Unfinished business

Barry Kirker, Labour’s candidate in Pakuranga in this month’s general elections, fancies his chances of increasing both the party and candidate vote in a seat long-dominated by the inimitable Maurice Williamson.

Quite apart from Williamson leaving for a diplomatic post in Los Angeles (he delivered his valedictory speech to Parliament last week), Kirker believes he has a couple of other advantages.

One factor is that this is his second crack (he stood in 2014). He’s standing again because there’s “unfinished business I suppose”. 

“I feel I did alright last time but I feel I can articulate Labour’s messages a bit better,” says Kirker.

“Maurice had a reasonable level of popular support but there were some who thought he was lazy.”

The other factor in Kirker’s favour is home court advantage. The candidate stepping up for the Nats in Pakuranga is Simeon Brown, a commercial banker in Highbrook who serves on the Manurewa Local Board.

“I think  overall I was more worried I’d be up against a local candidate,” says Kirker, of Half Moon Bay.

“Simeon is not local and is too young especially if you look at (controversial National MP) Todd Barclay…young people and their decision-making.”

He says Brown will have other difficulties. “He’s anti-abortion, anti-civil union, he’s really right wing on social issues.

“It’s a bit of a surprise after having Maurice who was quite a libertarian.”

The Pakuranga seat has been held by National and Williamson since 1987, and at the last election saw a Party Vote majority of more than15,000.

Kirker, 47, is encouraged as he took 1000 votes from the Candidate Vote majority of 12 000.

A clinical psychologist in private practice, he believes his job will help. “I’m helping people problem solve and advocate for them,” he says.

“I think the skills and experience that I’ve got help…you get to see issues facing society — housing for example, crowding.

“They can’t access the mental health services they need; special education — it’s very hard to get support in the schools and it all comes back to funding.”

He believes his message will engage with light blue or centrist voters.

And don’t start about Winston Peters and his NZ First crowd. If, he argues, they managed to get 15 members into the House, it would be a waste.

“They haven’t got any depth of talent — there’s no comparison between the top 15 Labour list (members) and NZ First’s.

“That’s my big concern…people will think they’re getting mostly Winston (and they’re not).”

On Labour’s leader stepping down and Jacinda Ardern taking up the mantle as opposition leader, he says it was a wise decision. “People locally were saying leadership was an issue…I wasn’t surprised at all.”

Now it’s onward and upward spreading the message.

“We’ve got more policy to come yet.

“(It’s a matter of) just how do we convey that. We’ve got some really good policy. For locals it’s the Howick Busway; there’s education, health, immigration, policing, small business accounting,  is very targeted and then the environmental policies like our clean water policy.`

“The policy is all fitting around the slogan “Let’s do it”. It’s all about fixing things. I think that’s what will sustain us in the polls.”