I MUST say I have really enjoyed getting out and about in the Rangitikei and the greater Manawatu Whanganui region over the past month or so.
Last week I attended the Ratana commemorations along with Prime Minister Bill English, five ministers and 10 National MPs, including my colleague Chester Borrows.
We all received a very warm welcome, after which the Prime Minister talked about the Government's plans over the coming year and his vision to work alongside Maori. His message was clear: "It's you who know your whanau; it's you who know who they can trust.
Government doesn't know that, can't know it, shouldn't pretend that it does, and that's rangatiratanga, and we believe in that. So we need to be better, and will be, at working with you".
The Ratana movement has a long history with politics and politicians and our visit and warm reception represented a great start to what will be a busy year.
I was privileged to open the new Wildbase wildlife hospital in Palmerston North last week in place of Conservation Minister Maggie Barry, following the cancellation of her flight. Massey University has reason to be proud of this thoroughly modern and fit-forpurpose facility, which will provide the next generation of conservation care.
Wildbase remains the only dedicated wildlife hospital in New Zealand. Staff and vet students treat and actively help their patients return to the wild as quickly as possible, and past and present Massey staff and students have made an enormous contribution in the 15 years since a Wildbase Hospital was first established. They started with 50 patients in 2001; by last year that number had grown to 317. This 534 per cent increase illustrates the high demand for the quality care they are providing.
This new, larger, facility was very much needed. Half the animals treated at Wildbase are threatened or endangered species. It's an example of a strong working partnership between the university, business, community groups and individuals who, together, have funded the upgrade. It also reflects the Government's belief that growing conservation is a joint responsibility.
The last weekend in January heralds the Turakina Caledonian Society's annual Highland Games and I enjoyed an opportunity to catch some of the action on Saturday.
Celebrating their 153rd year, these are New Zealand's longest-running Highland Games. This year's event was another great rendition with plenty of traditional drumming, piping, highland dancing and various field events to keep competitors and spectators alike engaged. The day was helped by great weather and an excellent crowd.
It is National's first caucus meeting of the year at Parliament today, and the formal opening of the new session of Parliament on Tuesday next week.