On Saturday 28 March 2015, New Zealand First leader, the Right Honourable Winston Peters won his by-election campaign in the Northland electorate. In doing so he ended a lengthy occupancy of the seat by National, whose traditional base includes farmers and those from rural communities. The rejection of the candidate of a party that has traditionally had rural communities as a core part of its constituency was a resounding blow for National, whose ability to govern over the remainder of this Parliamentary term, barely 6 months old has just been severely eroded.
But with the conclusion of the by-election campaign, it is time to look at what New Zealand First can do for Northland. Despite what their party has in mind, most elected candidates seriously contest elections with the intention of doing something useful in their community. Mr Peters is no stranger to Northland as a region and was born in Whangarei, where he was raised. He also spends considerable time in the Northland region when not in Wellington on Parliamentary business. He is familiar with issues facing both Maori and non-Maori in a predominantly rural electorate whose larger towns are places like Dargaville and Kaitaia.
The Northland regions major industries are forestry and agriculture, backed by tourism and horticulture. It also has the only oil refinery in New Zealand, half of whose intake of unrefined product is from Taranaki and the rest comes from the Middle East. The railway line is heavily relied on to get timber products to Auckland. As Northland electorate covers more than 80 of the Northland regions total landmass, except for the Whangarei area, it is largely rural.
New Zealand First campaigned on offering alternatives to National’s road driven agenda. One of the alternative measures it offered to advance Northland was to improve the railway line. Given the relatively low priority National has given to non road forms of transport, the development of the railway line is an alternative that is popular with the electorate. Another promise is to make better use of the Port of Whangarei. Again, given the prioritization of roading under National, there is potential for the Port to significantly increase its volume, by taking trucks off the road by investing in the merchant marine.
It is not just economic help that New Zealand First could offer Northland though. As a party that is interested in the social well being of New Zealanders and concerned at the growing gap between high and low income earners, as well as the generation of a sub class who cannot work and are at risk of becoming social outcasts, there is much New Zealand First could offer. Because Northland is a primarily rural electorate, the creation of jobs that tie in with the agricultural and forestry sectors are potentially the most useful.
As for Mr Peters himself, Northland decided they wanted him to have a go at improving their lot. Now is his chance to do so. National had occupied the seat for 18 years before Mr Peters won. It will be interesting to see how Mr Peters, who turns 70 this month, and his party play out their hand.