Labour leader Chris Hipkins leads Labour MPs and candidates on to the Manukau Urban Marae in Mangere, South Auckland, yesterday.

The election has come down to South Auckland with Labour claiming they are seeing a surge in support and now hope they can pull off a repeat of 2005 when public housing tenants in South Auckland got them over the line.

Then the issue was National proposing to end income related rents.

Now Labour believes that National’s proposal to adjust benefits only for inflation instead of moving them up with wage increases could have the motivating power to get out the usually largely non voting South Auckland population.

Labour’s spirits were up yesterday after they claimed overnight polling showed they needed to win less than 100,000 votes to get ahead of a centre-right coalition.

So Hipkins spent yesterday and will spend all of today in South Auckland looking for those votes, an extraordinary concentration on one area at the end of a campaign when leaders usually try and cover as many bases as they can.

And that focus on the South Auckland vote explains why he went on the offensive over National’s plans during last night’s TVOne Leaders Debate.

Things got passionate with Hipkins claiming Luxon’s moral compass had gone while Luxon kept telling him to calm down.

National’s fiscal plan estimates that indexing benefits to inflation would save the government $2 billion over the next four years.

Hipkins argued that was really a cut since it was money that beneficiaries might have expected to get but would now not.

So, Labour are focusing the last 24 hours of their campaign on those parts of urban New Zealand with large numbers of beneficiaries.

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They already know they are the most difficult to get to vote.

In 2005, former Labour Party President Mike Williams was the architect of the party’s famous narrow victory when he mobilised that South Auckland vote.

In a weekend newspaper column, he said: “High turnout in the South Auckland electorates arrived late in the evening and won that election for Labour.

“Post-election analysis showed that state house tenants – about 210,000 voters – turned out for Labour in unprecedented numbers in response to Don Brash’s policy of abolishing Labour’s income-related rents and applying market rentals.”

That is why Hipkins spent most of yesterday in South Auckland and will spend all day there today.

And that is why one of the most passionate moments in last night’s debate was about benefits.

Luxon: “We are not cutting benefits. We are increasing benefits each and every year.”

Hipkins: “What do you make of the difference we have from what we would give them ….”  

Luxon: “We are making sure that people are protected by the cost of living and inflation.”

Hipkins: “So where do the $2 billion in cuts come from.”  

Luxon: “They are not cuts. We are increasing benefits.”

Hipkins: “$2 billion is currently budgeted that you are going to cut. That is a cut.”

Luxon: “Listen, you need to listen to Taylor Swift when she says, I need you to calm down. Right. That’s really important.”

Hipkins: “I’m not going to calm down about you cutting benefits to give landlords who have plenty, tax breaks…You’re going to put thousands more children in poverty. Your moral compass is gone.”

Hipkins began yesterday at the Waatea Marae in Mangere, the urban Marae founded by the father and mother of Maori Development Minister Willie Jackson, who is now its chair.

In a strong speech, he decried racism in New Zealand and in the campaign.

“I think that by Maori for Maori solutions work,” he said.

“National used to believe that as well.

“In this election, I’ve talked about how disappointing it’s been for National, Act and New Zealand First to use race as a wedge to divide the country.

“It’s a strategy that seeks to make New Zealanders believe if one part of our society is getting something, then maybe others are missing out due to the special privileges narrative followed by the one law for all slogan.”

He singled out ACT’s [proposal to take the legislative impact of the Treaty of Waitangi back to where it was before the Appeal Court decision of 1987, affirming that its fundamental principle was partnership.

“This election, let’s remember the things that make us who we are, the things that make us great,  the things that make us proud to be Kiwi,” he said.

“We’ve beaten back those who tried to divide us before, and we need to stand together again.”

POLITIK National leader, Christopher Luxon at a Te Atatu early childcare centre yesterday.

Luxon yesterday visited an early childhood education centre in Te Atatu, some of whose parents would benefit from National’s proposal to introduce a childcare tax rebate of up to $75 per week on the costs of childcare.

But oddly, he didn’t highlight the policy proposal during his visit.

If National gets to form a government with NZ First and ACT, he would be pressured to take a more conservative line on race relations.

But speaking to journalists after the childcare visit, he again emphasised that he would not agree to the ACT proposal to have a referendum on its proposed changes to the Treaty.

And he rejected Hipkins’ charges that if he won, Maori would lose.

He said Hamilton West MP Tama Potaka had done “a brilliant job” getting around and understanding issues with Maori. 

“We’ve been meeting with them individually ourselves, and we want to push on and actually get things done,” he said.

“We’ve been largely supportive of the investment across Maori development portfolios.

“But we need to get delivery as well. 

“We want to improve outcomes for Maori and for non-Maori.”

He repeated National’s policy to increase benefits by the rate of inflation rather than wage increases.

But he added a rider.

“Secondly, what I’d just say to you is that we need to grow this economy,” he said.

“We need to create jobs because, actually, a pathway off welfare to work has to be our goal.

“And when we see a government that has put 16,000 more people on unemployment, that is unacceptable.”

It is that hint that National would not only spend less on benefits but also be tougher on who got them that Labour today will undoubtedly be having its door knockers and phone bank callers saturate South Auckland and other high beneficiary suburbs with today.

Getting the usually reluctant beneficiary non-voters to go and vote is now Labour’s only path to power.

But during the 2005 campaign, the lead in various polls sawsawed between National and Labour.

In this campaign, Labour has been behind all the way.

The votes are potentially there, but Williams said winning them was challenging.

“Those who vote now and again – intermittent non-voters – make up more than half a million electors, and they mostly are drawn to vote for negative reasons,” he said.

“In other words, when they bother to vote, it is against a party which threatens their usually modest level of comfort.

“These are amongst the most difficult electors to contact; they typically don’t watch or listen to the news, and few read the newspapers.”

Yet, quite possibly, they will be the real kingmakers tomorrow.