Māori Party refuses to become 'political soccer ball' in Tauranga by-election

By James Perry

The Māori Party says it will not stand a candidate in the upcoming Tauranga by-election and run the risk of exposing the party to threats of violence already levelled against the party's co-leaders.

Party president Che Wilson told teaomaori.news co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer have received threats and hate speech from Tauranga residents. Residents in the suburb of Matua have also been subjected to white supremacist leaflet drops in recent months.

Wilson isn't shocked that threats have been made against his party's leaders by a small minority of people but is disappointed. 

"There's more of us who want better than that rubbish."

"The challenge for us is that we looked at the great opportunity of standing in the by-election because it's a great chance to encourage a different conversation," Wilson says. But after that consideration, it was determined it was not safe to do so.

He says while some may say backing away from the by-election could be seen as a win for the "white supremacists", it's not about whos winning or losing.

"The right has already shown that they will probably use race as a political soccer ball. We're trying to focus on a Tiriti-centric Aotearoa. Sometimes we have to take the high ground."

Tauranga's racism

An Internal Affairs report earlier this year found Tauranga is a hot spot for racist rhetoric on social media. Wilson says that was also a consideration for the party.

"If you look at Treaty settlements over the past couple of years in Tauranga, there have been issues around the return of cultural sites, there've been issues where a woman was booed for speaking Māori. These are the things that get dragged over the coals to try to win votes. Sadly, if you look at the awesome work the Curate Church is doing with one of the iwi in Tauranga, those things aren't promoted. That's the type of Tiriti-centric Aotearoa that we want.

"We're mindful that it [Tauranga] is in Rawiri's electorate as well, Waiariki. This will be a good chance to see how race is used in the Tauranga by-election for us to then be prepared in 2023."

Wilson says the nature of the leaflets, and the threats against the party are "not the beautiful Aotearoa that we actually all try to aspire for."

The by-election, to be held on June 18, is to replace the former National leader Simon Bridges of Ngāti Maniapoto, who stepped away from politics last week.