Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Chathams boy to Key: 'It sucks'

Prime Minister John Key, Chatham Islands general manager Owen Pickles, and Primary Industries Minister David Carter speak to local crayfish fisherman Noel Donaldson. Photo / Supplied
Prime Minister John Key, Chatham Islands general manager Owen Pickles, and Primary Industries Minister David Carter speak to local crayfish fisherman Noel Donaldson. Photo / Supplied

Prime Minister John Key responded to a few tough questions on his first visit to the Chatham Islands but his harshest critic was a 3-year old boy.

After planting a tree to mark a Government investment in new affordable housing, Mr Key asked the child what he thought. "It sucks" was the reply.

It was a rare rebuff amid a mostly warm reception for Mr Key to the most isolated part of New Zealand, where he dined on crayfish, heard local waiata, inspected the infrastructure and flattered the locals.

"I've been to Buckingham Palace to have lunch with the Queen, I've been to the White House to have lunch with the President of the USA, and I've been to Antarctica to see the penguins ... but I'm more excited about coming to the Chathams than all of those things," he told a group of children at a Ngati Mutunga marae.

Mr Key committed $400,000 to new housing on the islands, and hinted at future support for a hydro scheme for the electricity-starved industries.

But islanders said they could not call the visit a success unless it prompted more significant change for the community.

Farmer Tony Handerson, who owns 4000ha of land, said the pressures Chatham Islanders faced were often underestimated by politicians.

"They come thinking that the island just needs a kick in the bum, but then they realise it's hard, and there's subtleties under the hood. There's delays, there's high costs, it's different.

"So there's this friction - we call it the tyranny of distance."

Councillor and hardware store owner Monique Croon pointed out that New Zealand recently donated solar panels to Tonga, while the Chathams was still waiting on a remedy for its electricity woes.

The price of electricity in parts of Tonga was now around 58c per kw/hr, compared to $1.02 on the Chathams.

But the staunchly independent residents were not keen on Government hand-outs.

Mr Key spoke of the potential of a new phosphate mining venture on the Chatham Rise, which would create jobs and possibly finance a new port.

Mr Handerson was wary of new ventures after living through several cycles of boom-and-bust industries which usually saw most of the wealth head to the mainland.

But he could not deny the huge potential of phosphate, the main ingredient in fertiliser.

Phosphate has already had an effect on the islands - the pasture near the coast was tinged green because sand containing phosphate was blown ashore.

- NZ Herald

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