Southern Say: Act hopes party bus will solidify support

Act New Zealand leader David Seymour speaks to a crowd of about 100 at the King’s and Queen’s...
Act New Zealand leader David Seymour speaks to a crowd of about 100 at the King’s and Queen’s Performing Arts Centre in Dunedin earlier this year. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Act New Zealand brings its campaign bus to town this week, although whether it will transport the public is an as yet unanswered question.

Party leader David Seymour, who has been in Otago and Southland so many times in recent months he may know Edendale as well as he knows Epsom, was meant to jet south again on Thursday to speak to Dunedin businesses and also to greet the arrival in the region of Act’s latest electoral asset.

Flight difficulties meant he did not make it, but it was not for the lack of trying.

As previously traversed in Southern Say, Act racked up an astonishingly large number of votes in the deep South in the 2020 election, and it has no intention of handing them back meekly to whence they came in 2023.

However, a handicap in that endeavour has been the lack of a local MP to fly the Act flag in the region, an absence which has prompted party leadership to ponder on creative solutions to address that.

One, as noted, has been for Mr Seymour to visit as often as he can - no small commitment given he has his Epsom constituents to serve and Covid-19 alert levels, and now traffic lights, to navigate.

The second has been to establish some kind of pop-up electoral office, an idea which has since morphed into the bus - or a "mobile community office" if you would rather.

Now political parties ferrying MPs and candidates around on buses is nothing new, but they tend to only hit the road every three years, unless an election is called early or a by-election is held in a far-flung seat.

Whether or not Act’s 24/365 automotive advocate proves an effective exercise is still two years away from being found out, but for now the point remains that the party is not resting on its laurels and is trying to retain, if not grow, its thousands of southern votes.

It does Act no harm at all that the Groundswell movement, orchestrator of two recent large-scale farmer protests, has emerged since the election.

While not connected to Act - Groundswell is adamant it is apolitical, despite a host of National and Act MPs being at its rallies - the pressure group is articulating many of the same issues which served Act so well on the 2020 campaign trail.

Hence, Mr Seymour being in Gore for Groundswell’s rally a fortnight ago, atop a tractor of a non-Mt Eden persuasion.

Combined with a feisty first year for its expanded caucus in the House and a dismal year for National, Act was last week polling at record levels.

Of course, as they say, a week is a long time in politics - Act’s prospective coalition partner National had an interim leader a weekend ago and this Saturday it has the newly minted and self-proclaimed "reset" of Christopher Luxon at the helm.

Assuming this prompts a National poll bounce, Act might expect to see its buoyant ratings sink somewhat in the short term.

Mr Seymour affects unconcern on where the polls might end up, arguing that Act needs to stick to its own business and leave alone the concerns of other parties and it should do just fine as a result.

It was a strategy which worked just fine in 2020, but with a deal done with National to safeguard Mr Seymour’s Epsom seat Act was on a hiding to nothing and could campaign with all guns blazing.

In 2023 Act will have something to lose - a Parliamentary base it will want to protect - and a desire for gain - it feels it can siphon centre-left votes away from Labour.

Given that, expect the effervescent Mr Seymour and the Act bus to keep clocking up the Ks in our part of the world for some time to come.

The cost of doing business

The latest quarterly release of MPs’ expenses is out, and demonstrates yet again that representing Southern constituents is not a cheap undertaking.

Most of our local MPs claimed the maximum allowance for Wellington accommodation during the July-September quarter, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds and Dunedin Labour MPs Rachel Brooking and Dr David Clark being the exceptions.

Southland MP Joseph Mooney, who has one of the longest trips home of any MP, spent the most on air and surface travel - $8408 and $7069 respectively.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean and Ms Simmonds, who similarly usually need multiple planes, trains and automobiles to get home, spent $10,675 and $9502 respectively on travel.

Invercargill Labour list MP Dr Liz Craig was a comparative bargain, spending just over $2500 during the period in question.

Mainland calling... PHOTO: FACEBOOK
Mainland calling... PHOTO: FACEBOOK

Ring ring

Yes, it’s David Clark on the phone ... but it was not any old phone call.

Dr Clark was speaking to Chatham Islands Mayor Monique Croon, in what was the first official call to the island’s new mobile phone network.

It has been a big couple of weeks for Rekohu in the capital, the network opening following soon after Parliament passing the Moriori Claims Settlement Act.

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