Cunliffe encouraged by interest of youth

David Cunliffe and Rongotai MP Annette King took their message to the streets of Newtown in Wellington yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell
David Cunliffe and Rongotai MP Annette King took their message to the streets of Newtown in Wellington yesterday. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour leader David Cunliffe's student-friendly promises earned him a mostly warm reception on the campaign trail - though a handful of students proved difficult to impress.

Campaigning at Victoria University and in Newtown, Wellington, yesterday, he spent as much time urging young people to enrol and vote as he did promoting Labour's policy platform.

Despite Electoral Commission figures showing 386,000 eligible voters were not yet enrolled, Mr Cunliffe said most students appeared to be engaged in politics.

"I didn't find the students I talked to apathetic," he told reporters. "Everyone I talked to was on the roll and everybody was intending to vote."

During an hour-long visit to the university, he showed Prime Minister John Key was not the only political leader capable of creating a queue for selfies.

Students reeled off their concerns to the Labour leader, with the high cost of living and house prices at the top of the list.

They also ask him about big picture issues - what would he do about mass surveillance and the Five Eyes Network?

As a crowd gathered, some politics undergraduates dug into the finer points of Labour's foreign policy and trade policies.

One asked how Labour could demand transparency on the Trans-Pacific Partnership when it also signed free trade agreements behind closed doors. Mr Cunliffe said Labour had involved unions, environmental groups and NGOs in trade talks when it was in power, and would do so again.

Students perked up when he spoke about two increases to the minimum wage in Labour's first year in Government.

The Green Party's Gareth Hughes was also pressing the flesh on campus, armed with his party's policy of free public transport for tertiary students at off-peak hours.

Labour planned to release its tertiary education policy next week.

Mr Cunliffe hinted that Labour would reverse National's proposed changes to university councils, which cut them from 20 people to 12 and removed guaranteed student representation. Labour might also improve access to student allowances.

But some remained sceptical.

Politics and media student Tom Livingston, 21, said Mr Cunliffe was "growing to become a stronger leader" but he was not convinced he was ready to be Prime Minister yet.

One grim-faced student at the fringe of the crowd asked what Mr Cunliffe would do if National was re-elected.

"Do our best to win in three years." the Labour leader shot back.

The student shook his head: "That's a long time, man."

- By Isaac Davison of the New Zealand Herald