Rodney seat shapes up as green transport battleground
Possibly not panning out exactly as the National Party planned.
By freeing up the Rodney seat, Lockwood Smith stated he was facilitating more firepower to be directed to the defence of the planned Pūhoi–Wellsford motorway—his position as speaker necessarily limiting the extent of his advocacy.
However, with the selection of Christine Rose as the Labour Party candidate for Rodney last Wednesday evening, the electorate is set to become a green transport battleground.
Rodney, of course, is the epitome of an electorate in which National could put up a gumboot. Consequently, Rodney has endured an entirely forgettable parade of lacklustre Labour candidates. At one Pūhoi meet-the-candidates meeting sometime in the 1970s, when it became the turn of the Labour candidate, the delivery of ‘his’ speech was so excruciating that several of the townsfolk failed to stifle giggles. The unintentionally cruel mirth proved to be mortifyingly infectious, with some having to slip out the hall, unconfident they could continue to maintain their composure.
It is widely anticipated that the person the National Party has in mind to contest Rodney and champion the planned motorway is the transport minister himself, Steven Joyce. It is unlikely that the party anticipated that its choice would face any particular competition from candidates selected by other parties. The party would certainly not have pictured a green candidate in the red corner.
Christine Rose’s green transport credentials are formidable, having chaired the regional council’s powerful transport and urban development committee. The committee ranked urban rail electrification first and the planned Pūhoi–Wellsford motorway fifteenth, out of fifteen. It is a measure of the transport minister’s disregard for regional democracy and the real world that he deemed the unneeded $1.7–2.3 billion motorway extension a ‘road of national significance’.
A month and a half before the regional council was subsumed into the Auckland Council, it received a compelling report by the Campaign for Better Transport detailing how the highway between Pūhoi and Wellsford could be quickly and affordably be rendered far safer—potentially saving some 50 lives and the better part of $2 billion, by the projected 2022 completion date of the motorway. But while saving lives (particularly in the notorious Dome Valley) is the immediate objective of the campaign, motorway construction is the epitome of infrastructure that is ratcheting up global warming. Aside from the fossil fuel use from the extra traffic generated, the prodigious amounts of steel-reinforced concrete involve immense carbon dioxide emissions, through the production of cement and steel. It is schizophrenic for Aotearoa to fly its ministers for the environment and international climate change negotiations to Cancún to attempt to limit global warming while back home its ‘minister for everything’ flogs failed and discredited white elephants.
But the biggest beneficiary of Rose’s candidacy, provided it can see the wood for the trees, could be Green Party. The Green Party faces a perennial problem whereby by many of its votes are lavished on local candidates, rather than the party where they would do some good—droves of Green Party supporters vote for their local candidate, then give their party vote to Labour. By refraining from standing a candidate in Rodney, the Green Party would give its supporters no choice but to party vote Green.
Whenever it is suggested that a minor party stand down a candidate for strategic reasons, there is a hue and cry by party adherents outraged at the prospect of being denied a god-given right. Rodney would be no exception, regardless of Green Party faithful being reminded that the party vote is the only vote that matters, barring the remote likelihood that the party selects a truly electable candidate. Nor, of course, does anybody expect Rose to take Rodney, despite her being highly regarded for her terms as both district and regional councillor. But nor are the 22 698 votes Lockwood Smith won in 2008 guaranteed to transfer to his successor in their entirety—Mana illustrated that phenomenon.
As a regional councillor, Christine Rose polled 11 061 votes. To emulate that performance in 2011, Mrs Rose would need to do much better than any Labour candidate since the seat’s reincarnation, in 1996, when Labour failed to make the top three and Mike Lee was runner-up—representing the Alliance Party, before it was gutted by former leader Jim Anderton. Mrs Rose could achieve those numbers if the Green Party gave national prominence to her candidacy and prioritised the fight for green transport solutions. It is a clear win-win for the Green Party: Elevating green transport policy; and highlighting to voters in all electorates that the party vote is the only vote that matters—do what you like with your electorate vote, ’cept in Rodney!
Labour may resile from a tactic that could cost it a thousand or more party votes. But without an unusually strong showing from the Green Party, Labour will not come close to leading a coalition government in 2011, New Zealand First’s online polling notwithstanding—Horizon’s small panel size and inclusion of ‘undecideds’ is questionable. Besides, much minor-party support typically shifts to National and Labour come an election, and the latest Roy Morgan Poll shows support for the National and Maori parties both up—1.5% and 0.5% respectively. Nothing short of convincing Tony Kokshoorn to resign the Grey District mayoralty to become party leader is going to put Labour in the position of forming a coalition government, with the Greens. As it stands, the upsurge in nationalism inevitable following the Pike River Disaster will benefit the government, irrespective of how culpable de-regulation may be found to be by the royal commission.
By choosing outsider John Key as leader, National has bought itself impunity from the party’s earlier ideological excesses. Labour likewise desperately needs a fresh face at the top, to permanently distance itself from free-market ideologues past.
Christine Rose for Rodney is a great start.
Works for Māori The failure to capture party support is not confined to the Green Party. The other minor parties, with the exception of the Māori Party, also haemorrhage support to major parties—generally to National. By virtue of the Māori electoral roll, the Māori Party has been able to convert its support into electoral seats, rendering the party vote almost immaterial—except to Labour, its traditional recipient.