Ohariu electorate: Dunne in battle to survive as MP

By Derek Cheng

The Johnsonville train serves the electorate contested by the three candidates. Photo / Andrew Bonallack
The Johnsonville train serves the electorate contested by the three candidates. Photo / Andrew Bonallack

The northern Wellington seat of Ohariu is one of the most hotly contested.

In 2008, only 294 votes separated United Future's Peter Dunne, Labour's Charles Chauvel and National's Katrina Shanks.

And with the same candidates three years later, it's still on a knife-edge. A Fairfax Media-Research International mini-poll of 163 people last week put Mr Dunne on 37.4 per cent, a quiff ahead of Mr Chauvel on 35.6 per cent.

Ms Shanks polled 19 per cent, but she has no intention of helping Mr Dunne by telling her supporters to vote for him.

"I'm telling the people of Ohariu to make up their own mind ... My focus is on the party vote."

Ohariu, like Epsom, is a seat where strategic voting is the phrase du jour. While the teacups are shelved, Mr Key spoke at United Future's annual conference and National has said it will only campaign for the party vote.

Despite the same strategy in 2008, Ms Shanks won 10,009 votes. It is a widely held view that she would love to contest the electorate vote and this year she indicated she was going to, but the party quickly pulled her into line.

That doesn't stop her from mocking Mr Dunne's list of things he wants to achieve, or claiming to be a better local advocate.

Mr Dunne's list includes developing the Northern Wellington Festival and revitalising the residents' associations.

"Well, that's just the Christmas Parade," Ms Shanks says of the former, "and we've already got all of the associations up and running, so that's an easy one to tick off."

Her own list would include promoting Ohariu as a business centre to make use of empty industrial space, a small cinema for the area, and extending the cycle/walk path so it goes right through the electorate.

"[Mr Dunne's] a minister outside of Cabinet. He doesn't go into our caucus and be an advocate for things. He doesn't have access to ministers like we do as Government MPs."

Mr Chauvel, who wants more libraries, parks, sports facilities and better public transport, has a similar line of attack.

"At 57, after 27 years as the local MP, [Mr Dunne's] probably got another term or two. People are thinking long-term. I'm hopeful in a future Labour Government I would have the honour of serving at a senior level. If you look at the sort of advocacy a cabinet minister is able to engage in for his electorate, and the drastic investment that's going to be needed in those suburbs ... Peter's never been in Cabinet."

Mr Dunne said if he won, he would be the local MP for a full term: "I've always taken [it] as being a three-year commitment."

Mr Dunne has been the MP for the area since 1984. His message is about his track record, and that he is likely to be in Government, where he can gain policy wins.

His list includes a fire and emergency management base, civil defence infrastructure, and roading improvements.

Meanwhile, Green supporters seem to be splitting their vote.

In the mini-poll, the Greens had 15.6 per cent party support, but their candidate Gareth Hughes had 1.4 per cent.

Mr Hughes said he wasn't telling people to vote for Mr Chauvel.

"But if people ask me about Peter Dunne, I say I think his time is done and Charles, would be a good MP."

- NZ Herald

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