In less than a month, Wairarapa people will go to the polls to decide who will represent the region in Parliament. CHELSEA BOYLE speaks to the four main players.
Apart from the odd swing to Labour, Wairarapa has long been a National stronghold.
In 2014, that trend continued with the victory of National’s Alastair Scott, who earned 16,223 votes across the electorate, which runs from Cape Palliser in the south, up to Waipawa in the north.
But Mr Scott’s opponents – and Mr Scott himself – say things could be very close come September 23, when Wairarapa people go the polls.
For the past few weeks the four main candidates have been hitting the hustings, trying to drum up support for their campaigns locally, amidst a national election outlook that’s looking the most interesting in years.
For NZ First deputy leader Ron Mark, the Wairarapa electorate has been neglected for far too long and the people “have had it”.
He said Wairarapa was tired of being represented by backbench MPs who sit in government, or opposition, and “achieve nothing for the Wairarapa”.
People were tired of the National Party taking the seat for granted, he said.
“They have parachuted people in from outside of the electorate and this one doesn’t even live here,” he said.
“Give me three years to prove myself and if I don’t do the job, you kick me out.”
Mr Mark said he was focussed on getting better internet and cellphone service in rural areas.
“This rural broadband initiative has been a damn joke because you still can’t use a cellphone at Gladstone.”
The coverage in Pongaroa was also not good enough.
“We have had two accidents out in the Pongaroa area, where they couldn’t dial 111 from a cellphone.”
Improving the region’s roads, rail service, and bringing back the airport were high on his priority list.
Mr Mark labelled the drama around New Zealand First leader Winston Peters superannuation overpayment “dirty politics” and insisted it would not cost them votes.
National MP for Wairarapa Alastair Scott said his party was tracking well but it was a tight race.
“It’s going to a very close race and I need every blue voter to turn out to vote on the day, or early voting obviously,” he said
In rural electorates there was an urgency that was not there last time, he said.
There were a lot of policies on the table that would effect this region directly.
A lot of Labour’s proposed taxes would hit small business owners and farmers hard with a subsequent effect on the region’s job market, Mr Scott said.
He said there was a clear difference between Labour and National.
“We are the only party that supports free trade agreements, and we need to trade with the rest of the world.
“We will not bring in agriculture into the emissions trading scheme. Labour and Greens have said they will.”
Labour candidate Kieran McAnulty, who finished second last election with 9,452 votes, says he’s making ground in “true-blue country”.
“I remember knocking on doors in Pahiatua last time, and despite the fact I have family connections in that area for many, many, generations, people weren’t interested in talking to me”.
This time people were stopping him in the street to have a yarn and hear what Labour had to offer, he said.
There was a real feel for change across the country.
Labour’s water tax had not proven an Achilles heel, he said.
“The fact is what has been proposed is an initiative that’s going to ensure we address the issues around our water quality.”
It was about putting a “fair and reasonable” price on irrigation.
“Now not every farmer irrigates, and so not every farmer is going to pay,” he said.
There was a fair bit of hysteria shrouding that announcement, and a “fair amount of scaremongering from the government”, Mr McAnulty said.
“We had talk of $18 cabbages and $75 bottles of wine – I have pulled my opponents up about that, it’s doesn’t add up.”
At 12 on the party list, the message from John Hart is loud and clear, party vote green and see another MP in government who cares about Wairarapa.
He called the recent low polling a “blip” and with them tracking back up said he was certain his party would secure a place in parliament.
“Obviously we have had a turbulent few weeks, it’s been a pretty busy time,” he said.
“We are focused on our core messages; our values have not changed.”
They were focussed on taking real action on climate change, addressing inequality and poverty, and having lakes and rivers people can swim in, he said.
“That’s what we are all about,” Mr Hart said.
“If you want strong action on climate change there is only one party that is committed to a carbon neutral economy by 2050 and that’s the Green Party.”
The four candidates will debate the issues at an election evening today organised by the Wairarapa Times-Age. It will start at 5.30pm at the Carterton Events Centre.