• Video: Labour Ikaroa-Rāwhiti candidate says she is ready to serve the region’s people in Parliament

Video: Labour Ikaroa-Rāwhiti candidate says she is ready to serve the region’s people in Parliament

Ngāti Porou stalwart Cushla Tangaere- Manuel never had any political ambition until she decided to step up to be the Labour Ikaroa-Rāwhiti candidate and now she is ready to serve the people.

Tangaere-Manuel, who has had a long history in rugby administration on the East Coast and at a national level, came into the election race late after Labour’s then candidate and former government Minister Meka Whaitiri sensationally defected to Te Pāti Māori. Labour went on a search for a new candidate and landed on Tangaere-Manuel, whose family had long-standing ties with the party and the former local MP Parekura Horomia.

“Someone said to me, ‘Man, I wish I knew you had political ambitions, I would've shoulder tapped you.’ And I said, "I didn't." When Labour found themselves needing a candidate at very short notice, it's a privilege to have been trusted with the candidacy.”

“I think the people trust me. Number one, our family's got a long history with Labour, particularly with Parekura Horomia, but two, they've seen that I've been born into a life of service. They trust me, they know we've got a lot to go through and they know that I'll go through it with them.”

With a vast electorate to cover, Tangaere-Manuel has a campervan that she and her husband use to drive the length and breadth of the East Coast.

She says having worked in rugby administration for many years, as CEO of Ngāti Porou East Coast Rugby Union and then as New Zealand Rugby's Māori rugby programme manager, has prepared her for politics.

“Someone said to me, ‘What a leap, from rugby to politics.’ I said, ‘Not at all.’ Even in Ngati Porou, that's like a mini beehive. I've got to respect the mana motuhake of every club and every ground. And New Zealand rugby, exactly the same. With all the provincial unions, you have to balance the individual rights with the greater good.”

She says that while being a late starter to the campaign meant she had less time to build up name recognition, the “beauty of it is no time to muck around, no time for doubts, just having to get out there”.

“That said, we did sit down and strategise how best to do this. So the strategy was sort out my own backyard first. So we went around the East Coast, because even though I'm a Ngāti Porou girl through and through, you can't take anything for granted.”

“Nobody likes being taken for granted and I didn't want our people to feel that way. And I wanted to know that when I was out in the wider district, I did indeed have the support of home. And from there, I've pretty much been on the road ever since.”

Tangaere-Manuel says that showing respect for her opponent Whaitiri is important to her.

“Before I moved the campaign further south, and particularly into Ngati Kahungunu, I did reach out to Meka out of respect, knowing that her whakapapa here is strong. And just letting her know soon I'll be coming onto her whenua, so to speak. And wherever I've been, it's been important for me to start with at a whakatau at a marae to arrive properly before I go taki taki around on their whenua.”

“My job is to listen to the people and to earn their trust and to earn their respect as their MP. So I'm really heartened by the responses I've had everywhere I've been.”

“There might've been a couple of hesitancies because when you've been with someone for 10 years, sometimes you have that sense of loyalty, but ultimately people have given me the opportunity to enter their spaces and we've had good korero.”

Last month A Whakaata Māori exclusive poll showed that Tangaere-Manuel with an eight-point lead over Whaitiri. The poll, conducted by Curia Market Research placed Tangaere-Manuel at 33% and Whaitiri on 25%. But the field is still wide open with 29% of those polled still undecided on which candidate they will choose.

Tangaere-Manuel said the result was humbling and pleasing, but she acknowledged that the only poll that counts is on election day.

“I've been saying to a lot of people, ‘Giving me a hug and patting me on the back is lovely, but I need you to turn up and vote.’ And so we did a bit of a promotion to our whanau living overseas as well.”

She says she has had many people bringing their issues of concern to her.

“They're no secret to anyone. The cost of living, housing, health. The big thing in terms of Ikaroa- Rāwhiti, that's really important, is no matter what we're talking about, whanau, hapu, iwi want to be heard.“

“They want to be involved not just in delivery. Because we saw during COVID, we saw during the cyclone, iwi stood up quickly and iwi stood up effectively. But those were responses. We want to have a voice from design to delivery.”

She says she will help people by listening to them and advocating for them, as well as helping them with “common sense things”.

“One particular elderly group asked, ‘Can we get paid weekly instead of fortnightly?’ And for them, that's going to help with budgeting and sadly address the issue of, ‘Oh, some of my grandchildren know that I'm rich this fortnight.’ That's a whole another issue as well. But things don't have to be major changes to have a profound impact on people's lives. And that's the value of just listening to what they want.”

“They love the free prescriptions and the energy payments. GST off fruit and veggies, some people have coughed at that. But when you're talking to people in Wainuiomata at the food bank who are telling me $5 means parents can get the nappies and the tea bags. If you haven't been in that position, you don't know how impactful $4.90 might be to you.”

“It’s about incentivising work. Helping people by increasing the working for families payments, I really like that. We want to lift people and there is mana in working.”

Early voting opens on Monday with election day on Saturday, 14 October. Also throwing his hat in the ring for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti is Vision NZ candidate, Ata Tuhakaraina, a BNZ community support worker from Wellington.

 Watch the accompanying video for the full interview with Cushla Tangaere- Manuel.