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National’s Tama Potaka wins Hamilton West byelection

On December 10, National’s Tama Potaka won the Hamilton West byelection with a comfortable 2285 vote margin ahead of Labour’s Georgie Dansey. National’s MP had 46% of the vote against Labour’s 30%, ACT’s 10%, and former Labour MP Gaurav Sharma’s 8%.

Two years ago Sharma won the seat by 21% above National’s Tim Macindoe. Sharma triggered the byelection by being ejected from the Labour Party after he complained of a bullying culture supported by Parliamentary Services.

The voter turnout for the byelection was one third of the 2020 general election—similar to the local elections in October.

Indication for national sentiment

Historically, in 17 of 18 elections the seat has been won by the party that leads the popular vote, so this a promising sign for National. The result was expected under public concern on crime and the rising cost of living, which Potaka made the most of in his campaign.

National is consistently polling in the high 30%s, at least 5% ahead of Labour (depending on the poll); however Christopher Luxon is still a less popular leader than Jacinda Ardern, especially with undecided voters.

The Prime Minister responded to the lower polling with a promise to “focus on the economy” and to re-evaluate Labour’s policy agenda. She also said she would retire some Cabinet ministers, however six of her MPs including three ministers already decided to retire at the next election.

Who is Tama Potaka?

Potaka’s parents were teachers before they returned to the family farm near Hunterville, where they worked to restore the marae that had become defunct after the community separated to move to cities in the previous decades. Potaka graduated with a law degree at Victoria University, and won a scholarship to Columbia University New York where he earned a Master’s degree in constitutional and civic rights law and then worked as an attorney.

He returned to New Zealand and married Ariana Paul, who was born and raised in Hamilton; they have three children.

Potaka was a senior advisor for NZ Super Fund and helped create the Māori Investment Fund which manages $116m from 45 Māori organisations and is the preferred partner of NZ Super. In 2020 he became CEO of the Trust of the Auckland iwi Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, and in 2021 was one of four lead negotiators for the Mōkai Pātea Treaty of Waitangi claim of four central North Island iwi.

He recently spoke to online magazine E-Tangata about his life and work to balance commercial, environmental, and Māori cultural interests toward the Māori “aspiration to create and build a nation alongside the Crown and other New Zealanders”, echoing similar lines to his 2015 NZ Herald article.

Potaka supported Labour’s government housing policy at the Green Building Council summit in September. As an undergraduate he wrote a paper arguing for co-governance. He declined an interview with Stuff questioning his difference in views with his party, but wrote a statement saying “I haven’t spent much time thinking about a university paper I wrote at law school more than two decades ago” and “co-governance is raised with me, and I’m clear that National and I don’t support co-governance of our public services”.

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