Driving up to Kerikeri, all you can see along the roadside are campaign signs.
Due to the rather sudden demise of previous MP Mike Sabin, Northland is getting into politics more than ever before. With increased media coverage and heightened public interest, it seems that this by-election will prove to be a turning point for Northland.
I decided to travel up to my hometown of Kerikeri to go to the Meet the Candidates meeting on March 13 at the Turner Centre.
I arrived 15 minutes before the meeting was due to start and noted that, for a small town, it had a large turnout. All of the candidates were ready on the stage – all except one.
Winston Peters made a fashionably and dramatically late entrance – with the public in the room deciding to start the meeting without him. It was hard not to like him as he sauntered up to the stage.
During the four minutes each candidate got to introduce themselves he was passionate and thoughtful about the state of Northland and it’s place in New Zealand. It was comparable to hearing a speech from Churchill. And he is right in saying “this is the vote of a lifetime”.
Peters made some good points – Northland has been forgotten. The average income in Northland is $30,000, which is the second lowest in the country and only 65 per cent of the national average. And unemployment is at 8.5 per cent, compared to 6.5 per cent for the rest of NZ. Northland is worried. It has been for some time.
Although Peters is popular, he does have some opposition. Labour’s candidate, Willow Jean Prime, ran in the last election and is from Moerewa. She is intelligent, articulate and relatable, but she will always have a hard time getting votes in what is predominantly a national electorate.
Mark Osbourne is National’s replacement for Sabin; he is also a local from Taipa. Osbourne has only been in the job for about two weeks, and although he made some good points, it seems as though he is relying on Northland’s penchant for National.
Not everyone in the crowd was sold on Peters – he had two people ask whether he will move permanently to Northland. Peters was quick to remind them that his ancestors are in fact from Waipu.
To me, voting for Peters seems like the obvious choice. It will make sure that, at least for a little while, Northland will be noticed. If anything can be improved, whether it’s the roads, the one-lane bridges upgraded, lower unemployment levels and higher incomes or even just a morale boost, it will mean a better future for Northland.
It is easy to think that the country starts in Auckland, but we must remember that Northland is where our country started. It has history, culture and, most importantly, it is home to good, decent and hardworking people.
I think Peters summed it up when he said: “Send them a message, so they’ll never forget you again.”
Photo by Cle0patra