Mila Te Whare-Manson gets a shot to remember with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, as Sam Graham looks on. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s first official visit to Wairarapa on Thursday brought with it promises of good news for the region, although she kept ‘mum’ about what that news would be.
But her first visit to a region since returning from maternity leave wasn’t about heavy policy issues – it was filled with babies, a ribbon cutting, and selfies, showing Ardern’s charisma had followed her over the hill.
She made appearances at Breadcraft, the Wairarapa Intergenerational Playgroup and the Labour Party office in Masterton before attending a high tea for the launch of the Digital Seniors programme at the Copthorne Hotel.
She chatted to anyone who approached, despite the risk of missing a flight later in the day, and was also happy to chat about daughter, Neve, who didn’t make the trip – no doubt disappointing many.
Ardern admitted she was lucky to have her baby nearby while she works, but felt she was no different from other working mothers.
“I’m just juggling the way everyone else does really,” she said.
She was clued up on the region’s housing and transport issues, and a key element of the visit was obviously to build up the stocks of Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty even though the next general election is two years away.
“I consider Kieran to be one of our key voices in provincial New Zealand when it comes to transport and housing issues, but also on behalf of our food producers and manufacturers,” she said.
She empathised with the region’s ongoing rail issues, saying she understood the importance of not being cut off from the capital, but gave no indication of when there would be a resolution.
“I grew up in a small town and I remember we had one bus per day, so when you have these conversations about public transport it often doesn’t take into account the realities for our rural communities – I’m very mindful of that.
“It does come down to whether or not the resources are made available and there was in our view not enough funding available.
“That’s why we made those changes to the government policy statement and put real emphasis to allow for that extra funding so some of these decisions are made by others, but we set the direction.”
She indicated there was some progress being made on the possibility of government investment into social housing, such as Trust House housing, seemingly surprising even McAnulty.
“I also think there’s a lot of discussion around housing issues centred on our cities, but this is not an issue limited to just cities – we need to make sure we have community and public housing across the country.
“Kieran’s an advocate for that as well and we’ll have good news in that space quite soon.”
She wouldn’t reveal further specifics on the housing front, only reiterating with a smile that the region would have news “soon”.
After putting up with a few jokes, McAnulty felt inclined to say something when Ardern mentioned the state of parliamentary transport in Wairarapa – his well-worn ute.
“He’s been driving me in his ute which doesn’t have a window at the back,” she said, raising concerns about getting a warrant of fitness next time it was due.
McAnulty took it on the chin.
“Some people just don’t appreciate a good ute – and what use is that back window anyway?”