Labour’s Verrall courts traditionally blue district

Labour Waitaki candidate Ethan Reille and Health Minister Ayesha Verrall front up to Oamaru...
Labour Waitaki candidate Ethan Reille and Health Minister Ayesha Verrall front up to Oamaru yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
If there is one truism about electioneering, it is that politicians will go where the votes are.

Which begs the question, why was senior Cabinet minister Ayesha Verrall in Waitaki yesterday?

With all due respect to Labour’s candidate, Ethan Reille, who sits in last place on the Labour party list and who has landed the all but impossible task of storming a traditional blue bastion, there ain’t that many voters who are going to be swayed by a visit to their patch by the Minister of Health ... especially when the Waitaki community is feeling mightily affronted by the difficulties its local hospital is having in keeping the doors of its emergency department open.

"Ethan is very persuasive," Dr Verrall answered with a smile when asked why she had fetched up in town.

"Also, every New Zealander’s health is important, and I do spend a lot of my time talking to communities like this, and I actually consider a meeting with 80-odd people a very worthwhile spend of my time."

The set piece of Dr Verrall’s trip, a Labour-hosted public meeting in the theatrette adjoining Oamaru Opera House, was a relatively benign outing. Although there were some rumblings of discontent, Dr Verrall took the sting out of any potential needle by giving a 20 minute run down of her meeting at Oamaru Hospital earlier that morning and by conveying the good news that management had high hopes of hiring new specialists and of not needing to close the accident and emergency department doors for any extended period of time again.

A sense of unease remains, though. One of the intentions of Labour’s much vaunted health reforms was that local health needs should be identified and addressed before they reached crisis levels, and the issues in Oamaru seem a shining example of what they were meant to detect and provide answers for.

The visit also coincided with more lamentable news about Dunedin Hospital’s radiation oncology service and the imminent loss of its training accreditation due to a dearth of senior staff.

Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand will, hopefully, see southern patients right — one of the ideas behind the reforms was that patients in places where treatment could not be delivered would be able to be treated by doctors elsewhere.

But it was also meant to address staffing issues which have created grave shortages throughout the health system.

Dr Verrall was quick to trumpet the increase in trainee numbers, in clinical registrations of new staff and the decrease in waiting lists ... but the South is entitled to ask if it has any hope of seeing those staff in the region’s hospitals and GP clinics.

If Dr Verrall has her way, it will; and not just student doctors such as herself — during training, she had taken part in a few hernia operations in Oamaru, she recalled.

Dr Verrall certainly said all the right things. But whether she will be in a position to follow through on her promises in a few weeks’ time remains to be seen.

There was definitely one winner out of yesterday’s visit.

Mr Reille, at just 19 years of age, had not only coaxed a cabinet minister to Waitaki, but handled his hosting duties with aplomb and quietly set about making the most of what was possibly a rare opportunity to gather hay while the sun shone. He looks like one to watch in the future.

Patsy with purpose

Taieri Labour MP Ingrid Leary asks her fair share of patsy questions, but there was a reason why she got to ask Immigration Minister Andrew Little about the new residence pathway for Special Ukraine Visa holders on the last day of Parliament.

Advocacy from Dunedin Ukrainians such as Olha Viazenko to Ms Leary, and then higher up, was instrumental in getting the pathway considered and approved, hence the southern MP got to ask the question.

And it’s goodbye from him

It is worth noting that Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who has had his clashes in the past with Dunedin National list MP Michael Woodhouse, paid him a nice tribute during last Thursday’s adjournment debate.

"I want to acknowledge the National Party's shadow Leaders of the House and whips for the work that they have done to co-operate," Mr Robertson said.

"I actually do think it's quite sad that Michael Woodhouse has not got to do a valedictory — I think he would have deserved that, given that he is the parliamentarian that he is."