Tirikatene accuses Turei of ‘opportunistic run’ in Te Tai Tonga

By Leo Horgan

Incumbent Labour MP for Te Tai Tonga, Rino Tirikatene has accused Greens MP Metiria Turei of an ‘opportunistic run’ at the Te Tai Tonga seat during the Election Aotearoa leader’s debate on Māori Television.

Tirikatene made the accusation during the Election Aotearoa ’17 Te Tai Tonga debate, held at Wellington’s Victoria University. 

Metiria Turei stood down as co-leader and list MP for the Green Party on the 9th of August, after revelations of historical benefit and electoral fraud caused a rift among Green MPs and split opinion among the wider public.

Turei said at the time that she had decided to resign to protect her whānau from ‘unbearable’ media scrutiny.

 However, Turei remains a Green Party candidate in Te Tai Tonga, running against Mei Reedy-Taare (Māori Party) and frontrunner Tirikatene (Labour). 

An unlikely win in Te Tai Tonga is now Turei’s only chance to enter parliament.  

Māori Television’s exclusive polling of the Māori electorates shows Turei and Reedy-Taare in a virtual tie for second place at 20.7% and 22.1% respectively.  Tirikatene remains the clear front runner at 57.1%. 

Speaking at the debate, Turei appeared ready to pivot towards a serious run at Te Tai Tonga, despite the polling.

“The Green Party wants the party vote, and if you think that I’m your best representative, then give me your electorate vote as well,” said Turei,  “That is a new message from me at this election and hasn’t been heard before.

“I’m really excited about our campaign.  There’s only 20 points in it - if you actually look at it seriously - between the three candidates and I think that in a month anything is possible.”

In response, Tirikatene was quick to dispense with civilities. “I’m committed to just continuing my mahi for our whanau in Te Tai Tonga…continuing the mahi to serve them and not take an opportunistic run, which our tuahine is doing at the moment.”

When pressed on the use of the phrase ‘opportunistic run’ by host Heta Gardiner, Tirikatene equivocated, “Oh look, I’ve got the utmost respect for Metiria.  You know, she’s taken a brave stand with her issues – but she’s also paid a high price. 

“She’s ruled herself out of a future role in government, she’s stepped down from being leader of her party and she’s stood down from the list.”

Turei responded with another call to Te Tai Tonga voters, “It is true that I sacrificed a great deal in my fight to improve the incomes of the people who are most poor in this country – and we all know that they are Māori.  They are whānau Māori.  And I did put my political career at stake for that campaign.

 “Te Tai Tonga voters know that I will fight every day for our whānau to be treated with decency and dignity… I’m asking you to see me do that as your electorate MP, if that’s what you want.  You decide, not Rino, not me.”

Despite appearing to support fellow-underdog Turei in the exchange, Reedy-Taare stuck to her script when asked to comment on Tirikatene’s accusation.

“I don’t actually care, really, because I think what the Te Tai Tonga electorates are looking for is a fresh face and a fresh voice,” said Reedy-Taare, “They want a hard working advocate, a woman who is representative of them and will go into parliament and advocate for them passionately.  I am a vibrant, intelligent and completely capable Māori woman and that is what I believe Te Tai Tonga is looking for.”

Te Tai Tonga is the largest of the Māori electorates and includes the South Island, Stewart Island, The Chatham Islands as well as much of the Wellington region.