National Party leader Christopher Luxon popped into The Courier newspaper office for a chat with editor Daniel Tobin, during his visit to Ashburton. He also spoke at a public meeting.
Mr Luxon said he liked to visit two or more towns a week, “because getting out of Wellington is a good thing, you hear what the real issues are.”
The cost of living and inflation were some of the concerns Mr Luxon had identified from locals during his visit, as well as labour shortages.
“There are real challenges around labour shortages here, that’s a consistent theme from a range of business I have spoken to,” he said.
He agreed the lack of rental properties in Ashburton were linked to the labour shortages.
“We have to have the infrastructure so we can grow… across the country there is a real shortage of rental properties, that’s not helped by the Government putting in extra costs like removing interest deductibility and bright-line tests, on day one we want to remove those very quickly,” he said.
“Farmers aren’t villains,” Mr Luxon said, when asked what the farming community could expect from a National government.
“Our farmers are the best and the most carbon efficient in the world, culling the herd is not the answer for removing emissions, because all we are doing is moving the production from New Zealand to another part of the world.
“So we need to change our mindset and say we are going to back our farmers to be the best in the world.
“If we are going to continue to lead the world in agriculture and make sure our farmers are productive and the best, we have to get innovative and improve practices through research and development in a science lead way,” he said.
One of the highlights of Mr Luxon’s visit was a tour of Ashburton manufacturing business Ashfords, a company he described as “world class.”
“I was really impressed to see a great commercial success, really good culture and amazing people with outstanding products and services.”
Mr Luxon’s public meeting was at the Ashburton Event Centre, where he took questions from locals, including Ashburton District Council Mayor Neil Brown who asked what National’s promise to repeal the Three Waters reform would look like.
Mr Luxon said the critical thing was the loss of local control and influence, “that’s the thing you have to protect, because we believe in localisms… we hate bureaucracy, want outcomes and we believe empowering local community organisations to deliver those outcomes.
“We will be able to unwind this one pretty quickly, the question is what are the models we go to, to get good management of these water assets over the next 30 years, as long as it stays in local control, that’s the key thing.” Other questions asked at the public meeting included the rising crime rate, and the quality of National Party candidates in the South Island.
The question that drew a round of applause from the crowd was about the change of names and departments in New Zealand, with no mention of these changes in the last election. He replied perhaps the bigger issue the question addressed was co-governance.
“This country has said we are going to pursue a process of treaty settlements, the vast majority of people said yep, there were wrongs committed and we need to address those, when John Key wanted to change the flag – a big constitutional choice, he takes it to the New Zealand people.
“The point is on a constitution issue you take it to the people, you take them with you, you don’t leave them behind, you make the case, that’s not happening here, that’s got to be done.
“We believe we are one country, we can have a single system and within that single system we can have components of innovation that can target people on the basis of need, not ethnicity.”
Mr Luxon described education as the most alarming issue for him since he came to politics 18 months ago.
“In the last 18 months, they (Labour) have spent five billion dollars more and yet we are only getting sixty percent of our kids going to school regularly… it’s a big problem.”
He said this year almost forty percent of 15-year-olds failed the most basic global reading test.
“That’s not just a social issue, that’s actually an economic crises because that’s New Zealand in 15-20 years time, we don’t have the people well enough educated to move the country forward, to move the economy forward, to create more wealth,” he said.
The National party leader has close ties to Ashburton and Mid Canterbury, as a young man he would drive down from Christchurch in his 1962 Riley Elf to visit his future wife Amanda, who taught at Tinwald School and his grandfather was the headmaster at Willowby School.
“I love this region, its always been very special its got huge potential, we want it to continue to be a great place of opportunity.”
-By Daniel Tobin