Can­di­date’s ru­ral roots run deep

Ian McKelvie knows ru­ral New Zealand, from board­room-level fi­nance to muck on gum­boots. He tells Lee Matthews why ru­ral New Zealand needs a strong, clear voice in gov­ern­ment pol­i­tics.

Manawatu Standard - - NEWS -

They don’t make them a truer blue than Ian McKelvie. The Mayor of Manawatu has been se­lected by the Na­tional Party as its can­di­date for Ran­gi­tikei for this year’s gen­eral elec­tion, re­plac­ing Si­mon Power, who is re­tir­ing at the end of this term.

Mr McKelvie is as Ran­gi­tikei as it’s pos­si­ble to get. His fam­ily be­gan farm­ing on the banks of the Ran­gi­tikei River in the 1840s. His great-great-grand­fa­ther came to New Zealand from Aus­tralia, and he lived at old Flock House.

One of his sons built the cur­rent Flock House.

Mr McKelvie was born in Palmer­ston North Hos­pi­tal, and at­tended Wan­ganui Col­le­giate as a boarder. He com­pleted a Di­ploma of Agri­cul­ture at Massey Univer­sity, and worked for a Waikato dairy farmer to ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent farm­ing.

Then he went home to farm the sand coun­try on the banks of the Ran­gi­tikei, about five kilo­me­tres from the coast, work­ing with his brother. The farm was a sheep, beef and crop­ping unit, with lately, dairy as well.

‘‘I’ve been lucky to have a brother to farm with. It meant I could do a lot of other things as well – the car busi­ness, in­surance, fi­nance and pol­i­tics.’’

The ru­ral roots run deep. At 58, Mr McKelvie knows ev­ery as­pect of ru­ral New Zealand, and that’s the ex­pe­ri­ence he sees will be valu­able for wider New Zealand, if he is elected Ran­gi­tikei’s next MP.

‘‘I think this is an op­por­tu­nity to take ru­ral views to Par­lia­ment. There are not many peo­ple in our

Manawatu Mayor Ian McKelvie has been se­lected as the Na­tional Party’s can­di­date for Ran­gi­tikei. Par­lia­ment now who have the grip on ru­ral is­sues that I do.

‘‘There are two big is­sues fac­ing ru­ral New Zealand. One is lack of in­fra­struc­ture and the other is de­pop­u­la­tion, and the rea­sons for those are lack of in­come in the ru­ral sec­tor.’’

He sees that short­fall as the big prob­lem. Farms have got big­ger through merg­ers. The the­ory was that big­ger farms meant bet­ter economies of scale, but it hasn’t al­ways worked that way.

Past a cer­tain point, merg­ing farms de­pop­u­lated com­mu­ni­ties, as peo­ple moved to find work, and de­pop­u­la­tion meant not enough chil­dren com­ing through to keep the lo­cal school open, and small ru­ral busi­nesses died.

As Manawatu district mayor for nine years, he has seen ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in­no­vate to hold res­i­dents. Tourism has fed part-time jobs in Manawatu and Ran­gi­tikei, but ru­ral New Zealand needs bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions, such as broad­band that ac­tu­ally works and cell­phone cover that doesn’t rely on sem­a­phore sig­nals, he says.

‘‘All that busi­ness Kim­bolton couldn’t do, be­cause to get cell­phone cov­er­age up there, you had to stand on a pic­nic ta­ble and wave your phone in the air. We still suf- fer from it at our place.

‘‘That’s non­sense for any­one try­ing to run a busi­ness.’’

If com­mu­ni­ca­tions are linked prop­erly, peo­ple will go back to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, he says.

So his elec­tion plat­form will be re­build­ing ru­ral New Zealand?

‘‘It’s the pow­er­house of the econ­omy. Ru­ral New Zealand is about pro­duc­tion. I don’t think any of our gov­ern­ments have [re­cently] done any­thing to de­lib­er­ately dam­age ru­ral New Zealand, but I don’t think we have a strong enough ru­ral voice in Par­lia­ment now. I’m not talk­ing about spe­cial treat­ment for farm­ers. I’m not talk­ing about sub­si­dies. I just hope to have some in­flu­ence to im­prove things.’’

Look­ing back over his may­oralty, he is proud of his coun­cil’s achieve­ments. One pro­ject he wants to see fin­ished be­fore he leaves is the boundary change be­tween Manawatu District and Palmer­ston North city.

‘‘Palmer­ston North’s abil­ity to de­velop as it should is be­ing re­stricted by that boundary,’’ he says. He is a fan of amal­ga­mat­ing the two lo­cal authoritie­s.

‘‘It . . . would do away with all the de­bates about who pays for what – Te Manawa, Man­feild – if we were just one re­gion. But I do ap­pre­ci­ate that the ru­ral com­mu­nity thinks dif­fer­ently.’’

He was shoul­der-tapped to stand for the may­oralty. The by-elec­tion hap­pened when Mayor Au­drey Sev­erin­sen had to give up of­fice be­cause of brain cancer. He had just spent four years as the na­tional pres­i­dent of the Royal Agri­cul­tural So­ci­ety.

‘‘Bring­ing an in­sti­tu­tion that hadn’t changed for 70 years into the 20th cen­tury, let alone the 21st cen­tury, well, it did give you a cer­tain skill set.’’

He sees his step to gov­ern­ment pol­i­tics as an op­por­tu­nity to use all the skills he has de­vel­oped as mayor. The elec­torate work is sim­i­lar – same peo­ple, same prob­lems, same events . The dif­fer­ences are in the pol­i­tics. Gov­ern­ment pol­i­tics are strictly party po­lit­i­cal.

‘‘That’ll be the change for me. There’s just no room for party pol­i­tics in good lo­cal gov­ern­ment – the mes­sage there is about us mak­ing the best de­ci­sions for our com­mu­nity.’’

Other in­ter­ests he has kept go­ing dur­ing his may­oralty have in­cluded rugby, polo and be­ing chair­man of Spe­cial Olympics New Zealand.

‘‘That ap­pealed to me. I’m into sport, and it’s an or­gan­i­sa­tion that’s a real help to its peo­ple. It’s got a huge role in New Zealand.

‘‘You don’t re­alise how badly peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are treated un­til you get in­volved. In the old days, they were locked away. Now, with main­stream­ing, there’s still a lot of fear and sus­pi­cion. I guess we’re still in tran­si­tion.’’

His rugby and rid­ing days are over – ‘‘I broke down on the wing at Te Kawau, did my knees, that’s why I ride a bike these days’’ – but he fondly re­mem­bers tak­ing an Aus­tralasian polo team to the Corona­tion Cup at Wind­sor in Eng­land. He met the Queen, and the team nearly beat the English.

‘‘No, I don’t ride horses now. I’m too fat!’’ He roars with laugh­ter. Be­ing Manawatu’s mayor had been a priv­i­lege. He had seen peo­ple at their best and worst.

‘‘This would have been my last term as mayor any­way. I’ve done what I wanted to do. Pub­lic life of this kind, as a leader of a com­mu­nity, I don’t think its a po­si­tion you should stay in for­ever. You need change, new peo­ple to bring in new ideas.’’

His ad­vice for who­ever would fol­low him was to learn how to get a de­ci­sion and learn what you could and couldn’t win.

‘‘Peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand that will never make any progress in this game.’’

Photo: ANNA CAMP­BELL

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