KING- THE FUTURE
By Richard Harman (author)
If you look at Annette King’s electorate you look at a cross section of New Zealand.
From its eastern boundaries where the “Wellywood” moviemakers (including Petr Jackson) live across through Miramar and Melrose, home to the first Labour Government’s first state houses, across the airport to Kilbirnie with its heavy European and Pacific Island migrant population then down to Cook Strait and Island Bay, with its high percentage of relatively affluent left wing and social activists (including Andrew Little) - you see New Zealand.
National wins the party vote here but Ms King holds it against that tide.
It’s easy to see why. She is a consummate local MP, attending almost every school fair, prize giving sports day or other local events. Her’s is a very familiar face.
The former school dental nurse came from a Labour family and she is instinctively Labour to her fingertips.
But her politics are tempered by her day to day experiences in her middle New Zealand electorate.
For those who argue Labour is out of touch with New Zealand (and sometimes it looks that way), Annette King is the answer.
She has at times been regarded with some suspicion by the left of the party. She was certainly opposed to David Cunliffe as Leader but she supported Grant Robertson in the last leadership election.
Now she is effusive about Andrew Little to whom, of course, she is deputy.
“The combination of Andrew and me is really good,” she believes.
“”We get on well together.
“He’s got lots of strengths but there are lots of things I can add.”
She believes that a party needs both enthusiasm and youth and enthusiasm and age and experience. It is the latter that she provides.
She also credits Little with being an excellent caucus chair who has brought unit to the parliamentary Party and perhaps surprisingly she praises the work done by Chief of Staff and former unionist and Alliance MP, Matt McCarten, with unifying the staff behind Little.
She says she never wanted to the Leader herself.
“That’s because later in life I found love.
“I’ve now got grand skids and I want a balance where I can love my politics; love my job but I can also spend time with Ray (Lind, her husband who she married 20 years after her first marriage ended in divorce).”
That balance that she seeks has given rise to speculation that this might be her last term in Parliament.
However she says she will be standing again at the next election.
And she’s available to continue on as deputy leader.
She will be a critical part of Labour’s 2017 campaign as health spokesperson.
Because of her experience as a Minister and also her extensive network in the health sector, she is one of the few Labour MPs who can really trouble National Ministers during Question Time in Parliament, a fact that privately even senior Nats are willing to acknowledge.
Her fundamental argument over the Government’s health policies are that they are underfunded and that District Health Boards are fudging performance figures so that they were not effectively delivering, particularly in terms of elective surgery.
She says the Infometrics study that Labour commissioned shows that the Government has under funded health by $1.7 billion over the last six budgets.
“We have a growing gap in terms of equity of access,” she says.
“In terms of elective surgery we’ve got post code surgery.
“It depends on where you live whether you’ll get access.
“But it’s not just surgery – it can go from access to primary health services to dental service to elective services to community mental health services.”
She says the party if working on a “couple of radical ideas” to address the issue.
She frankly admits there are political wins to be made in addressing this issue.
“You take an issue like elective surgery; hips, knees, cataracts; the growing ageing population are demanding to have services.
“They are a voting public, an ageing public and an informed public and they are living longer and they want to be more active.”
But ultimately Labour can only address this issue with more money.
Their plan to scrap National’s promised 2017 tax cuts will give them up to $2.5 billion. But that will be all and already Andrew Little has ear marked $125 million of that in Labour’s first year for the free tertiary education plan.
She’s not willing to make any firm commitment on spending but says Labour will set out its release health spending plans before the next election.
They may however be gradual.
“You can’t put the $1.7 billion back in the first year.
“We don’t have it.
“We’ve said you’d put it in over time.”
As Health Minister in the Clark Government she took a fair amount of criticism over what many considered her overly nanny state approach to issues like childhood obesity.
She remains unapologetic about that and it is clear that a future Labour Government would be tougher on food issues, and possibly alcohol, than the present Government.
She says the current Health Minister, Jonathan Colemanm, needs to get braver about obesity and stop listening to those who have a barrow to push for their own self-interest.”
“I don’t think the nanny state label is going to stick in the future on obesity.”
She regrets that the some of the key recommendations from the Law Commission Report on Alcohol, which she commissioned when she was Justice Minister, were not included in the legislation subsequently introduced by National.
She is a critic of lowering the age to 18 and is disappointed proposals to allow Councils to remove licences from liquor stores was not included in the Bill.
There are parts of her electorate where there are liquor stores separated only by dairies.
But away from all this she believes that Labour can win in 2017.
And she says the party is ready for Government.
“I increasingly feel that because I watch our party polling and the public polling.
“The biggest hurdle to us getting back has been Key and the popularity of Key and I can go back to our own polling where he sued to poll up where Helen did for a long time; in the high 70s.
“I’ve just watched, as always happens, over time he gets down to 42, 44.
“So the erosion of key’s popularity is already happening.”
Typical of King is her highly pragmatic view of why it will soon be Labour’s time again.
“There comes the tipping point where people say we’ve had enough of you.
“It’s never logical.
“What had the Clark Government done wrong in 2008 to get rid of them?
“People liked the policies.
“They liked her strong leadership and they liked the direction we were going.
“We’d formed relationships with business.
“What was it?
“Or was it that is was time for a change.
I can see the elements of that now.
“When I go round the community, the correspondence I get, the places I visit, the response to us.
“The phone is on the hook as Mike Moore would say.”
King is a politician who knows how to win elections.
National win the party vote in Rongotai by 33% to Labour’s 31%; but last election she won the electorate vote with a majority of 9617 over her National opponent, her cousin, Chris Finlayson.
If she is getting the response she says she is, and there’s no reason to doubt her claims, from her very middle New Zealand electorate then National might have to worry that next election Labour could win the party vote in Rongotai too.