Joe Hendren

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Blackball election meeting (West Coast Tasman)

On Thursday I spoke at my first candidate meeting. Best of all the meeting was at (Formerly) The Blackball Hilton on the West Coast, a proud historical home of the left. I drove over to Blackball for the meeting on Thursday, stayed at the Hilton overnight and had a good stroll around the town the next day.

Following a yummy dinner, kindly provided by Jane of the Hilton for the candidates, the debate got going just after 7.30pm. Each candidate got a 5 minute introduction followed by question time where each candidate got 1 minute to answer questions from the audience.

Apart from me, the line-up consisted of.

Richard Davies (Green): Bloody nice guy. Would pick him to be on the 'social justice' side of the Greens. Said he still had a lot of time for the Alliance and he admired our tax policy. He told me it was good to have someone to the left of him there as it made him look more moderate! (I took that in the kind way it was intended). I felt we were able to back each other up on a number of issues, often approaching the questions in different ways. If missed a point in an answer, or ran out of time I was often relieved to see Richard make up for it :)

Kevin Gill (Act): Despite only being 22 on the Act list Kevin has his own new looking Act bus with his name and photo all over it. In contrast, the Alliance candidate (me) arrived in a $750 car, borrowed from a mate. Kevin's initial 5 minute speech was a little unusual. Kind of reminiscent of your odd uncle telling jokes at a wedding. I thought got his points across better during question time. When I first arrived and introduced to the other candidates as the Alliance person, he made some quip about me only getting 1 minute to speak. I quickly quipped back that Kevin didn't need any dinner, as the 'market will provide!' :)

Damien O'Connor (Labour, sitting MP): An assured speaker, Damien delivered a very 'MP in Government' speech. Talked about what Labour had achieved with ERA and renationalising ACC, among other things. A local gave Damien a hard time about schools, as he felt Damien had done little to prevent the closure of many local schools (this was the big local issue).

Derek Blight (Christian Heritage): An interesting mix. I found Derek friendly and chatty and I was genuinely impressed with his enthusiasm for restorative justice and how it fitted into his work in Hokitika. I would normally associate CHP with the lock em up brigade, so meeting Derek was a welcome surprise. Of course he was a social conservative, stating CHP would repeal the Civil Unions Act and giving the obligatory 'abortion is murder' speech near the end.

Milton Osborne (United Future/ Outdoor) Seemed to be one of the Outdoor Recreation crew. Wanted to ban 1080 - prompting a question from the audience about what the UFO party would replace it with. Gave Peter's talk about UFO making MMP work and the need for one of the big parties to form a coalition with a smaller party. Don't remember him mentioning 'common sense' once!

Chris Auchinvole (National): At first sight Chris reminded me of English comic Harry Enfield and I had difficulty shaking off that image all night! His opening speech attempted to paint tax as the key issue in the election. A couple of people in the audience asked why rich people gained more from National's tax policy, gaining with those on the highest incomes getting $92 extra per week. Chris resisted from conceding this point, and argued that more people would gain tax relief under National than under Labour. I thought Chris would have done better to acknowledge rich people would gain more, as it was blindingly obvious, and this may have allowed him to make his point about 'more people gaining' in a more convincing way.

My opening was a bit of ramble following a few rough notes. I talked about despite the fact we were being told the economy was doing well, many people continued to miss out. Made a call for a minimum wage of $15, introduced our tax policy, and explained how 75% of people would pay less tax under the Alliance. Arriving with a large stack of Alliance tabloids, people seemed to enjoy my quip that the Alliance stood for free health, free education and a free newspaper! I also talked about what the Alliance had achieved in government, and made a strong call for public ownership and control of electricity, rail etc.

As I expected I was more comfortable at question time. Very happy to get a question on globalisation/free trade where I outlined the opposition of the Alliance to the current WTO/World Bank agenda as this has only led to the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer across the world. I think I surprised a few people by rattling off the most recent trade deficit figures, including the now massive $2 billion deficit with China, pointing out that despite the hype trade liberalisation was leading to an explosion of imports and this could have negative impacts on our economy.

My answer to the last question on school closures was very well received. I pointed out there was a bigger issue here, which went back to tomorrow schools which made administration of schools more businesslike, and that treasury was largely responsible for this agenda (hehe dig at treasury felt good). I said that some right wingers even celebrated the fact that businesses closed down when they talked about creative destruction. Labour were also making schools more businesslike by encouraging them to recruit foreign fee paying students, creating their own funding stream. I reminded people that every time they hear the words 'bulk funding', 'school choice' in this election, these were moves to make schools even more like businesses, and these policies would lead to more closures. I would have liked to flesh the argument a little more, but answers to questions were strictly limited one tiny minute.

Quite a few people told me I did well (including some of the other candidates).

Following the debate I got into some interesting discussions with a couple of people. A member of the Rail and Maritime Union questioned my contention that the Government should have bought back the entire railways instead of giving the operations to Toll until 2070. He actually confirmed my fear that track upgrades continue to be mostly of the band aid variety, like they have been for the past 15 years, instead of the major upgrades that are needed. I also talked with a woman about the management of schools and the possible implications of bulk funding. While I suspect we may have had different views, I felt we both appreciated each others strong interest in education issues. I suggested she check out the QPEC website.

Overall the debate was a lot of fun, made more enjoyable by the friendly nature of the other candidates and an audience dominated by lefties!

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