In her second candidate diary for the Spinoff, Labour’s candidate for East Coast describes door-knocking in the electorate, meeting fellow diarist Chlöe Swarbrick, fronting a press stand-up after that controversial list announcement, and a big TV appearance.
I knocked on the door. It was one of the last ones for the day on my sheet of over 50 names. I was out with my team of about 20 dedicated foot soldiers doing a morning door-knocking round. We were due to meet for a late lunch in Kawerau, followed by a meeting on housing with Phil Twyford, Labour’s Housing spokesperson. I knocked politely on this door again (can’t be so pathetic that they don’t hear the knock or too enthusiastic such that you risk it being perceived as an emergency) and waited briefly. My typical “appropriate” waiting time is about 10 seconds. I hit the 10 second mark and stepped away, back towards the roadside.
“Hello?” a woman in a beanie and blanket sleepily called out to me from the ajar door.
“Oh, kia ora! Sorry for waking you!”, I responded.
I looked at her, and realised she was a young woman and it was midday on a weekend. Probably had a good night out, I thought. “Good night out last night?” I asked cheekily.
She smiled wryly through her sleepy eyes, “Ha, na cuz, night shift.” She yawned. “Anyway, what’s up?”
I was wearing my bright red “Labour” emblazoned tee-shirt with my blazer over top. The bright red was usually a sign for people to either: quickly duck behind a door and pretend they aren’t home (even if their house is clearly open and TV blaring); emerge hesitantly wondering what I want; or, as is sometimes the case, bound out with enthusiasm. I explained I was Labour’s East Coast candidate and we got into a discussion.
Her partner came to the door midway through our conversation, adorned in a blanket as well (also a night shift worker – I found out both worked in kiwifruit). They shared with me some of their reality. Turns out they had recently taken in a family of seven people – five kids and a mum and dad for nine months. The dad had a job in the kiwifruit industry and made a decent wage. But, with rising rents in Kawerau, the family sought to find better paying work in Christchurch and relocated. The working situation in Christchurch didn’t work out and when they relocated back home to Kawerau they figured it would be easy enough to get a rental again. They were wrong. Unfortunately Kawerau, previously a town that had plenty of rental properties at reasonable prices, had the highest capital gains in the country of 41% so the rental market was all of a sudden very small.
Despite trying hard, and the dad earning approximately $500 a week after tax from seasonal work in the kiwifruit industry, the family could not find an affordable rental. And, people are proud aye. Despite the fact this family had broader family in the region, they didn’t want people to know that they could not find somewhere to live. So, they sent two of their kids to family in Auckland and the rest (five of them) initially “moved” to the beach where they lived out of their car. The occupants of the house I had just knocked on shared their story of trying to work with Housing New Zealand and WINZ – but they were unable to provide help. So, they opened up their home and for nine months, the parents slept outside in a tent erected on the lawn, and the kids inside.
This is the New Zealand I live in.
Kids are living in cars at the beach, parents who are working hard to feed their families can’t find homes, and a government that could help isn’t helping many of those in need. This story is not an anomaly. It is unfortunately the growing norm, often hidden behind pride and closed doors of homes that now house far too many people. Our reality is that we have a generation of workers who now form a class: the working poor.
We have knocked on thousands of people’s homes in Maketu, Matataa, Kawerau, Edgecumbe, Whakatāne, Opotiki, Gisborne and throughout the region. We have a team of telephone callers calling the homes we knock on but miss. Our team are burning the rubber on their soles this campaign and we are seeing stories like the one I shared above everywhere. There is a gap between the “haves” and “have nots”, and when you step back and look at it, this isn’t the nation I grew up in, or signed up to.
My team is comprised of almost every class bracket – from single mums struggling to feed their kids, to successful business people, and indeed a knighted former deputy prime minister. Each one of us is compelled to act for a range of reasons, but primarily, it is because the direction we see our country headed in goes against our moral code. We were the nation that was held up around the world for introducing a welfare system for those that needed a hand, for building homes for families and for implementing world class schools and a health care system that, well, cared. But the guts of these systems have been ripped out systematically for far too long.
Strategic long-term thinking is desperately needed to replace governance by popularity polling alone. The lack of this thinking is evident in the cuts to the Cullen Superfund (that was supposed to be a way of saving for our imminent baby boomer generation retiring), the dog chasing its tail in the fresh water developments (where the government seems to be taking a hands off approach that is resulting in un-swimmable waterbodies) and a lack of focus on regional development. Our country needs a clear formalised direction with our communities at the centre, and the goal to take action when action is needed – like now. I’m hearing it on door steps, in community halls and in the pub chats I’ve had throughout the electorate.
This month has been a whirlwind on the campaign trail. Some of the highlights were:
Sir Michael Cullen opening up our mobile office Kiri’s Coastie Campaign Caravan.
Getting to spend time with Chlöe Swarbrick. We decided to meet up after we both realised we were writing candidate diaries for The Spinoff. I am so pleased that there are young people coming into our national political forums that are committed to where New Zealand is headed as a country.
Hosting the Hon Annette King and Hon Trevor Mallard in Opotiki, Whakatane and Kawerau talking to constituents about health, jobs and education.
Having my live national TV debut on Q + A with Willie Jackson and Peeni Henare. I have been on TV a number of times before offering my thoughts and academic views on various topics. But this was different – this was as a Labour candidate and it is one of the major weekly political shows. Suffice to say I was somewhat nervous (let’s be honest, I wanted to throw up before the interview). But I thought we went well as a team.
We were asked expressly about the seabed and foreshore and how we could reconcile being in Labour given the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. I said that our party had done a lot of things right for communities over our 100 year history, and that we had also made some egregious errors. Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern have both stated they would have dealt with the seabed and foreshore in a different manner. In addition, I’m confident that our team of staunch, community focussed members including Meka Whaitiri, Kelvin Davies, Willie Jackson, Peeni Henare, Willow-Jean Prime and many other in the Labour Party that are committed to ensuring that something like that never occurs again.
The Labour Party list announcement. I’m proud to have been ranked in position 20, and I’m particularly proud to be a part of a skilled, fresh and future focussed team committed to putting New Zealand back on track: a place where we look after our kids, protect our water ways, prioritise our regions and make sure everyone has access to decent jobs, schools and healthcare system. Because that’s the New Zealand I grew up in and it’s one I am willing to advocate for, for a life time.
My first media “stand-up”. The day the party announced the list, I attended the media stand-up with the party leadership –Willie made me answer a few questions and my pulse was pumping!
Attending ANZAC commemorations in Kawerau, Te Teko and Whakatāne. Me maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou.
There are 136 days to go until the election and lots more rubber on the soles of our shoes to burn! We are building a grassroots movement of people dedicated to change. If you’re keen to come on board our team we totally want you! Sign up here and let’s #ChangetheGovt!
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