Labour leader Andrew Little was in Wairarapa yesterday for the party’s New Year caucus meeting.
Times-Age reporter Hayley Gastmeier caught up with him at Brackenridge Country Retreat in Martinborough, a town he once called home.
What brings you to Wairarapa?
The Labour caucus has been having its retreat, which we do right at the beginning of the year. It’s about looking through to the year ahead. Obviously because it’s election year we’ve had quite a bit of talk about the planning and preparation for the general election, and the campaign associated with that. It’s largely been about getting the caucus focused on what is planned, and the expectations of them, for the year ahead.
We’ve come here before, it’s out of Wellington but not so far away that it’s difficult for people to get to. We like to come here, it’s a good venue, and a slightly more relaxed way to start the year – get people into a good frame of mind as we hit our straps and get ready for what will be a big year ahead.
Do you spend much time in Wairarapa?
I lived in Venice St [Martinborough] for three years from 2002 to 2005. I was working in Petone at the time, so I went over each day by car but I just loved coming back here, and the very hot summers over here were always a great pleasure to be part of. My wife has got family here so we get over occasionally. It’s a part of the country that I love coming to, whether it’s Martinborough, Featherston, Greytown, Carterton, or Masterton. It’s a region with an interesting mix. You’ve got the wine region over this side, then you go to Greytown and Carterton and you’ve got the specialty shops, and from there you go to Masterton and it’s a little bit bigger. Last year I went to the Golden Shears for the first time, and that being emceed by [Wairarapa Labour candidate in 2014] Kieran McAnulty was a nice touch.
What do you see as pressing issues for Wairarapa and other rural regions like ours?
I think the regions in New Zealand generally have missed out a lot in the last few years. A lot of focus goes on Auckland and Christchurch for obvious reasons but the need for roading upgrades and good infrastructure apply equally to regions like Wairarapa, as they do for the big cities as well. For an area that is a train ride an hour and a bit away from Wellington, having good quality transport links is vital. Wairarapa, like a lot of other places in New Zealand too, is suffering from issues around housing, [it is about] making sure people can afford housing, whether it be renting or buying. It is about making sure the government plays its role to support local communities and businesses, so that we are generating the jobs that are needed to give people a chance to stand on their own two feet and look out for themselves.
If Labour gets the chance to govern this year, what will the party do for our region?
I know one of the issues, again like in a lot of areas in New Zealand, is the crime rate going up. We’ve seen police numbers falling and the number of patrols, certainly in Masterton, have been falling. Wairarapa would benefit from our policy of adding 1000 extra frontline police to the police force. That’s one of the immediate things, then there’s the long term economic stuff. Our plan is to have a regional growth fund that is working alongside councils and regional councils to fund those projects that have a good chance of attracting private investment.
What do you think Wairarapa’s best assets are?
There’s no question that as a wine growing area it has a very strong reputation, and definitely for its pinot noir. Other parts of the region are still very much dominated by farming and fishing out on the coast, and those are strengths that you want to support and maintain. Alongside that, we want to make sure the waterways are cleaned up and kept clean. The Ruamahanga River is certainly looking a lot better today than when I was living here back in 2005, so we need to continue that progress, and make sure our primary industries are sitting comfortably alongside things like rivers that everybody needs to use as well.
Now that John Key has stepped down as prime minister, how do you think that will affect the National Party’s strategy in the upcoming election?
It’s early days yet to see what difference Bill English is going to make to the National Party, and from my point of view I don’t take anything for granted. I know we had a big chunk of work to do towards the end of last year, we still do, and we’re very much committed to doing it. We’ve got a good team at the moment, I’ve got a good team around me, we’re well advanced in our planning for this year and the election campaign, and we’ll be getting our ideas out there for New Zealand to see.