PM flies the flag in the deep South

Otago Daily Times - - GENERAL - MIKE HOULA­HAN PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER mike.houla­[email protected]

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.

PHO­TOS: GER­ARD O’BRIEN

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.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to guests dur­ing her visit to of­fi­cially open the Al­liance Group Ltd veni­son plant at Lorneville.

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