‘Change in govt critical’

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters addresses a packed Fullwood Room at the Dunedin Town Hall...
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters addresses a packed Fullwood Room at the Dunedin Town Hall yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The Green Party and New Zealand First do not agree on much, but Winston Peters and Greens co-leader James Shaw were singing from a similar song sheet in Dunedin at the weekend, albeit at different meetings.

"This is the most important election of our lifetime, and this time I mean it," Mr Shaw said at the Greens’ southern campaign launch on Saturday.

"I know I have said that before but the reason I mean it is that we are up against the clock and we have a lot of unfinished business ... Extinction is forever and time is running down."

A day later, Mr Peters told a rally of New Zealand First faithful very much the same thing, that in a crucial period New Zealand needed committed and capable people in government.

"New Zealand is at an inflection point and a change in government is critical. That is of course that the change must be for a much better government and not just it’s our turn now ... New Zealand First is the insurance voters need to avoid an ideological lurch in either direction."

Both parties will have felt reason for optimism after their meetings.

The Greens managed to fill the meeting room at Age Concern with delegates and supporters from their southern branches, activists who heard a clarion call for the party to elect both of its candidates in the southern city to Parliament.

On current polling Scott Willis (Taieri, 12th on the list) has much more of a chance of success than Francisco Hernandez (Dunedin, 17th on the list) but Mr Hernandez was quick to tell supporters it would only take a small rise from where the party now sat in opinion polls for him to make it into the House.

Mr Willis said the weekend flooding on the East Coast demonstrated the threat of climate change and the electorate he was standing in was just as vulnerable.

"The future must be climate safe: South Dunedin and the Taieri will be the site of serious environmental emergencies and we need a fair transition due to rising sea levels and increased extreme weather events."

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson defended the Greens’ record as a support party for Labour and said the only way to increase the party’s influence was to elect more MPs.

"Everything we have achieved in the past five years is still not enough. Change is still not happening at the scale of the disasters we face, but we still have options to make transformational change."

Yesterday, New Zealand First’s southern branch had to scramble to add extra seats in the Fullwood Room of the town hall as attendance at Mr Peters’ first Dunedin rally in some time attracted many more people than anticipated — something which might bode well as the party strives to reach the 5% threshold and return to Parliament.

Mr Peters was introduced by Lawrence farmer and former New Zealand First MP Mark Paterson, who announced he had stepped down from his role with Federated Farmers and would once more stand for the party in Taieri.

Mr Peters also announced that the party’s Dunedin candidate would be Keegan Langeveld, who has been president of Young New Zealand First for the past three years.

In a wide-ranging speech which touched on tax policy, water management, co-governance, education, immigration and law and order, Mr Peters again managed to find some common ground with the Greens, this time on the new Dunedin hospital project .

Green candidates Francisco Hernandez (Dunedin, left) and Scott Willis (Taieri). PHOTO: GREGOR...
Green candidates Francisco Hernandez (Dunedin, left) and Scott Willis (Taieri). PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The previous day Mr Hernandez had said the hospital rebuild was being "slowly, surely, whittled away," and needed to be properly funded.

Mr Willis echoed his comments, saying Dunedin needed a wholly funded hospital.

"The delay in changing plans is costing as much as a hospital which would serve our community."

Mr Peters made similar pledges yesterday.

"We committed to a comprehensive new hospital here," Mr Peters said.

"Not this nickel and dime thing that the Labour party is serving up to you now. When we promised that a new hospital would be built it was a proper comprehensive hospital with the training wing and academic facilities that go with it. Why would you accept anything less?"

Mr Peters worked hard to establish his Otago bona fides, citing the preservation of the Hillside workshops, the establishment of the Centre of Digital Excellence and the saving of the Telford and Invermay training facilities as examples of what New Zealand First had achieved while in office.

"We are campaigning to remind people who did what, rather than the people who claimed to have done it," he said.

"In 2020 Labour took all the credit and took all the votes and when it was over, look at the mess they have made without the experience, certainty and balance of a team in Parliament who knew what they were doing."

During a Q+A session Mr Peters would not directly say if New Zealand First would go into coalition with any party or sit on the cross benches, but did emphatically rule out going into any coalition with Labour.

The meeting was briefly interrupted when a member of the audience collapsed. The woman, who received medical care, is understood to have fainted.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz , Political editor