‘Sisters’ at arms
East Coast's “three wonderful wahine” — the Labour, National and Green election candidates — promoted their party wares at last night's Chamber of Commerce election meeting, but chamber president Paul Naske said they shared more in common than they disagreed on.
Labour's Kiri Allan, National's Tania Tapsell and the Greens' Meredith Akuhata-Brown shared plenty of laughs and mutual respect, with Ms Allan several times referring to the other two as “sisters” when they agreed with each other.
Ms Allan, an East Coast-based list MP for the past three years, criticised a basic tenet of Ms Tapsell's campaign — that National are sound economic managers.
Ms Tapsell's “mantra” was a myth, she said.
Ms Allan said government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product was lower under the Labour-led Government, pre-Covid-19, than it had been under the previous John Key-Bill English National Government. She even went as far back as the Robert Muldoon Government in making her point.
National's policy to pay off $80 billion in Government debt by 2030 while spending $40 billion in roading would require austerity on a massive level.
Labour would be prudent and pay off debt over a longer period.
Ms Tapsell rejected the argument.
Policies to spend $4.8 billion in education (on infrastructure over 10 years) was not austerity.
She also referred to a long-term infrastructure fund being required for “real jobs” and a water infrastructure fund that would support East Coast growers and farmers.
Funding needed to be prioritised.
Gisborne had received Provincial Growth Funding (PGF) funding of $40 million for the Olympic Pool redevelopment but $38m was needed for wastewater treatment.
Ms Allan, in response to a question about PGF, denied PGF funding was solely a policy of Labour's coalition partner New Zealand First.
She joined the Labour Party as “a proud kid of this region” who believed the region had been massively neglected by the National Party, she said.
She had been “a loud advocate down in the halls of power for our people”.
Ms Tapsell defended her commitment to the region and said Labour wanted to disband Hauora Tairawhiti by reducing the country's 20 district health boards down to between eight and 12.
Ms Tapsell said she had specifically made a commitment to keeping the health board locally-based.
She did not support the re-introduction of the Wairoa-Gisborne rail line. It was not prudent use of money.
She would use taxpayer money wisely, prioritise spending and invest more on roads.
Ms Allan said Labour had supported the feasibility study and had recently met with the chief executive of Kiwi Rail.
There looked like there was some merit in rail, she said. But engineers had to look at the track.
Sustainability, including financial sustainability, was important.
Pushed further by debate host Adam Simperingham, Ms Allan said any East Coast project had to satisfy a broad range of wellbeing factors. The facts needed to be known, including whether rail was “the right fit for the region”.
Mrs Akuhata-Brown, a member of the Gisborne Rail Action Group, said the Greens and herself were passionate supporters of rail, which could also be supported on environmental grounds.
Sustainable jobs and energy sources and climate change concerns were regular comments from Mrs Akuhata-Brown.
She complimented Labour as a coalition partner but said the audience could decide between Labour and National for their electorate vote, but voters should party-vote Green.
The candidates were asked what they believed was the East Coast's most important issue.
Mrs Akuhata-Brown said housing and that there was “absolutely” a role for the Government
Ms Allan said the key issue was connectivity “in every sense”, including transport and its roles in jobs and exports.
Ms Tapsell said it was creating job training and sustainable employment for youth.
The candidates were asked to state their views on the two referendums (end of life choice and cannabis legalisation and control).
Ms Tapsell said she did not support the end of life referendum and was strongly against legalising cannabis use.
She was concerned about the lack of protection for the terminally ill.
Ms Allan said she had originally held similar concerns but there had been substantial changes to the legislation as it passed through the three readings in Parliament, and she had eventually changed her vote to support end of life.
She had not made up her mind about the cannabis referendum.
She was concerned about the number of Maori in the justice system and wanted more funding for health and addiction issues.
Mrs Akuhata-Brown agreed with her colleagues that end of life was a difficult issue and she had not yet made her decision.
She supported legalising cannabis use because the current law did not work.
Ms Tapsell and Ms Allan said they had inhaled cannabis while Mrs Akuhata-Brown said she had not.