Politics

Election 2020 fires up at Rātana Pa

Election politics were in full swing at the first political event of the year with National's leader saying the Māori vote could play a key role, Dileepa Fonseka reports

Rātana started hot. 

For politicians accustomed to the consistently moderate-to-awful climate of Wellington the appearance of sunlight came as a bit of a shock to some and prompted a frantic sunblock search before events kicked off.

While the slushy cart was another option for dealing with the heat (well-patronised by the locals and within walking distance of where most would give their speeches) no politician seemed willing to risk the optics of reviving that particular political debate from 2019.

Bridges was up first, with a pitch that Māori, after giving every Māori seat and a large chunk of their party votes to Labour, needed to hold Ardern to account during the 2020 election. 

“I believe Māoridom has that power, it has the ability to make massive changes to the country for the better.”

Labour hadn’t delivered for Rātana or Māori, the hands of Ardern’s ministers were free of “calluses” and “soft like they’ve been using Palmolive”, Bridges said.  

Top of his list was a statistic that more New Zealanders were on the dole today than when National left office. 

But another statistic likely played a part in his calculation too: the Māori seats have a much higher percentage of wasted votes than the general electorates. 

“I believe Māoridom has that power, it has the ability to make massive changes to the country for the better,” Bridges told the audience. 

Votes cast for the Māori party never ended up being counted for a particular candidate and the fate of those votes could swing a close election, or perhaps even a not-so-close one.

“You challenged us when we didn't meet the mark,” Bridges said. 

"Where is the challenging now?"

"Where is the holding to account for them?"

Jacinda Ardern says the evidence is her Government has delivered. Photo: Dileepa Fonseka

Ardern answered the barrage of vaseline, callous, and delivery-related questions from reporters with a denial and a plea: give us more time. 

“I need to keep making sure that they hear the record, that they hear the evidence and at the same time we do acknowledge there’s more that we want to do,” Ardern told reporters shortly before she spoke. 

“We’ve only had that 24 months and to have reached a place where we have some of the lowest unemployment for Māori that we’ve had in a decade, more in apprenticeships, higher wages, a lower rate of prison incarceration...and we will keep going.”

As Winston Peters warned in his speech at Rātana, the public was in for a “grinding” campaign. 

“Politically speaking, there’s a lot at stake.”

Armed police

Some of the rare moments of conflict were driven by or concerned the Māori Party. 

Jack MacDonald, a former Green Party candidate in the Te Tai Hauāuru electorate which includes Rātana Pa, endorsed the Maori Party electorate candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. And earlier, former Maori Party leader Dame Tariana Turia attracted praise from Bridges who had made note of her well-publicised Waitangi Tribunal challenge of Whanau Ora.

“The biggest criminals are usually white males who wear collars and ties but the armed response team will pick on our people.”

And, late in the afternoon, Māori Party co-president Che Wilson launched a plea for the Government to abort the six-month trial of armed police teams in Waikato, Canterbury and Counties Manukau announced towards the end of October. 

Wilson said the armed response teams were turning New Zealand “into America” and alleged bias on behalf of the New Zealand Police, sparking murmurs of approval from the audience. 

“The biggest criminals are usually white males who wear collars and ties but the armed response team will pick on our people,” he said.

Symbolism

Rātana is the first event on the political calendar and occurs on the birthday of Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, founder of the Rātana church. 

He formed a historic alliance between the church and the Labour Party in 1936. 

That changed near the start of the millennium when Rātana became a multi-party affair and an important political event for politicians of all stripes. 

Ardern noted that history in her speech and the important part symbolism has played right from the founding of the church.

“From the very beginning when Tahupōtiki Ratana travelled with a copy of Te Tiriti but also a copy of the bible, that was symbolic of the importance of the spiritual and the political.”

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