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

Election 2014: Mine blast rings on in PM's ears

Pike River tragedy forces itself into the forefront as John Key ventures into Labour territory on the West Coast.

Pike River families make their case to John Key. Photo / Claire Trevett
Pike River families make their case to John Key. Photo / Claire Trevett

It started well enough, but John Key left Greymouth with a heartfelt plea from the widow of one of the 29 dead Pike River miners ringing in his ears.

The Prime Minister visited the West Coast yesterday and while the Pike River families were not on his agenda, several stood silently outside one of his scheduled stops. One was Jo Hall, mother of a miner. Her other son was killed in a car crash this year after which Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater described him as a "feral".

It was Anna Osborne who got the PM's ear when he went over to talk to the families. She voiced her frustration at Solid Energy's further delay of re-entry plans and pleaded with him to try to push things along.

She spoke of her fear that New Zealand was forgetting the Pike River families. Both she and spokesman Bernie Monk made it clear their anger was with Solid Energy rather than Mr Key, but pleaded with him to act.

It was the last appointment in a day focused on regional development rather than anything that might spark questions on the Dirty Politics book.

At the new WestFleet Seafoods fish processing plant, general manager Craig Boote told Mr Key it had started off with a $3 million budget "which turned into $7 million and ended up at $12 million". Mr Key shrugged sympathetically: "Oh, it's like a Government procurement then."

He spoke to the construction workers outside, acknowledging the West Coast was held by Labour but pointed out that Labour had opposed the bill to allow logging of windblown trees on the Coast. He promoted a few National policies such as the grants for first-home buyers.

There was a bit of lacklustre clapping and then a long silence when he asked for questions. He filled it by telling them about his first girlfriend, who was from Cobden.

Afterwards some flocked for photos, while others shied away. Mr Key was handed a sausage and ate half and then fed the fish by hurling the rest into the river.

Family members of the Pike River miners protest in Greymouth. Photo / Claire Trevett

Among those standing out of his hearing was the captain of the West Coast rugby team, Troy. He said he didn't really follow politics but was voting National because of family tradition. Several others were doing the same. None of them really cared about the dirty politics overhanging the campaign. They cared about taxes and industry here on the Coast.

But it was not all in Mr Key's favour.

Mark, an electrician from Greymouth, voted National last time: "I think we needed them to get through the recession." This time he'll be ticking Labour so he put red duct tape on his hard hat to show his allegiance.

As Mr Key was leaving his last meeting in Greymouth, an elderly man called his name and he braced himself for more abuse. Then the man added, "Thank you for the Veterans' Act" - a reference to a bill increasing support for veterans. Mr Key smiled in relief, saying, "It's a pleasure."

Then Anna Osborne got in her last plea. She called out, "Please don't forget about us, John."

He turned and said, "Don't worry, I won't," and was swept away to his flight out.

Coffey talks up pre-TV political chops

Labour's broadcaster-turned-candidate Tamati Coffey is working overtime to convince voters he has political substance to go with his familiar face.

The former Breakfast weatherman and New Zealand's Got Talent host appeared to be more recognisable to the public than his leader David Cunliffe on the streets of Rotorua yesterday, earning kisses and car toots wherever he went.

But Mr Coffey said he was still being pigeon-holed as a television personality.

"That's my challenge, to actually get out and talk to people and show them there was this whole other guy before I was the TV guy. I was the guy who was the president of the students' association and highly political at university and worked for the regional council. I was on this road well before I was in TV."

He joined in with a haka at Rotorua Primary School, but could not coax his leader to join him. Mr Cunliffe did, however impress some by speaking semi-fluent te reo for the first two minutes of his speech.

The local MP for National Todd McClay should start "thinking about life as a list MP", Mr Cunliffe said.

That result would be a huge upset. Mr McClay was easily re-elected for a second term in 2011, and National nearly tripled Labour's party vote in the electorate.

The primary school kids could barely stay seated when Mr Cunliffe promised them all personal digital devices if he was elected.

Unfortunately for Mr Cunliffe, only a handful of the people in the assembly hall could vote.

- Isaac Davison

- NZ Herald

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