Progressives take campaign to heart of blue-ribbon territory

By Claire Trevett

The campaign launch of Jim Anderton's Progressives is not in a drafty hall in a sold working class community. Instead, it is at posh Lava restaurant in the National Party territory of St Heliers.

Like the Progressives' caucus - Jim Anderton and Matt Robson - it is cozy and intimate. Unlike the Progressives' caucus, it is also crowded.

Over 100 people have arrived and some end up standing outside the doors listening to the motorbikes go by, setting off car alarms.

"Keep 'em honest" was the traditional catch cry of any party led by Jim Anderton. This time round, there was no bragging about the Progressives holding the Government to its promises. Instead there is a promise to be quiet as a mouse.

"We are the only party pledging to be quiet, co-operative and industrious in Government.

"That sounds pretty boring, but if you look back at the six years, it's that quietness that has been part and parcel of what we have done.

"It is not done by shouting, screaming and drawing attention to yourself."

He identified the party's priorities as cutting company taxes to 30 per cent, reducing student debt, helping first home buyers, raising the drinking age to 20, giving $200 to those on fixed incomes to help with winter power bills and free prescriptions for under 18s and over 65s.

He outlined his party's achievements multiple times and in case anyone missed it, there were also small cards, headed Jim Gets Things Done.

It included the forming of KiwiBank, four weeks' annual leave, and 14 weeks paid parental leave.

There was growth in the regions "which are now like Ponsonby Rd with cafe societies" and record low unemployment, as well as more apprenticeships.

He admitted his own policy of lower company taxes was seemingly at odds with traditional Anderton policy, but said it was not "anti-socialism or a capitalistic plot", but rather "creating momentum for the economy in New Zealand" because the money would go into research and development.

To illustrate the benefits of this, he uses an example of a man who found a new way to extract the DNA from 1300 leaves a day "using an old computer someone else had thrown out".

Under education policy, he said he wanted to reduce student debt and be the next Minister of Education.

"I have had no guarantees from Helen, and I haven't asked for any. But we will put it on the table."

The campaign launch has been plugged as "short and snappy".

Anderton's speech - down to take 20 to 30 minutes - takes an hour and there is a palpable sense of fear when he says, towards the end, "I could repeat those stories to you over and over again, all over the country".

At Lava, a diverse group is listening. Matt Robson estimates 30,000 votes are needed to get him back into Parliament with Mr Anderton.

That is 500 votes in each electorate so the audience is diverse, and includes Omar Ali and Amer Salman, two Iraqi men accused by Winston Peters of being "henchmen" of Saddam Hussein.

The president of the New Zealand Sikh Society is there to ramp up support in the Sikh community.

The formalities end a wind-up from Matt Robson: "Join us for a meal.

"It isn't our last supper. It's the beginning of the campaign."

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