Radich’s ‘love letter’ fires up Labour MPs

The new Dunedin hospital starts to take shape. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The new Dunedin hospital starts to take shape. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The late, great former St Kilda MP Michael Cullen was noted for his wit and oratorical skill, but every so often his rhetoric dropped below his normally impeccably high standards.

One of those occasions was in the House when, as finance minister, he was faced with a baying set of Opposition benches and famously retorted: "we won, you lost, eat that."

It is a quote Labour’s Dunedin MPs might wish to reflect on as they contemplate how to lobby going forward on the future of the new Dunedin hospital.

Last week, Taieri MP Ingrid Leary launched a fierce attack on facebook on Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich for a letter he wrote to new Health Minister Shane Reti about the new Dunedin hospital project.

Ms Leary called it "an extraordinary love letter", which seems an excessive assessment of what on the surface appeared to be a basic piece of lobbying.

As readers may recall, Labour did indeed lose the 2023 election, and one of the "eat that" moments which its MPs will have to endure is the discovery that local government, sector groups, community organisations and myriad other people no longer have you at the top of their to-do list.

Certainly for the next three years, and conceivably for the three years following, it is the members who used to be on the other side of the House who will occupy the Treasury benches.

"Show me the money" is another piece of less-than-stirring rhetoric, but if you want central government to fund something ... anything ... then, of course, that is who you approach, not the horse that finished second. And approaching the winning horse is just what the mayor did.

But having said that, does Ms Leary — and Dunedin MP Rachel Brooking, who weighed in the following day in a similar but more measured vein — make a valid point?

To a degree, yes. Leaving aside the more overtly partisan statements in her posting, its nub was that Dr Reti has yet to confirm that National will indeed implement the policies it announced in Dunedin during the election campaign to wind back cuts Labour had proposed making to the hospital project earlier in the year.

Those proposed cuts were the catalyst for both the Otago Daily Times and Dunedin City Council organising vociferous campaigns which called on the government to build the hospital — an important training facility and regional medical hub — to the scope promised in its detailed business plan.

Waitaki National MP Miles Anderson and his new pal at the North Otago A&P Show. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Waitaki National MP Miles Anderson and his new pal at the North Otago A&P Show. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Those campaigns galvanised Otago and Southland and met with some success: as noted, National swung — mostly — in behind, and Labour also stepped up to the plate and promised to return much of what been planned to be cut from the project.

Ms Leary and Ms Brooking’s fear is that Mr Radich is taking his foot off the gas in the campaign to deliver a state-of-the-art hospital.

Ms Leary said the mayoral epistle "fails to hold him [Dr Reti] to any account for election promises made" and Ms Brooking said it was "inexplicable" that he did not make any requests or raise any of the demands which the DCC and others had made during the "They Save, We Pay" campaign.

The MP’s concern at Dr Reti’s reticence to swing whole-heartedly behind a full-scope new Dunedin hospital is shared by the ODT — it is why our health reporter keeps asking him about it.

The mayor may well share those concerns, but it would likely do him — and the citizens who will benefit in the future from the services provided at the new Dunedin hospital — little good to be rattling the civic sabre this early in the process.

The Budget is looming on the horizon and the decisions Dr Reti has to make imminently about the project will likely be Budget-sensitive, which somewhat circumscribes what he can say about them.

Ms Brooking was quite correct that issues about the provision of pathology services, promised additional funding for the project, what might happen to the interdisciplinary learning centre, and whether a private-public partnership might be employed to help fund the hospital remain to be settled.

Her hope that there would be a follow up letter from the mayor should any or all of those things seems a reasonable one, but such a missive awaits decisions on any or all of those things, or at least an indication that one is near.

In the interim, southern government MPs have the opportunity, just as Ms Brooking and Ms Leary did during the last term, to try to influence their colleagues to back the hospital project.

Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds and Southland MP Joseph Mooney stressed the importance of the new hospital to their constituents during their first terms; it seems unlikely that those views will have changed.

Liz Craig
Liz Craig
New Zealand First Taieri list MP Mark Patterson, who plans on being more of a presence in Dunedin during this term than during his first time in Parliament, sees the deputy Prime Minister on a daily basis — and Mr Peters has promised not to "nickel-and-dime" the new hospital.

Hopefully their voices join their Labour counterparts in being raised loudly to ensure Dunedin, Otago and Southland get the hospital we were promised.

It’s goodbye from her

Last weekend a farewell function was held in Invercargill for the city’s former Labour list MP Liz Craig, who is about to return to her home province of Taranaki.

A public health physician, Dr Craig rose to become the parliamentary pivate secretary to the minister of health during her second term as an MP. While never tipped as a rising star, Dr Craig was policy-focused and gave many speeches, which stood out for focusing on the issue at hand rather than taking potshots at the Opposition.

Ms Leary is the Labour "buddy MP" who will be keeping an eye on Invercargill for her party.

Like your new mate

As Waitaki National MP Miles Anderson has now discovered, there is nothing this columnist likes more than a photo of one of our local representatives in a quirky circumstance. And we could not resist this snap of Mr Anderson and his new pal at the North Otago A&P show.