PM flies the flag in the deep South
FOR several years now, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have spent Thursdays — and occasionally Fridays — out of Wellington touring the country.
While the trips are labelled as provincial visits and described as a way for our leaders to keep in touch with ordinary New Zealanders, there is another item on the agenda — votegathering.
It becomes more obvious as each election nears, as any seat one party thinks it might snatch from another suddenly becomes a political tourism hot spot.
There are plenty of tourist attractions in Invercargill — but when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited on Thursday she was not checking out the Bill Richardson Transport World or walking the Southern Scenic Route.
Instead, she visited the city’s two cathedrals of industry, the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter and the Alliance Group’s Lorneville facility.
Labour still wants to be the party of the workers, and there are plenty of workers in both places — around 3000 people all told.
Not that all of them will be New Zealanders, though — a point made by Alliance Group chairman Murray Taggart when he thanked the Government for helping the cooperative hire foreign workers for the plant.
The Government may be creating jobs — and the Prime Minister was keen to point out the new positions created at the aluminium smelter — but is it creating jobs for the good folk of Invercargill?
Phrases like ‘‘hightech’’ ‘‘innovative’’ and ‘‘carbonfree’’ are all very well, but does that make a real difference in the city?
Last week, the Ministry of Health released a report on its Healthy Families initiative — a 10centre health promotion strategy which includes Invercargill.
Four years on — in what, to be fair, is expected to be a longterm programme — Invercargill showed no improvement in any of the health categories targeted by the programme.
Add in a housing crisis, and there are a fair few basic local issues which need addressing in our southernmost city.
The Prime Minister’s visit played well for her immediate message of an innovative, environmentally friendly economy — their low carbon footprint was emphasised at each large facility.
But long term, do Labour strategists think they could swing some votes their way in Invercargill come the 2020 election?
Incumbent MP, National’s Sarah Dowie, does look to have a firm hold on the seat — she won more than half the votes cast in 2017.
Boundary changes suggest the days when Labour could win Invercargill — Mark Peck held the seat for Labour from 19932005 — might be a thing of the past.
That said, Labour’s Liz Craig pushed up the Labour candidate vote 6% in 2017 and the party vote by more than 10% — as well as making her way in to Parliament via the Labour list.
You would expect they would face off again in Invercargill in 2020.
Both women have the profile a Parliamentary seat provides, and each has an active social media presence.
An extremely unscientific study of the audience at Thursday’s events showed almost everybody recognised Ms Dowie, but fewer knew who Dr Craig was — although that might change with a few more photographs of her standing beside Jacinda Ardern at Invercargill landmarks.
On the 2017 numbers it seems fanciful to suggest Labour has a serious shot at taking Invercargill from National — but if Labour suspects there is a decent chance of running up its vote, as it did last election, do not be surprised if Ms Ardern schedules in a few more trips to the deep South.
As I was about to say . . .
We will have to wait with bated breath for Dunedin South MP Clare Curran’s contribution to the debate on the Accident Compensation Amendment Bill.
Ms Curran got as far as ‘‘Thank you, Madam Assistant Speaker. I rise,’’ before the House was adjourned for the week.
A busy week for . . .
Dunedin North MP David Clark and Dunedinbased National list MP Michael Woodhouse, who continued their duel over the Medical Cannabis Bill with several speeches. The committee stages on this Bill have been lengthy, but there is no doubt the issue is being fully explored.
A quiet week for . . .
The South’s National MPs, who joined their colleagues in Wednesday’s walkout from Question Time, as the party protested the rulings of Speaker Trevor Mallard. It got some headlines but will likely be a futile exercise — the Speaker is the referee of the House of Representatives, and as a former rugby referee Mr Woodhouse would well know you do not get anywhere arguing with the ref.
Meaty subject . . . Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Nigel Jones (centre), from Alliance, and Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt chat around hors d’oeuvres at Lorneville meat plant.
New Zealand Aluminium Smelter chief executive and site general manager Stewart Hamilton, gives Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a hard hat (inset) for her daughter Neve during her visit to Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter this week.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to guests during her visit to officially open the Alliance Group Ltd venison plant at Lorneville.