Though it was disappointing that only three political parties were represented, it was still a full house at the Mangawhai Golf Club last week to see and hear how each saw the political landscape and their major focus leading up to the elections. The meeting was organised by the Mangawhai Business Development Association and chaired by Jo Roberts.
Locals were able to meet-and-greet labour’s Willow-Jean Prime, and new National candidate, Okaihau farmer and former frontline policemen Matt King along with incumbent NZ First Leader Winston Peters. All candidates agreed this is a serious election and placed major emphasis on infrastructure, education and industry.
It was a long two-and-a-half hour trip to Mangawhai for Moerewa Mum Willow-Jean Prime and her three-week-old daughter with Mangawhai presenting a very different world socially and economically from that of the Far North. She spoke about a lifetime of living and working in less affluent areas and thus has a good handle on major issues of poverty, employment and a serious need to address the 1:28 teacher/pupil ratio that is an impediment to good education. How to attract more teachers to the Far North and retain and support them was a big problem.
New National candidate Matt King was up front in saying this is the hardest job he has ever had – becoming more widely known to voters and working on winning back what was once a strong National seat. The one-lane-bridges projects are about to begin. Major highways are a way off yet but guaranteed to happen opening up Northland to better access and consequently more industry and more employment, and the continuing progression of cellphone towers and rural broadband essential for modern communication. National has allocated big money for schools both new and upgrades, plus a $10m upgrade of Kawakawa hospital. Interest rates were also at an all-time low.
Incumbent Winston Peters reiterated the infrastructure problems, was sceptical about when and how many one-way bridges would be replaced and said the present Government had neglected Northland development for far too long. He stressed the need for controlled immigration, one law for all, no separatism and no Maori elite. The north has plenty to offer but it needs investment to increase productivity and laws to protect our earnings as banks are all owned overseas.
A question from the floor challenged the National candidate to acknowledge the disaster that had led to the Kaipara rates debacle. Another from the floor asked for the reinstatement of Community education important in furthering skills and in re-training
people to re-enter the workforce. Questions relating to the Mangawhai Wastewater issue were largely lost on Prime and King and not election issues, however Winston Peters, being the only one with any depth of knowledge about the saga endorsed his intention of getting restitution for Mangawhai ratepayers should he be part of the Government, and stop the retrospective passing of legislation.
In summary, Willow-Jean Prime is a new face to Mangawhai people though she polled top in her electorate at the last election and the recent change in Labour’s leadership and subsequent rise in popularity could well put her in the right place at the right time.
Matt King acknowledges the enormity of his task in claiming back what was formerly a National stronghold and will probably retain much of the rural vote and is working hard to become recognised throughout the electorate.
There is no doubting the popularity of Mr Peters who must be an odds-on favourite among locals to retain his seat, but as a betting man he would be wise to remember the punters edict that you never back an odds-on favourite in a small field. He won his seat by 4000 votes in the 2015 by election from a total 30,000 votes but has yet to face a general election in Northland.
MEET AND GREET: Public interest was high at a meeting of election candidates held at Mangawhai Golf Club last week.