Independent thinking

Those who believe South Islanders get a raw deal in a country overendowed with North Island politicians, North Island business owners and North Island welfare beneficiaries might be a little disappointed in new member of Parliament Richard Prosser. The former Alexandra-based "convener" of the South Island Party, that preached separatism in one form or another, is now singing from the New Zealand First hymn book - one country with one flag, one set of laws, one social welfare system... Mark Price reports.

Richard Prosser: "If they suddenly start getting a much larger slice of the pie and we are suffering as a result, then obviously sentiment will start becoming a lot stronger".
Richard Prosser: "If they suddenly start getting a much larger slice of the pie and we are suffering as a result, then obviously sentiment will start becoming a lot stronger".
Richard Prosser is thinking about his maiden speech to Parliament.

And he is mulling over what to say about his years as champion of a movement at odds with the philosophy of the party that delivered him his new seat in Parliament.

He is one of eight list members for New Zealand First - the party declaring, not surprisingly, it wants to "put New Zealand and New Zealanders first".

But for 14 of Prosser's past political years, he has been discussing the idea that South Islanders need to put the South Island and South Islanders first.

And he still believes one day, South Island "self-determination" will come in some form, even though he might not be alive to see it.

"It's probably generations away unless something dramatic happens in the meantime and you get a big shift in perception and there's some cause for the barrow to be pushed."

He suspects the Auckland supercity might ultimately be the cause of the "big shift".

"If they suddenly start getting a much larger slice of the pie and we are suffering as a result, then obviously sentiment will start becoming a lot stronger."

So, although he retains "sympathy for the movement", Mr Prosser believes a "lack of demand" means he can put aside the interests of South Island separatists for the moment.

"If circumstances change and if the way the South is treated changes then I think there will be demand and that's something you would look at then."

He denies he is simply being expedient.

"It's not a conflict of interest simply because my perception is... that it needs to be demand-driven... and there's not really a demand for it at the moment."

Asked if he would promote South Island separatism in future, Mr Prosser said: "Oh it depends what sort of time frame we are talking.

"I'm not trying to be evasive. I'm just, I'm very cognisant of the fact I'm there wearing one hat and that's what I've campaigned on, and been selected to the party for, and been elected on the basis of, and I don't want to go hijacking it with another agenda."

His views on the South Island movement had "never really come up" in discussions with party leader Mr Peters, he says, but "I have never made any secret of what my history has been. It's all over the net like a rash anyway."

Mr Prosser was born in Auckland and grew up in the Waikato and now lives near Rangiora.

He arrived in Central Otago in 1994 with his partner and spent 10 years working in the wine industry. He lived at Lauder for six years and Alexandra for four.

"It becomes very rapidly apparent that it's a very different sort of a place - the demographics and the values and the pace of life and the way people are; the way they are open and friendly. There's a sense of community in the South Island that they lack in the North, to be honest."

He also noticed a "simmering undercurrent" of separatism or self-determination.

"There's a perception that the South gets ignored, that the South produces most of the wealth and the North spends it ... that southern production goes to subsidise northern welfare.

"It is a concern a lot of people have."

And, he says, some of that revolves around electricity and the belief the South Island does not benefit sufficiently from the power its rivers produce.

For 14 years Mr Prosser was involved in that discussion - with "100-odd" supporters meeting at the middle pub in Alexandra.

"It was a lot of fun. The campaign headquarters were a great place to meet."