Southern Opposition keeping busy

No, it’s Hamish Walker, MP for Clutha-Southland in last year’s Queenstown Winter Festival birdman...
No, it’s Hamish Walker, MP for Clutha-Southland in last year’s Queenstown Winter Festival birdman competition. PHOTOS: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
A fortnight ago, among the Bills introduced by the Government under urgency following the Budget, was the Forests (Regulation of Log Traders and Forestry Advisers) Amendment Bill.

Although obviously of huge significance to people who grow and sell trees, the all but unanimous passage of the legislation through first reading attracted little interest.

However, with the hindsight afforded by a tumultuous week in politics, this late night then early morning debate takes on a bit more interest.

Leading the charge at 9.30pm Thursday for National was one Todd Muller, with a robust, knock-about attack on the Government’s priorities.

The following morning — which in one of Parliament’s quirks was still technically Thursday due to urgency being in place — Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker entered the fray with a lengthy assessment of the role of forestry in his electorate, before Mr Muller was back for more.

If you could have had a bet on the fact that 10 days later Mr Muller would be the National leader and would be naming Mr Walker as his new forestry spokesman you would have got very long odds indeed.

Regardless of who was leader of the National Party on Monday, they would have been hard placed to deny Mr Walker’s claims for promotion.

While he has had a few alarms and excursions along the way, as all first-term MPs do, generally speaking Mr Walker has been an energetic and passionate spokesman for his patch.

In doing so, he managed to make the Lumsden Maternity Centre a nationally significant issue — no small feat that — and steered a Member’s Bill through the House.

Mr Walker’s portfolio allocation is weighty — two spokesman roles and a busy associate position — but has been carefully considered.

Land Information is not a glamour role but in Mr Walker’s rural, alpine electorate it is one of great significance.

Allied with Forestry, with its similar concerns regarding boundaries and land use, in this role Mr Walker will be considering issues of great significance to many of National’s important backers.

It is also quite a vote of faith in Mr Walker’s abilities, given that the Government has, with its billion trees policy, made forestry a key area.

It also pitches Mr Walker against Shane Jones, which should be fascinating, given one of the two men likes direct speech and the other, famously, does not.

Associate Tourism is a role Mr Walker would have jumped at, and it also makes perfect sense for him to be placed there.

Queenstown is the biggest centre in the electorate, Mr Walker has already been highly vocal in highlighting the plight of its tourism operators, and encouraging him to take a wider view of a subject he had a strong regional interest in already makes perfect sense.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Walker has hit the ground running ... having already been termed a one-man press release machine in this column, Mr Walker hit overdrive in his first few days, issuing a couple of releases a day.

That might be a touch of overkill ... not everything needs a Hamish Walker press release.

But there is no doubting his boundless enthusiasm, an asset National’s new leadership is keen to harness and steer in the right direction.

Not wasted

National’s Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean also has not been idle during the month of May, firing off 100 written parliamentary questions to the Ministers of Conservation and Local Government.

The conservation questions remain relevant following this week’s reshuffle, as Mrs Dean has retained that role; the local government ones she promises to pass on to the new National spokesman in the area, Lawrence Yule.

Do not pass the parcel

At Question Time on Wednesday Dunedin National list MP Michael Woodhouse was keen to quiz Health Minister David Clark on why the recent Budget did not extend free breast screening to women aged up to 74 — which is Government policy.

After Dr Clark explained, as with so many worthy things, the cost imposed by Covid-19 had scuppered those plans, Mr Woodhouse sought more detail, only to be told he should have asked Julie-Anne Genter, as the associate with delegated responsibility for the area in question.

Mr Woodhouse had barely got the words ‘‘point of order’’ out of his mouth before Speaker Trevor Mallard intervened to say the Government had had all morning to transfer the question if it had wanted, did not, and so Dr Clark had better jolly well answer it.

Lonely days, lonely nights

Clutha-Southland NZ First list MP Mark Patterson gave the House a personal account of how grim things are for the tourism sector during the Budget debate on Wednesday.

As part of a recent South Island road trip, Mr Patterson stayed in the Scenic Hotel in Franz Josef: ‘‘It’s probably about a 200-bed hotel; I was the only occupant.’’


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