Independent candidate James Harold, National MP Alastair Scott, NZ First candidate Ron Mark, Labour candidate Kieran McAnulty at Featherston’s debate on Tuesday. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

BECKIE WILSON

beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

Conflicting views came to the fore at a Meet-the-Candidates night in Featherston on Tuesday.

In the eyes of Featherston resident Mike Schischka, who is “sitting on the fence” between Labour and National, Labour’s Kieran McAnulty spoke most honestly about the region.

But for Martinborough resident, and Labour supporter, Cathy Hutchison, NZ First candidate Ron Mark spoke well and she was surprised at how tough the debate was.

The Featherston RSA was filled with about 130 “passionate locals” keen to probe four candidates on real issues affecting Wairarapa.

Fronting the gathering were Kieran McAnulty (Labour), Alastair Scott (National, MP), Ron Mark (NZ First), and James Harold (Independent).

Marama Fox (Ikaroa-Rawhiti) and John Hart (Green Party) who were invited for the debate sent their apologies for missing the event.

Hot topics included affordable housing, increasing school class sizes and teacher aide funding, the MPI’s response to pea weevil, water tax and DHB funding.

All the candidates shared similar values on how to tackle Wairarapa’s high suicide rate.

Mr Harold blamed self-harm on pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to those with depression, the amount of “heckling” in schools and the number of homeless people who can’t afford to live.

Mr Scott said the Ministry of Health had acknowledged suicide rates as a serious issue, and that the ministry was looking at ways of combating it.

Mr Mark said the high suicide rates were due to both Labour and National policies failing to provide adequate care for those in need.

Mr McAnulty said every suicide was preventable and more money needed to allocated to the services that mattered most.

The candidates were also asked what they thought was a reasonably affordable housing price in Wairarapa.

Mr Harold said he would like to see housing costs brought right down.

Mr Scott said the region had seen a lot of affordable housing, proved by the increase in buyers.

But Mr Mark said what someone on a benefit thought was affordable compared to what a MP thought was different.

He said 2500 people in the region could not afford to pay rent let alone buy a home.

Mr McAnulty was the only candidate to put a dollar figure on housing.

He said as Wairarapa’s average income was below the national average, house prices should range between $120,000 and $300,000.

When asked what their party would do to boost funding for the underfunded, understaffed and under-equipped Wairarapa DHB, the answers stirred the crowd.

NZ First believed the health funding model, particularly for rural New Zealand was flawed, Mr Mark said.

“It doesn’t take into account when you transport cancer patients over the [Rimutaka] hill that there is trauma introduced just in the transporting alone,” he said.

Mr McAnulty was concerned with the DHB’s deficit rating, being classified in the worst bracket and having a red status.

What mostly stirred the audience was Mr Scott’s remark “the health sector is in good shape”.

Under National leadership, the DHB had seen 10 more doctors and 30 more nurses since 2008, he said.

Mr Harold drew more on the fact that the government was ignoring another sort of medicine, “not just homeopaths” but the impact growing hemp could have as an alternative medicine.

Hemp can be used for over 50,000 uses from food, shelter and clothing, he said.

On a lighter note, Jane McGruddy asked each candidate which muppet they felt they most related to.

Mr McAnulty “had a soft spot for Beaker”, Mr Mark dubbed himself Kermit, Mr Harold chose Animal, and Mr Scott was “thinking of Sesame Street, that guy in the rubbish bin – whatever his name is”.

All candidates were asked to name a street in Featherston. Only Mr Mark had no answer, admitting

he “was struggling right now” and couldn’t think of one.

Organiser Ritchie Wards was impressed with the large “passionate” turnout to the first South Wairarapa candidates’ debate.