Political landscape a mixed blessing

Green candidates Francisco Hernandez and Scott Willis. PHOTOS: ODT FILES
Green candidates Francisco Hernandez and Scott Willis. PHOTOS: ODT FILES
The South likes to think it punches above its weight in almost all things, but political representation has not always been one of them.

While there have been southern prime ministers, Bill English most recently, various governments and opposition front benches in recent years have struggled to field a solid Otago and/or Southland representation.

This is a little surprising given that in an MMP environment, striving for the impossible task of appeasing all interests, sectors and regions is all-important.

But it is also completely unsurprising given that Auckland is where 1.6 million New Zealanders live and is where most MPs are elected to Parliament from.

Thanks to electorate seats, in every Parliament there is at least some southern representation.

When the dust settles following October 14 we are guaranteed to have MPs from Invercargill, Southland, Dunedin, Taieri, Waitaki and Te Tai Tonga.

You need 5% of the party vote to get into Parliament and, coincidentally, the South is guaranteed 5% of total MPs.

But this election looks like it’s shaping up a little differently.

Depending on how the cards land — and they could land almost anywhere given the polls remain reasonably close and campaigning proper has not even begun — there is a more than decent chance the South could double the six MPs it gets as of geographic right, courtesy of list placements.

Act New Zealand candidate Todd Stephenson
Act New Zealand candidate Todd Stephenson
Labour, the Greens and Act New Zealand are the only parliamentary parties to have released their lists so far and they are mixed blessings as far as the South is concerned.

Labour has two list MPs in our patch. One, Rachel Brooking, is her party’s Dunedin candidate and will be expected to win a traditionally safe Labour seat.

The other, Invercargill candidate Liz Craig, has received a low list placement and on current polling will need to win her seat to return to Parliament.

The Greens have not had a southern MP since the days of Metiria Turei, but harbour high hopes of securing one, if not two, local listies. Scott Willis, the 12th-ranked Taieri candidate, will be hoping his party can maintain its double-digit polling, which could well be enough to see him elected.

Its other top-20 southerner, Dunedin candidate Francisco Hernandez, will have an election night of mixed emotions: the 17th-ranked candidate will need a remarkably good Green result on special votes and if they win Wellington Central then the list candidate’s chances of sneaking in dwindle.

Barring some sort of spectacular implosion, Act is poised to elect its Southland candidate, Todd Stephenson, to Parliament, as his list placing of four almost guarantees him a place in Parliament.

A former Act parliamentary staffer who has been working in the health sector for several years, Stephenson is highly-regarded and that ranking suggests he is seen as a potential portfolio recipient should the centre-right win.

National has yet to release its list, but senior Dunedin MP Michael Woodhouse will anticipate achieving an electable position on it.

His cabinet experience will be important if National should be in a position to govern ... or his knowledge of standing orders might mean the party will turn to him should it be in a position to nominate the speaker.

Of its other southern candidates, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds and Southland MP Joseph Mooney will be expected to hold their seats, while new Waitaki candidate Miles Anderson will not want to be the person who loses a seat Jacqui Dean has held safely since 2005.

New Zealand First candidate Mark Patterson
New Zealand First candidate Mark Patterson
Taieri candidate Matthew French will have a tough challenge hauling in Ingrid Leary’s sizable majority, and while he would no doubt love a high list placement, as a first-time candidate there will likely be others with stronger claims.

Then we get to the longer-odds candidates.

One, New Zealand First Taieri candidate Mark Patterson would be well worth an each-way bet to return to Parliament.

Several polls already have the party, which he has served as a one-term MP, above the 5% threshold, and that is before its revitalised leader Winston Peters really swings into campaign mode — which is always his political forte.

Mr Patterson, a Lawrence farmer, was a popular and hardworking backbencher and will likely be rewarded for staying loyal after the voters rejected New Zealand First three years ago.

The party is yet to release its list and its top spots will likely go to Mr Peters, former cabinet minister Shane Jones and marquee candidate Casey Costello.

Mr Patterson would likely find himself somewhere in the range of 4-6, and that should see him comfortably back in the House should the poll numbers translate into electoral reality.

Then there is the long-odds possibility that The Opportunities Party Dunedin candidate Ben Peters might make it into Parliament.

Top are looking very much like the margin of error party in this election: some polls have it as high as 4%, others at 1%.

Should 5% remain elusive there remains the possibility its leader Raf Manji could snatch Ilam away from Labour incumbent Sarah Pallett.

Top candidate Ben Peters
Top candidate Ben Peters
Should he do so — and he has finished a strong second there in the past — Dr Peters, at three on Top’s list, could well make it into Parliament.

Then there is the really long odds option, that Te Pāti Māori could either cause a major boilover and win Te Tai Tonga, or secure enough party votes to get its candidate Tākuta Ferris into Parliament.

So, as things stand there will be six southern MPs for sure, almost certainly 2-3 more on top of that from party lists, and an arguable case for 2-4 more making it into the House via that method.

Proof positive, if ever you needed it, that your vote might actually count for something.

But I could be wrong

A recent Saddle Hill Community Board agenda — since amended — made a bold prediction that "National Taieri MP Matthew French" would be in attendance. This would have come as some surprise to the actual MP for Taieri, Labour’s Ingrid Leary, who has no intention of relinquishing her seat.


We get what Green MP Eugenie Sage meant in the annual review debate on the Fisheries portfolio — "it’s like eating your grandmother, eating orange roughy — they can live to be 200 years old", but question her choice of words.

"I do not thank the member the Hon Eugenie Sage for that image of eating your grandmother," the Minister Rachel Brooking replied, "but I do take her point about the seriousness of the orange roughy stock, and that of course they can live to such an incredible old age."