Ohariu’s parliamentary majority
Ohariu has the distinction of being Parliament’s most represented electorate, but is it the best represented? Peter Dunne has had it to himself for 27 years but his support has dwindled. Will he be back? Central Community Newspapers regional reporter Jim
Ohariu has arguably been the country’s most stable electorate since 1984 when Peter Dunne, then a Labour candidate, unseated National minister Hugh Templeton.
Declining voter support suggested Mr Dunne would finally lose the seat this year, until Prime Minister John Key called on National supporters to vote for him, undercutting National’s own candidate, Katrina Shanks.
Despite a solid base of more than 20,000 personal voters in 2002, Mr Dunne shed 4000 votes in each of the next two elections, allowing Labour candidate Charles Chauvel to close to just 1000 votes behind, with Ms Shanks another 1000 back.
As well as Mr Dunne, Mr Chauvel and Ms Shanks, Gareth Hughes stood for the Green Party, the latter three also making it to Parliament as list MPs.
These days Mr Dunne is United Future’s single MP and he has been part of a succession of governments, both National and Labour-led.
Otago University politics lecturer Bryce Edwards said Mr Dunne should be assured of reelection since Mr Key asked National voters to give their electorate vote to him.
‘‘I would think that he has got it easily sewn up now,’’ Mr Edwards said.
‘‘Not every National voter in the electorate will give him their vote but I think . . . you could take at least half of Shanks’ – 5000 votes – and add them to Dunne.
‘‘With that sort of endorsement, really the wind has been taken out of the sails of Charles Chauvel.
‘‘I think that Ohariu has ceased to be an electorate race of high importance.’’
Why is the National party vote in the electorate – 46 per cent in 2008 – so much higher than Ms Shanks’ personal support, at 26 per cent?
‘‘In the last election [Dunne] very much tied himself to the National Party,’’ Mr Edwards said.
‘‘They [voters] knew, by voting for him they could help National and then they could give National their party vote. It was a very sensible vote split.
‘‘I think that Charles Chauvel has not got that much of a chance.
‘‘He can only win by way of a three-way contest.’’
Johnsonville Mall Muffin Break franchisee Andrew Crook agreed Mr Dunne was popular in the electorate. ‘‘I think Peter has done a fabulous job,’’ he said. ‘‘He is a very, very electorate-focused politician and that’s why he keeps coming back every time.
‘‘I think people do feel fondly towards him. He has got his finger on the pulse.’’
Mr Crooks said he regularly sees Ms Shanks and Mr Dunne out and about in the electorate but rarely sees Mr Chauvel, and has never seen Mr Hughes – and would not recognise him if he did.
There were no particular issues facing the electorate, he said.
‘‘Schooling is good across the electorate. I don’t think the schools are over-enrolled.’’
Mr Crook supported Mr Dunne’s championship of Transmission Gully.
‘‘I personally think Transmission Gully is a really good thing. Also [the proposed] Grenadato-Petone [road] is good.’’
Autostop owner Chris Kirk-Burnnand said he was ‘‘ pretty disappointed’’ in all of the Ohariu candidates’ parliamentary performance.
‘‘We have got a good community but I think we have a good community in spite of the things that have been achieved by the politicians,’’ he said.
‘‘Johnsonville seems to be a forgotten part of Wellington. They [the NZ Transport Agency] want their motorway to the airport, but we can’t get the Johnsonville roads fixed. They are already operating at 100 per cent of capacity.
‘‘We are all agreed that roading work [in Johnsonville] has to go through, regardless of the mall.
‘‘Not one of the candidates has come out and taken a position on that.
‘‘Peter Dunne is active in rail but can you think of anything they [the four MPs] have actually achieved? I don’t see anything.’’
Mr Kirk-Burnnand said he has seen Mr Dunne and Ms Shanks regularly in the electorate, but has never seen Mr Chauvel or Mr Hughes. ‘‘I want to see them pushing for things,’’ he said. ‘‘I think it’s a pretty difficult business climate; we are working hard at the moment just keeping things going.
‘‘It’s pretty hard for staff as well. You sort of need to know that everyone is backing your corner.’’