Southern say: Diverse concerns heard by MPs in lockdown

National Party Southland MP Joseph Mooney out for a walk with a dog. PHOTOS: FACEBOOK
National Party Southland MP Joseph Mooney out for a walk with a dog. PHOTOS: FACEBOOK
The South returned to Covid-19 Alert Level 2 this week, and with it life for our MPs returned to something a little closer to normality.

 

Not that any of them, barring Dunedin National Party list MP Michael Woodhouse, are back in Wellington attending Parliament, but electorate offices now have open rather than digital doors.

In New Zealand’s first lockdown, electorate MPs were swamped with work as anxious constituents brought them a huge range of concerns, mostly public health-related.

This time had been different, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said: with one lockdown under our belts, most people were aware of how it worked, what they could and could not do, and what help was and was not available.

Lockdown 2 was a more macroeconomic affair for her electorate, with people looking beyond the immediate Level 4 needs to whether or not their businesses or jobs could survive.

Those concerns were wide-ranging, Mrs Dean said, from the aged residential care home wondering if immigration restrictions would ever lift so it could hire much-needed nurses, to the tourism and hospitality businesses wondering if they could still make a quid out of the ski season, or the looming school holidays.

They also had to shift unsold winter stock, while also wondering what kind of Covid-19 status New Zealand might be in come Christmas time.

National Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds with a coffee from Woodlands Butchery.
National Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds with a coffee from Woodlands Butchery.
Over the range in the Southland electorate, Joseph Mooney has had a fraught lockdown, given his heavily tourism industry-dependent electorate is one of the most severely battered by the economic blizzard which has accompanied Covid-19.

With the high likelihood that Aucklanders, let alone Australians, will not be coming to town, plenty of businesses are having to, once more, pivot to meet an existential threat.

As the local MP, Mr Mooney has had to be counsellor as much as advocate as many constituents are wondering if their best endeavours to survive financially will be worth it.

‘‘Things will be difficult but I’m just encouraging people to look ahead, as history has shown us that economies tend to boom after pandemics,’’ he said.

‘‘In the meantime, we just need to look after ourselves and each other.’’

Further south, in Invercargill, Penny Simmonds, like Mr Mooney, was a first-time lockdown electorate MP.

Last year, as chief executive of the Southland Institute of Technology, she was involved in the region’s Level 4 reaction and recovery, but a year on the experience was somewhat different and much broader, she found.

It was obvious how stressful people had found this lockdown, and the uncertainty associated with the Delta variant had clearly unnerved many who had no control over their situation.

Ms Simmonds also detected a rural/urban divide in handling some of her country constituents’ concerns, notably about access to coal.

‘‘In small coal mining towns their household relies on coal, they cook, heat water and heat their house off a coal range, and in Wellington people have no concept that some people might still live like that.’’

Labour Party Taieri MP Ingrid Leary on the Covid-19 vaccination trail.
Labour Party Taieri MP Ingrid Leary on the Covid-19 vaccination trail.
Up in Dunedin, Labour MP Dr David Clark is, as he was in the first Level 4, a Cabinet minister, although enjoying a much lower profile this time around.

He was only a little less busy though, as his portfolios include keeping essential services such as supermarkets and the internet working.

At electorate level, as perhaps befits a seat with two tertiary education facilities, concerns which had crossed his desk had been a bit different, and had included the fate of friends and relatives of former Afghan refugees now living in Dunedin, and people with concerns about the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill.

Like Mrs Dean, Dr Clark had had fewer questions about the mechanics of lockdown this time — last time people were building an aeroplane and trying to fly it at the same time, he said, whereas this time everyone knew it was a plane and were concentrating on flying it better.

That said, Delta was a new unknown and everyone was asking for certainty in an unpredictable world, he said.

Out on the plain, Taieri MP Ingrid Leary had also been dealing with concerned former refugees, and has also assisted Maori and Pasifika groups to access funding to keep food in supply for families in need.

Taieri is a much more rural electorate than the former Dunedin South, and the primary industry sector is one which Ms Leary has kept a close eye on, including Zoom meetings with Federated Farmers Otago.

It was not all business, though ... for her son’s eighth birthday Ms Leary got well and truly soaked as part of an epic water fight.

Tallinn calling to a far away town

For many on Tuesday night, the clock ticking from 11.59pm to midnight meant the blessed arrival of Alert Level 2.

For Dr Clark, however, it meant it was time to travel, virtually, to Estonia for the Tallinn Digital Summit.

The summit theme was ‘‘Trusted Connectivity’’, and Dr Clark addressed delegates about digital policies and developments in New Zealand ... and got to stay up past 2am for the privilege.

Looking out for number two

Finance Minister Grant Robertson had his National counterpart Michael Woodhouse’s back this week, although he might not have appreciated it.

In reply to Mr Woodhouse’s questions about whether seven years’ or more delayed spending on strengthening the Family Court was really a Covid-19 response measure, Mr Robertson replied: ‘‘Well, I think the member needs to be a little bit careful about talking about why that work hadn’t been undertaken, given who the minister of justice was at the time at which that report was put in place.’’

The justice minister back then is now the leader of the National Party.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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