Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Craig's family in 'seat swizzle'

Exclusive: Conservative leader's dad wins boundary change so he can vote for son.

Ross Craig.
Ross Craig.

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's family has succeeded in having electorate boundaries redrawn to get his parents and about 120 neighbouring voters shifted into the seat he hopes to win.

Craig said yesterday he was leaning towards running in the East Coast Bays electorate, so the extra votes would be helpful.

"Certainly that's an area that we'd expect to do well in, that whole little enclave there, because they know our family. So yeah, it's votes."

Colin's father Ross mounted a successful challenge to the draft boundaries, shifting about 50 neighbouring lifestyle blocks from Rodney electorate into East Coast Bays.

In his objection to the Representation Commission's original proposed boundaries, Ross Craig said Haigh Access Rd and the adjacent stretch of East Coast Rd had links with the Bays. "This area is within the East Coast Bays area for local body elections," he said.

Ross Craig sent out flyers and got 72 other signatures on his petition - and this week, the commission agreed to the boundary change, almost certainly giving his son more votes if he confirms his intent to run in East Coast Bays.

Most of the properties involved are lifestyle blocks, valued around $1 million. Some overlooking the Okura Estuary are worth up to $2.27m.

"The grounds for me doing it were anything but gerrymandering," Ross Craig said. "I was wanting to bring unity into the voting area."

A gerrymander occurs when electorate boundaries are altered with the deliberate intent of giving one party or candidate an advantage.

Ross Craig said he did not accept that the change might be of more than "minor significance" in aiding his son's vote.

Neighbour Alan Beck discussed the changes with Ross Craig at a community get-together last year, then signed the petition. "There was some debate about what the implications of the change might be, in terms of services residents would get [from the local MP]."

Colin Craig acknowledged people might see it as gerrymandering the boundaries to suit the Conservative Party. "Any movement on the boundary, people might think, 'oh, that's a bit of a gerrymander'. But at the end of the day, I'm amazed at how open the commission has been to changing things around."

The Conservatives are commissioning polls of three blue-ribbon North Auckland electorates to see where Craig could get the most support at this year's election. But he has already indicated a preference for East Coast Bays.

Craig must win 5 per cent of the vote - or, far more likely, an electorate - to gain his party a place in Parliament. If the Conservatives can succeed on September 20, they will give John Key a much-needed option for a governing partner. His present partners, Act, United Future and the Maori Party have been in varying degrees of trouble, endangering their return to Parliament.

Craig, a property management multi-millionaire who funds his party from his own pocket, stood in the 2011 election in the Rodney electorate, running second to National newbie Mark Mitchell.

Yesterday, Mitchell said he would not let Craig take his seat.

"My intention is to run the best and hardest campaign I can for the candidate vote and the party vote," he said.

Last year Craig showed interest in the new electorate of Upper Harbour - but senior Cabinet minister Paula Bennett squashed that by claiming the electorate.

He then turned his attention to East Coast Bays, saying he would be happy for McCully to step aside and take a place on National's party list.

But McCully has no intention of standing aside: "I've always contested the seat vigorously and it is my intention to do the same this time."

Craig remained optimistic, saying: "If we end up in a situation where National offers us a seat, somebody somewhere is going to have to back down.

"I favour East Coast Bays because that is where I live."

Last night, National Party campaign chairman Steven Joyce said it was too early to make any decisions about deals in particular electorates.

Labour deputy leader David Parker said: "Irrespective of the swizzle on the edge of the seat, the only way Colin Craig will get elected is if the National Party manipulates MMP and throws him the seat."

- Herald on Sunday

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