Campaign stresses going to Lee's head

By Lincoln Tan, Claire Trevett

National's Mt Albert byelection candidate, Melissa Lee, showed visible strains of an already bruising campaign yesterday as she was interviewed on television.

Ms Lee looked flustered and held her head when answering 3 News questions about unitary authority plans for Auckland.

It was the latest in a series of setbacks the candidate has faced, including her claim that the new Waterview motorway plans would keep South Auckland criminals out of the area.

Nominations for the seat closed yesterday, with 15 candidates confirmed.

But within minutes of nominations closing, the Green Party accused National of a "campaign-in-hiding" because Ms Lee was not taking part in a debate last night.

Ms Lee accused the Greens of a "jack-up", saying Labour and the Greens were told about the meeting last week, but she was not told until late Monday morning and had other commitments. She would be taking part in a candidates' debate at Auckland University at 1.30pm today.

Her prepared statement for last night's meeting, read by a community board member, was met with jeers. Green candidate Russel Norman said the "wheels had fallen off" Ms Lee's campaign regarding Super City plans.

"National has just passed the 'Grand Theft Auckland' law and their candidate can't even front up on it," he said. "She is feeling the pressure, and showing her inexperience."

After the meeting last night, Mr Shearer said Ms Lee's absence had done nothing to quell the concerns of residents who felt the Super City was being "rammed down their throat" without proper consultation.

"There is genuine anxiety here ... The last meeting was raucous but tonight there were genuine questions from residents which needed to be answered. We would have been better off if she were here."

Mt Albert resident Norma de Lange directed her frustration at Act Party candidate John Boscawen in the absence of a National candidate.

"I feel like I'm being bulldozed by the Super City plan. And I feel that my view is representative of many."

Mr Boscawen and Dr Norman claimed the byelection had become a two-horse race between themselves and Labour's David Shearer.

Mr Shearer will campaign on issues such as the Waterview motorway, Super City and the economy, while Ms Lee will focus on local issues such as crime, housing and transport. Act's candidate John Boscawen says he will run a campaign based on wasteful government spending and wider issues of financial accountability, while Green co-leader Russel Norman opened his campaign with a plea for democracy in Auckland's local government.

Dr Norman, Mr Boscawen and Ms Lee are all list MPs, and a win for any one of them will see their party getting an extra list MP in Parliament.

Labour has held Mt Albert since the seat was created 63 years ago.

Chief electoral officer Robert Peden said ballot papers will be distributed for the start of advance voting by next Wednesday. He said there would be no polling places open outside the Mt Albert electorate on election day.

"Mt Albert voters who will be outside their electorate on election day should vote in advance," Mr Peden said.

Advance voting will be available at the Coverstaff Office, 509 Rosebank Rd; Mt Albert Electorate Headquarters, Unit 1, 49 Sainsbury Rd; Mt Albert Community Library, 84 St Lukes Rd; Pt Chevalier Community Library, cnr Great North & Pt Chevalier Rds and Sandringham Bowling Club, Kiwitea St. Polling will be on June 13.

- Isaac Davison

- NZ Herald

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