Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Hardly a selfie snapped as Prime Minister Bill English woos university crowd after NZ Super policy

After Labour's victory in the Mt Roskill byelection the party's leader Andrew Little quipped then Prime Minister John Key had forgotten "the purpose of an election campaign is to win votes, not selfies".

That insult will need to be retired along with Key. Hardly a selfie was taken when Prime Minister Bill English met students at Victoria University in Wellington today.

That was partly because people did not push forward to meet English like they did Key, and also down to English's preference to stand close to the person he meets and lock in to a conversation.

When that happens his speaking volume stays low - there is no projection for the cameras and reporters nearby.

The Prime Minister was a few minutes into a conversation about the disruptive effect of automation on primary industries when his press secretary tapped his shoulder to suggest he move on.

Prime Minister Bill English chats to students during his visit to Victoria University in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Bill English chats to students during his visit to Victoria University in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

English was clearly enjoying the chat with students John Grant and Shaun Sinclair and lingered.

"It's going to change the way we think about ongoing learning and education. Our institutions like universities are only just starting to change to adapt to that," English told the pair.

"A lot of those people will be able to get re-educated quite successfully - making it more adaptable to the needs of adults who have been displaced."

English's low-key visit to the university contrasted to that of Winston Peters two nights before, when the NZ First leader had a packed lecture theatre laughing and gasping at some of his jokes and insults aimed at other political parties.

After receiving applause as he entered, Peters touched on the Government's policy to increase the retirement age to 67 in 20 years - telling the crowd not to believe anybody who told them the future was unaffordable.

Prime Minister Bill English talking with student Roselle Usherwood during his visit to Victoria University in Wellington. 09 March 2017. New Zealand Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Bill English talking with student Roselle Usherwood during his visit to Victoria University in Wellington. 09 March 2017. New Zealand Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell

English didn't encounter any real anger about the policy during his university walkabout, but it was brought up when he asked Lauren Broughton if she had any advice for him, given one of her degrees was in political science.

"You need to make sure that we are not only thinking about the stuff that's going to screw over the young people," Broughton said.

"The retirement age - it makes sense, I've studied tax, it makes sense that it has to go up. But if all we hear is, 'it's going to go up', we don't have any idea why that is going to be good for us."

"Because it will reduce the cost for you," English responded. "From 2040 the cost will reduce by $3-$4 billion a year, and you will be the taxpayer."

Broughton pointed out she was already a taxpayer: "What are the benefits now? We have got an election coming up really soon, we want to know how it's going to help us now. Not just in terms of the retirement age, you really need to get some of the other things out there that you are going to be doing."

The conversation was lighter when the Prime Minister stopped to talk to Masters student Jack Gradwell, who was manning a Red Cross stall in the quad.

Gradwell revealed the pair had a personal connection: when English coached his son Bart's under-7s rugby team, the roster included Gradwell.

"I run into various kids from there every now and again, but I wouldn't have recognised you, Jack," a delighted English said, before learning that his young charge now helps teach classes in international relations and political science.

"We set the basics for this in the under 7s rugby team?" English asked. "With our political discussions at half-time. I'll tell Bart I saw you."

- NZ Herald

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