Labour candidate eyes Southland

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2011
Rino Tirikatene
NICOLE GOURLEY/Fairfax NZ

FEELING HOPEFUL: The Labour candidate for Te Tai Tonga, Rino Tirikatene, second from left, with massage student Bailey McCulloch, left, Kaumatua Riki Cherrington and Kaiawhina Marcia TeAu-Thomson at SIT yesterday.

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Labour's Te Tai Tonga candidate Rino Tirikatene has a lot of ground to cover in his campaign before November 26.

The huge Maori electorate stretches from Wellington to Stewart Island and, should Mr Tirikatene win the seat off the Maori Party's Rahui Katene, he would be just as busy as he is now.

He managed to visit Invercargill for four days this week for a series of meetings with Maori roll voters and Maori organisations.

Although Invercargill is not known for its large Maori population, Mr Tirikatene said the city was one of the electorate's top three centres.

Mr Tirikatene is one of the few bright spots for Labour in this election, with many political commentators predicting he will win the seat off Mrs Katene.

According to political betting site iPredict, he has a 70 per cent chance of winning.

"I feel really buoyed by that and it's been reflected in the polls," he said. "It's encouraging to have that sort of good news and it's given me momentum."

In such a vast electorate, it was important to visit as many places as possible, he said.

"After this I'm going through Clutha-Southland and it's just the West Coast to go," he said.

Another road trip was planned nearer the election.

The size of his patch also means there are many local issues jostling for attention.

Maori rights issues, such as the foreshore and seabed, would not be as big a concern for Maori voters in this election, he said, and he was campaigning on issues like the economy and the cost of living.

He was keen to point out Maori voters had the chance to voice their opinion of the deal between the Maori Party and National.

"There's a very strong core Labour support who felt really let down when [the Maori Party] went in with National. I think in a sense it's good as it leaves a clear choice."

He also played down his relationship to Mrs Katene, who said his selection by Labour was cynical because he was a member of her hapu. "All Maoris connect up somewhere along the line," he said. "We're not close at all ... they say we're all related if we go back far enough."

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