Ron Mark addressing students while Kieran McAnulty (left), Alastair Scott, Marama Fox and John Hart listen. PHOTO/CATHERINE ROSSITER-STEAD

By Jake Beleski

jake.beleski@age.co.nz

It is becoming clear that whoever wins the Wairarapa electorate vote this year will have to face some tough questions regarding mental health in the region.

On Monday, Wairarapa election candidates were at Kuranui College to address senior students from Kuranui, Solway College and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa.

Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott (National), Labour candidate Kieran McAnulty, Green Party candidate John Hart, and New Zealand First deputy leader Ron Mark were involved along with Ikaroa-Rawhiti candidate Marama Fox, who is a Maori Party list MP.

The politicians were asked to name the main problems they think Wairarapa is facing today, and it was clear health and economic development were issues they all want to deal with.

Mrs Fox said mental health — in particular suicide and drug addiction — was devastating the Wairarapa community.

“Mental health is most important, with high rates of suicide among younger people and our farming community.

“P (methamphetamine) and alcohol addiction in our communities is widespread, and I was astounded to find out about the P trade in Wairarapa.”

She said she had seen deaths and been to funerals of children who were killed by parents on methamphetamine.

“It’s even getting down into our colleges — it grabs hold of you and does not let go.

“My advice is to avoid it like the plague.”

Mr Mark said there were three big issues facing Wairarapa on the “human side”.

As well as mental health, he highlighted unemployment and housing as two major problems.

“Essentially the housing problems resides with the government,” he said.

“Mental health appears to be one area in health that has fallen over badly in the nine years under this government, and I can’t see any improvement on the horizon.”

Infrastructure was one area where economic development could be improved, and he said the closure of the Manawatu Gorge was a prime example.

Mr McAnulty stressed the importance of “regional development” to improving things in Wairarapa.

“So often, rural areas like Wairarapa miss out.”

Slowly but surely, opportunities in rural areas were disappearing to the cities, he said.

Education and health were two areas he would like to see more funding dedicated towards.

“Wairarapa Hospital should be able to deliver, with proper funding, the healthcare required for people who live here.

“It also shouldn’t matter if you go to a small rural school or a college like Kuranui — everyone should have the same opportunities.”

Mr Scott said the issue he wanted to talk about was one he had discussed three years ago, and that was attracting more people to Wairarapa.

“With more people, you have more people in schools, more doctors and police . . . it’s a numbers game.”

He said South Wairarapa was one of the fastest growing communities in the country.

“It’s connected to Wellington and it’s affordable.

“There’s more apprenticeships in Wairarapa than ever before, and there’s jobs here for immigrants.”

Whether it was Greytown, Martinborough, or Dannevirke, there were new people coming into the electorate all the time, he said.

Mr Hart said part of the issue with mental health was a lack of investment from central government, and said it was time to reinvest in health.

Improving the economy was related to the environment, he said.

“National would have you choose between environment or the economy, but it’s the wrong way around.

“Our economy is a subset of our environment, and you don’t have to go to a huge city to work in the tech industry anymore.

“There’s an enormous opportunity here for us.”