MP hopefuls put to the test

With the General Election just over two weeks away, the Times joined a big crowd at a local church listening to candidates standing in the very blue Pakuranga Electorate. Times Photos Wayne Martin.

What do you call a line of politicians struggling with the Maori part of our anthem?

Nervous. I won’t name names. It’s not gracious. Some struggled. I struggled. We’re all human. Especially before God. I don’t know the belief systems of any of the candidates. That’s fine. But the pressure was on from kick-off. There was an opening prayer. Then the anthem. Then delivery of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ 2017 Election Statement, the opening of which read thusly: “We hope for positive, pro-life attitudes and policies. Love and care for the unborn, the vulnerable, the disabled, the elderly and the different, are marks of a compassionate society, as are well- funded palliative care services. Legalisation of assisted suicide undermines trust in the medical profession and puts vulnerable groups in our society at risk.”

Everyone seemed in agreement that this all made perfect sense.

And just when the candidates thought they may not have to get up and face the music after all, a speaker came forth and gave unto them this curly question: “Where do you stand on legalising Euthanasia and Decriminalising Abortion?”

Your time starts now. Rev Chris Sullivan welcomed the five candidates to Monday night’s election meeting at St Mark’s Catholic Church, Pakuranga. Crowd? More than 100, fewer than 200.

Those fighting for the Pakuranga seat vacated by long-time MP Maurice Williamson are Simeon Brown (National), Barry Kirker (Labour), Suzanne Kelly (NZ First), Carrie Stoddart-Smith (Maori) and Guy Hunt (Greens), were under the pump. The time master was strict. Very strict.

On abortion, Kelly said NZ First firmly believed the matters were both conscience votes, “deeply personal choices which cannot be decided by MPs in Parliament” but by binding referendum.

Brown agreed both issues were conscience issues “which means that each MP must decide”. And, straight off the song sheet his leader Bill English used in the Leaders’ Debate on Newshub on the same night, Brown said he didn’t see the need to decriminalise abortion as the regulations had been in place since the 1970s. He had a number of concerns however with assisted suicide and was open to the views of the electorate.

Hunt came out flying and, like the Labour leader Jacinda Ardern on Monday night, emphasised abortion should not fall under Crimes Act legislation. With medically-assisted death, he would support a law change provided a number of safeguards were in place.

Kirker said Labour was going to refer the abortion legislation to the Law Commission for review. “Personally I don’t need a change to the law.”

No to euthanasia too. “The Bill before parliament now, I would be voting against it.”

MPs will be forced to vote on whether or not euthanasia should be legal, after the End of Life Choice bill from by ACT leader David Seymour was drawn from Parliament’s ballot in June.

Stoddart-Smith doesn’t believe it’s a matter for politicians. “My conscience vote will be the vote of the Pakuranga electorate.”

And she was adamant the inclusion of the abortion law under the Crimes Act was a violation of human rights.

And they fielded loads more questions.

“What will you do to make sure everyone has a decent standard of living, that workers receive decent wages (at least the Living Wage), that beneficiaries receive enough, and that everyone has decent warm, dry and affordable housing?” (Two minutes each)

Stoddart-Smith talked of the living wage, a new category of social housing, cost of living adjustments on benefits, a universal student allowance, more funding for emergency housing and a dedicated housing sector officer.

Kelly: “Bridging the gap between rich and poor; providing government assistance for first home buyers…(we) also want to provide a minimum wage of $20 in the next three years.”

The Super Gold card would give seniors three free doctor’s visits a year and 10 per cent off electricity bills,” she said.

Brown: “The National party believes that the best way to lift people out of poverty is a strong economy and (strong) education (policies).”

Hunt: “No one should live in poverty.” The Greens would increase all benefits by 20 per cent including Working for Families and would raise the minimum wage to $17.50ph and keep raising it. They would also lower tax rates. “Everyone earning under $150,000 would be better off under Green policy.”

Kirker: “We’d immediately increase the minimum wage to $16.50…and then $17.25.” Labour would make a winter energy payment. Re housing, the party would tackle speculators in a bid to slow down the market and they would assist tenants.

Creditable performances from all of them really.

  • Another meeting is planned, this time for candidates of the major parties standing in the Botany electorate. That meeting is on Monday, September 11 at 7.30pm at the East City Wesleyan church Centre, 219 Burswood Drive, Botany.