NORTHLAND'S ZOMBIE TOWNS EMBRACE WINSTON
By Richard Harman (author)
It looks as though Northland’s “Zombie” towns are about to give a giant two fingered salute to the Government and its “one size fits all” approach to economic policy and social services.
The TV3 poll showing Winston Peters ahead for Saturday’s by-election by 20% appears to be ahead of National’s polling.
But even if their spin doctors are correct with their lower estimates of Winston’s support the Government is still bracing for a big loss on Saturday night. They believe they are at least 7% behind Peters.
The Nats are partly blaming this on the collapse of the Labour vote and on the failures of previous National MPs. But they must also worry that neither the Greens nor the Conservatives are standing a candidate which means that (with last election Labour voters) around 34% of the vote is up for grabs.
This means that Winston doesn’t need to win over that many National supporters --- possibly as few as 5000.
In short it’s totally do-able.
But what’s propelling Winston’s momentum was clearly evident today when Finance Minister Bill English met with local business and community leaders in Dargaville.
Those at the meeting were clearly sympathetic to National but were frustrated with what they saw as big city solutions being applied to their community’s problems.
They singled out the local high school which they claimed was only interested in sending students to universities.
One business owner said the students who didn’t want to go to University were regarded as “dumb arses” and the town ended up with a pool of people who weren’t interested in working.
The bright children were leaving the town.
“We have an ageing workforce and a declining population because the young people aren’t staying,” said one leader.
“We are left with a pool of people who are uneducated and who are unemployed.
“Why isn’t the school encouraging them to take up apprenticeships?”
The same criticisms were made at a meeting in Kaikohe to National’s candidate, Mark Osborne.
But the Dargaville leaders also complained about young people having to go to Whangarei to get drivers’ licences. This has been necessary since 2012 when the New Zealand Transport Authority closed many rural testing centres.
NZTA said rural licensing centres were scrapped when restricted licence tests were made more difficult in 2012.
A spokesman said: "The nature of the test is you just can't deliver it in some locations because they don't have the roads and environment to test those skills."
“They now have to be able to drive through traffic lights --- but we don’t have traffic lights, so they fail” said one leader.
He said that the young people drove anyway and more and more people were driving without licences.
But they couldn’t get jobs driving harvesters or machinery in the region’s agricultural industries.
Bill English said the Government was looking at the issue.
But he issued a stark warning.
“If we change this, people have to be willing to see our driving standards drop and more deaths on the roads,” he said.
There was also criticism of the slowness of the rollout of ultrafast broadband which the meeting agreed could be a way of encouraging people to start businesses in the district.
Alongside free trade agreements and reducing the deficit this was all small stuff. But what lay behind the concerns was a deep felt concern that their communities were shrinking and that that process was accelerating.
In many ways they were fighting back against the arguments put forward by New Zealand Institute of Economic Research Principal Economist, Shamubeel Eaqub in his book “Growing Apart” which was published last year and in which he described part of Northland as looking like Timor and advocated shutting down the region’s “Zombie Towns”.
But the main weapon in their fightback looks as though it is going to be a vote for Winston this weekend.