Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Sweaty start to Labour Michael Wood's political awakening

Michael Wood was politicised amidst the body odour of hundreds of uni students.

After growing up in the then-new suburb of Pakuranga to a tool-making father and Plunket nurse mother, Labour's Mt Roskill byelection candidate attended the University of Auckland during the five-week central-city power outage in 1998.

"I was sitting in these lecture theatres early March, stinking hot with 500 people - Third World - and just feeling like the free market experiment and privatisation of the energy market was patently failing."

After heading Young Labour, Wood worked at the financial services union, Finsec, negotiating collective agreements with Westpac and other companies.

There was also a year as an organiser for the Amalgamated Workers Union in the early 2000s, headed by the tough Ray Bianchi.

The construction industry had been casualised to the extent that men would turn up at depots each day and hope they were amongst the lucky ones to be chosen for work.

"It was just like they were cattle," said Wood.

"I couldn't believe it. I guess that cuts to the core of what I believe - that people deserve some respect and dignity."

Wood, 36, is now in the final week of a fight to keep Roskill red after long-serving MP Phil Goff sparked a byelection by quitting Parliament to become Auckland's mayor.

Goff was the Mt Roskill MP from 1981, with a three-year break between 1990 and 1993.

He had an 8000 vote majority in 2014 and it has traditionally been seen as a safe Labour seat although it has become more marginal, partly because of boundary changes.

In 2014 National got 14,275 party votes - 2000 more than Labour - but one quarter of National voters voted for Goff.

A member of the local Puketapapa board for six years and Goff's past campaign manager, Wood and wife Julie Fairey, also a local board member, live with their three boys, aged from 8 down to 18 months, in Roskill South.

They bought in 2002 for less than $300,000 and Wood said similar houses on his street now went for between $800,000 and $900,000.

Housing affordability, crime - particularly unsolved burglaries - and transport are his big three issues.

Wood conceded that some locals had raised concerns about Labour analysing leaked real estate data for people with Chinese-sounding surnames, but said most people knew foreign speculators were a problem.

He rejected claims by National that Labour's $680 million pledge to bring forward light rail on Dominion Rd was "pork barrel" politics, saying it was the busiest public transport route behind the Northern Busway.

National candidate Parmjeet Parmar, who moved to New Zealand from India, has also questioned why Labour did not stand an ethnic candidate given Mt Roskill's diversity and Labour's lack of Chinese and Indian MPs.

Wood counters that Goff showed people wanted an accessible and competent MP, regardless of their ethnicity.

"No one candidate can represent the diversity of Mt Roskill by virtue of personal characteristics - we have 150 languages spoken here."

Wood's campaign office is strewn with leaflets, and an Obama "Hope" poster is still up despite recent events.

Election results will filter in on Saturday night. That morning, Wood said, he would go for a walk in the local native bush.

For about 12 years Wood has baited and monitored traps in the bush that lines the Hillsborough and Lynfield Coast as part of voluntary pest management. "I still go out once a month and do my rounds and pick up ... rats and possums. It has actually made a real difference."

Michael Wood

• Labour's candidate for Mt Roskill is a 36-year-old father of three boys.

• He helps kill rats and possums in native bush nearby home in Roskill South.

• A local board member who has previously worked for Finsec and the Amalgamated Workers Union.

- NZ Herald

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