Good times were had last night as Maori Television's Native Affairs show held their live Kowhiri 11 at the brand new Te Wharewaka down on Wellington's waterfront. The Maori politics program is holding town hall meetings in all the Maori electorates during the election campaign, and last night was Te Tai Tonga's turn.
Your intrepid cannabis campaigner/ blogger was there to witness the evening. A bunch of cannabis law reformers staked out a mini protest outside the entrance to Te Wharewaka, educating the invited studio audience arriving before the gig. Had a few good yarns with a Mana supporter and an old Labour hand. In the quieter moments, I watched the TVNZ Key Goff-off on the cafe's TV. The reggae music that had been playing earlier on over the PA had been switched off in favour of the leader's debate.
We behaved ourselves and were rewarded with invites to the filming of the Native Affairs debate. I have been in the studio audience of TVNZ shows such as Media 7 and Back Benches, but Maori Television's way of doing things is unique. The floor manager kept the audience in check with korero and ka pais. During broadcast, the audience was more bolshie and good humoured than regular studio audiences, more like a wharenui crowd than the studio seat warmers.
But the big surprise of the night was how the electorate candidates handled the debate. The candidates for Te Tai Tonga are the Maori Party's Rahui Katene, Labour's Rino Tirikatene, the Greens' Dora Langsbury and Mana Party's Clinton Dearlove.
The Maori Party's Katene got some stick from the audience over the party's close links with the National Party. A seat at the cabinet table was treated with the disdain of lying down with dogs. Labour's Tirikatene seemed to rely on nostalgia and waffle for the most part. He had a mild panic over an audience question over the halted funding by the National government for the diabetes service. He almost promised that Labour would re-fund the service if elected, before hastily reversing out of any firm commitment to anything.
No, the big winners of the night were the Greens' Dora Langsbury and Mana's Clinton Dearlove. The former, while not Maori, answered more insightfully on the Maori language and training themes due to her work with Te Wananga o Aotearoa. The latter took the gift of the gab award for fluently and passionately outlining what he saw was wrong with the status quo.
It was an added bonus to meet fellow blogger, Maui Street's Morgan Godfrey too. He had rightly sheeted the thrust of the debate down to anger at National's treatment of Maori:
"The [Nats] are shitting on Maori tikanga."