Vast Rangitikei electorate up for grabs

Vast Rangitīkei electorate up for grabs, but do locals know their options?

Jimmy Ellingham of RNZ  04 Sep 2023

Rangitīkei is the third largest electorate in the North Island, stretching from east of Levin in the south, across the central plateau, to above Taumarunui to the north.

And it is up for grabs this election, as its four-term National MP Ian McKelvie retires.

Turakina farmer Suze Redmayne is National's new candidate, while Labour has enlisted Zulfiqar Butt, a former Palmerston North city councillor. The electorate surrounds, but does not include, the city.

Flying the flag for ACT is former Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard, who at No 5 on the party list looks certain to make it into Parliament.

Bernard Long, from the Greens, and Helma Vermeulen, from NZ First, are also on the ticket.

But when RNZ visited some of the electorate's remote reaches this week, few people knew much about the candidates.

In Marton, home to more than 5000 people and a James Cook statue on the main street, Eden Waitai said he was not impressed with the political prospects on offer.

"People around here, and in New Zealand, like myself - they don't even vote, because they feel as if it's all rigged anyway."

Waitai said nothing had changed since the previous election, when he voted.

Others spoken to struggled to name the local candidates, and many said they had not yet thought about what local issues were important.

But someone who knows who he is voting for is Ray Poulsen, who was busy chipping old paint off the concrete step into his leathers goods shop, Feral Headquarters.

"[I'm] after stability in the government and I think what we've just come through with Covid, we've had a pretty good run with Labour.

“They'll get my vote every time.”

He had not seen or heard much from the electorate candidates.

“When it boils down to it, it's hit or miss with whoever you go with these days ... I think I'll just go red all over.”

Traditional issues are top of mind for some people.

“I'd like them to change the sentencing laws because at the moment a criminal can be found guilty, and a judge says discharged without conviction. There's no penalty. The victim is not getting anything out of that are they?” one man said.

"Crime prevention, healthcare – someone like me, we're pretty much middle income. We don't tend to get given much, so people that earn less than us, hopefully they're helped out," a Marton woman said.

In Raetihi, more than 120 kilometres from Marton, Annie Stone said she was concerned about plastic waste.

A manager at the Volcanic Vibe gift store, she said the major parties were dodging the issue.

"The other big, big issue here is the weather. It's a huge issue right here," she said.

"The snow fell this year. It didn't fall last year – the year before, not so good.

"We don't get any visitors to our shop if the ski people don't come, and it's the same for our food and beverage outlets."

Stone was also worried about the recent closure of the Ohakune courthouse.

"That happens a lot round here. We can't get things fixed. We've got a really nice theatre here – can't fix it. We have a swimming pool that leaks - can't fix it. We just can't afford to.

"Even if we could find somebody to throw money at it, where do you get the specialists who know how to fix it?"

She had met Redmayne and hoped to hear a Green candidate speak, but said it was hard to find information about local candidates.

In the town, cost of living is also a factor.

"They're not really thinking about the elderly people. They've gone and put everything up. Bring back Winston Peters. He was the one who got us the Gold Card," one man said.

Another railed against attacks on gangs and parties promising to get tough on crime without doing anything about dealing with the issues that led to that.

Nobody RNZ spoke to knew much about the electorate candidates.

McKelvie said farming was one constant issue across the electorate, but few others affected the whole span.

For example, roading into Wellington would be important for people around Palmerston North, but those in Taumarunui would be more interested in links to Auckland.

"It has a a whole lot of different interests, so you've got Defence base stuff from Waiouru to Linton, then you've got the mountain-based stuff, which has been very significant in the last two or three years, with the ski fields being in difficulty.

"So, you've got a whole, diverse range of things that go on."

Some days McKelvie would spend about six hours in a car getting around, and he said he relied on having good staff to keep his offices ticking over.

He advised his successor to find a family or staff member to take the wheel so the hours on the road could be spent working.

McKelvie said he was lucky enough that his wife could do that.

Rangitīkei is considered a safe National seat, except when Social Credit's Bruce Beetham held it from 1978 to 1984.