Geoff Cumming: Campaign queens scrap for Auckland Central jewel

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National MP Nikki Kaye, left, and Labour list MP Jacinda Adern, who are both vying for the Auckland Central seat. Photo / David White
National MP Nikki Kaye, left, and Labour list MP Jacinda Adern, who are both vying for the Auckland Central seat. Photo / David White

Location, recent history and emerging female leaders make Auckland Central a compelling election watch. The seat, which straddles the western bays, central city and gulf islands, has become a strategic prize, with the waterfront and CBD the shop window for Auckland's transition to an international city. It is also the powerbase of the united Auckland Council.

Millions were spent here ahead of the Rugby World Cup - a distraction which has helped National bury resentment for the dictatorial manner of its city governance reform. But local and central government issues remain entwined in voters' minds - constants at public meetings include the CBD rail loop, Queen's Wharf, urban design and schools for the soaring inner-city population.

Driven National newcomer Nikki Kaye broke Labour's grip on the seat in 2008, in part reflecting changed demographics. She has vaulted up the list of her gender-challenged party but is determined to keep the seat.

She seems poised for promotion either way for her enthusiastic electorate work and performance in local government and the environment.

Labour is fighting like with like with a rising star of its own in List MP Jacinda Ardern. The pair are the same age (young, in political terms), smart, broadminded, in touch with younger voters and environmentally conscious: tailor-made for one of the country's more liberal, diverse and better-educated constituencies.

But this is no straight shootout. The x-factor comes from the Greens, who enjoy consistently strong support here - though they've left it late to really plug their candidate, Denise Roche.

The Waiheke-based former city councillor is an interesting mix of unionist and environmentalist and could still make it difficult for Ardern to haul in Kaye. She's as concerned about poverty as recycling and the state of the gulf.

All three could end up in Wellington if the Greens can build on present nationwide polling of around 10.5 per cent.

National is vulnerable for its reluctance to fund the underground city rail loop and last year's proposal to open up conservation land (including on Great Barrier Island) for mining.

At a public meeting this week, both National and Labour drew flak over the response to the Rena disaster - Roche scoring points over deregulation.

Kaye spoke against her party on mining and adroitly pushes integrated public transport, including trams.

Muesli-belt (Grey Lynn and Waiheke) liberals may vote on these issues but Kaye claims it may come down to hip-pocket economics, with the area's many small businesses wary of further costs.

Ardern may not be able to mobilise the unions as Labour once could but Mike Lee's ward win in last year's council contest shows it can still muster considerable centre-left support.

The people speak

If voters along Ponsonby's cafe strip are a guide, everything hangs on the next fortnight.

"Is three years up already since Helen?" - A Niuean woman who believes Winston Peters should be PM.

"I'm most passionate about getting some decent public transport." - Herne Bay flight attendant Patrick Walsh.

"I've got a university degree but as a sickness beneficiary I'm the lowest of the low. This [beneficiary-bashing] is just vote-gathering but Labour's just as bad." - Wendy Leslie, Pt Chevalier.

"I haven't watched any of the debates yet - I'm busy enough raising children. But it's great to see young women standing." - Mother-of-four Joanna van der Sluis, Herne Bay.

"I'm a dyed-in-the-wool National supporter. The main issue is the economy." - Richard Mannell, St Marys Bay.

"I hope Labour can form a coalition ... . I can't understand the cult of John Key." - Chris Cantlay, Western Springs.

- NZ Herald

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