Southern voters in sights of party leaders

Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson launch their southern campaign this weekend....
Green co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson launch their southern campaign this weekend. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Often it seems the South is ignored during election year, but we can hardly complain about the number of politicians who have come to see us recently.

The prime minister took his time but Chris Hipkins was in Dunedin earlier this month and a planned trip to Queenstown yesterday was cancelled due to fog. National leader Chris Luxon cannot keep away from the place ... he has made about half a dozen trips to Otago and Southland in the past two months and is back in Dunedin again in a fortnight.

This weekend Dunedin won’t quite be the centre of the political universe, but it will be a notable galaxy — both Green Party co-leaders are here for the party’s southern campaign launch, and Winston Peters is saddling up the New Zealand First war horse and galloping into town for a public meeting.

The Greens are well-organised for October 14: candidates selected, list ranked, and controversies involving Elizabeth Kerekere, Marama Davidson, James Shaw and Chloe Swarbrick successfully hosed down.

This is a party which seems to thrive on internal ructions, but it seems to now have enough rusted on support for the 5% threshold to not be a worry.

Its list re-ranking exercise pushed the party’s Taieri candidate, Scott Willis, substantially up the batting order, and at 12 he is in an electable spot should the Greens have a very good night.

That optimism, buoyed by the party sitting at 9.7% in the latest Taxpayers’ Union/Curia Poll, has enticed Ms Davidson and Mr Shaw to Dunedin for a southern campaign launch.

Southern Greens really have something to fight for now, and it will be interesting to see how much this might energise what have traditionally been important party branches.

New Zealand First, meanwhile, does not appear to be quite so far down the road in preparation for the election: just five candidates are listed on its website and just one, Kaikoura candidate and board member Jamie Arbuckle, is in a South Island seat.

However, that really doesn’t matter much because no matter how often Mr Peters might deny it, New Zealand First really is all about him, and its success is entirely reliant on his incomparable campaigning skills.

Although he has been able to use the Gold Card he won for New Zealand’s pensioners for more than a decade, Mr Peters shows little sign of slowing down. If anything, he seems revitalised and up for the fight.

However, in his absence from Parliament, others have tried to occupy his turf. Of the policy planks highlighted by Mr Peters in his State of the Nation speech earlier this year, vaccine mandates are practically no more, National has co-opted its gang policy, both Act New Zealand and National want NZF’s Pharmac policy, and they have also tried to steal Mr Peters’ thunder on "woke virtue signalling" and co-governance, things he has been staunchly against decades.

That latter patch of ground in particular is being hard-fought over, and Mr Peters will need to box clever to keep it.

The 2020 election was historic in that it delivered the first absolute majority since MMP was introduced. On current polling, 2023 will also make history, but for almost the opposite reason.

In every election since 2008 either Labour or National have polled in 40% or higher, and it has been very clear who the most popular party was — even if, as in 2020, they did not become the government. Right now both the main parties are polling in the 30s, and at this point it is difficult to discern any sweeping populist fervour for either of them which will propel them to power.

Whereas usually 70-80% of voters are in the main party camp, on current polling that could slump to 60-70%.

That leaves a lot of votes there to be won by minor parties ... and even if Act New Zealand and the Greens maintain their current polling at about 10% respectively, such a result would still mean there would be enough voters left for one, maybe even two, additional parties to make it in to Parliament — Te Pāti Māori will likely win enough electorate seats to cover its likely share of party votes.

That is why Opportunities Party leader Raf Manji — who is a live hope in Ilam — has promised a lavish spend-up for Christchurch should he somehow be in a position to make it so.

And it is why we are seeing Mr Peters back on the road and back in the South this weekend.

Winston Peters, campaigning in the South in 2020. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO
Winston Peters, campaigning in the South in 2020. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO
The oldest cliche in New Zealand politics is that you don’t write Winston off, and the way the political landscape sits right now, you really should not.

We’re so sorry

A notable spin-off from the Jan Tinetti affair is that Labour’s ministers are being assiduous in making sure the statements they make to the House are correct.

Three ministers made a mea culpa on Tuesday, including Dunedin list MP and Minister for Oceans and Fisheries Rachel Brooking, who snuck in just before the House rose at 10pm, to advise that during the annual review debate, she had misstated the amount of funding given to the programme to install cameras on fishing vessels.

As stuff-ups go this was barely a splash in the ocean, but in a week when ministerial commitment to transparency has been in focus, it is no bad thing Labour seems to have turned a new leaf in this respect.

Get stuck in

Waitaki MP and assistant speaker Jacqui Dean offered some useful advice for her National colleagues on Tuesday, as the committee stages of the Charities Amendment Bill stuttered to a close.

Mrs Dean was all set to pull the plug on proceedings when Louise Upston halfheartedly attempted to speak.

"If members want the call," Mrs Dean said, to which Ms Upston interjected: "We're just waiting patiently in the expectation."

"No, no, no, we don't argue, Hon Louise Upston," Mrs Dean replied, at which point Matt Doocey attempted to help by pointing out that "when the Opposition members are making pithy questions to engage that discussion and the minister doesn't stand up, that creates a silence".

"Yes, thank you. I get the gist of what the member is trying to say, or wanting to say," Mrs Dean replied,

"But into a silence I can only conclude that the House is finished, and that is why I am trying to suggest to members that ... if members still have questions, don't wait; go ahead and bid."