Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

New Plymouth electorate: Farm-heavy region down to wire

National New Plymouth candidate Jonathan Young. Photo / Supplied
National New Plymouth candidate Jonathan Young. Photo / Supplied

At New Plymouth's waterfront Gustos restaurant, about 50 members of the Taranaki Young Professionals group have gathered to listen to the local candidates.

It's a fairly good turnout, Dan Walker explains, both because of the free beer and because this is the most marginal electorate in the country.

The group is sponsored by ITL Oil and Gas Specialists, and among them is accountant Stephen Goble, 42, who is refreshingly honest about what will influence his vote.

"Selfishness. I'm going National for lower taxes," he says, adding that he's also voting National because his parents are farmers concerned about the emissions trading scheme.

This is New Plymouth, the land of milk and oil - white gold from the farms, and black gold out to sea. It is also heavily reliant on manufacturing, and the port, roading and bottlenecks to the north of the city are ongoing issues.

Many at the Young Professionals meeting have decided on their party vote but are still dithering on who should be local MP. Jenn O'Connell would vote Green for the party "but if there was a really good electorate MP on the other side, I'd consider that".

National's Jonathan Young took the seat with a slim 105-vote majority in 2008 from Labour's Harry Duynhoven, who had held it since 1987, with a three-year break between 1990 and 1993.

On paper, the seat should be Young's. By 2008, much of Duynhoven's vote was personal support, rather than Labour support. In the election that year, National got 50 per cent of the party vote to Labour's 31. As incumbent, Young is now better known.

The seat's rural tracts from Waitara to Okato mean there is a significant farming vote and Labour's capital gains tax and earlier phasing in of agriculture to the ETS will not help its candidate, Andrew Little.

Young also has a strong family history in the area - his father, Venn Young, was MP for the south Taranaki rural Egmont and Waitotara electorates from 1966 to 1990. His uncle John was also prominent, heading the local hospital board and Port Taranaki.

One of those at the candidates' meeting says that family background still delivers Young some loyalty.

With Duynhoven out of the equation (subsequently elected mayor) and National's support levels higher than in 2008, Young should have the advantage.

However, the seat has swung five times between National and Labour since 1966, when Labour won it back after 23 years.

Young could also get some backlash from the "deal" between National and Act, under which Act agreed not to stand a candidate in New Plymouth to increase Young's chances of holding it.

He says as well as local infrastructure issues he is working on, national issues such as the economy, education and health are important in the electorate.

Young - a former teacher and church minister - returned to New Plymouth in 2008 when he won the seat.

Little has described the Act deal as "desperate". He has not benefited from a similar arrangement - the Greens are still standing a candidate, and independent Rusty Kane, whose 756 votes in 2008 were regarded by Duynhoven as the difference between winning and losing, is also running.

However, Kane's campaign is not as high profile this time - there are no billboards or significant advertising for him.

Little's advantage could be his personal profile - he is relatively well known as former Labour Party president and former secretary of the EPMU trade union. He is placed high on Labour's list and it is generally recognised that he is expected to reach higher places within Labour.

Little is campaigning on local issues - such as transport links and manufacturing.

- NZ Herald

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