 1000 votes in 2008.

"Last time I was up against the sitting MP who had been there for three terms and was really well known. That was a real hard slog.

"Now Labour aren't doing so well in the polls and Rino isn't as well known as Mahara Okeroa. But it will still be a hard fight."

As much as she liked her Wellington opponent, who is a part of her extended family, she was there to win, she said.

"There's so much more I want to be doing," Ms Katene said.

Working out the best way of improving the economy while maintaining a balance with our natural resources and going further with an alternative Maori justice system would be important issues, she said.

Mr Tirikatene predicts a voter backlash against the Maori Party for supporting National. Important issues such as increased cost of living, cuts to public services and the sale of state assets would have voters coming back to Labour, he said.

"People who supported the Maori Party last time feel disappointed and let down. A vote for the Maori Party is a vote for another National government and a Mana vote is a vote for no-one."

This will not be the 38-year-old's first foray into Parliamentary politics. In 1996 he stood in the central North Island Te Puku O Te Whenua electorate after his father, the original candidate, died.

Mr Tirikatene is the nephew of New Zealand's longest-serving woman MP and the first Maori woman Cabinet minister, the late Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, who served Te Tai Tonga (formerly Southern Maori) electorate.

He is also the grandson of Sir Eruera Tirikatene, who held the same seat from 1932 until dying in office in 1967.

The Green Party candidate for Te Tai Tonga is Dora Langsbury and Mana have said they will stand a candidate but have yet to name one.

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- The Marlborough Express

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