Winston Peters wants regional and senior voters to know he's thinking of them - and has the experience and common sense to properly represent them.
The New Zealand First leader and deputy Prime Minister was in Tauranga today
for a public meeting at the Classic Flyers Museum, where more than 100 people turned out to hear what he had to say.
Signs featuring Peters' face lined the outside of the carpark and the pathway into the Mount Maunganui museum, and a sign written tour bus with the words 'Back Your Future', Party Vote New Zealand First parked in the entry.
During his address in the final week of his 2020 election campaign, Peters' message was clear - regions, seniors and experience all matter when leading a country, and he was pushing for it all.
"We're back again in the Bay of Plenty because we've always believed regions matter, that they are the engine room of our economy, that they are the powerhouse of our export wealth, and critical to a Covid-19 recovery," he told the predominantly appreciative crowd.
Peters talked about how Tauranga had transformed from a "sleepy hollow" to what he described as "New Zealand's fastest-growing city" and believed there was not enough focus being put into regional New Zealand.
"Until 2017 the regions, for decades, had been treated like Cinderella. Political parties had for years been promising to do something to boost the regions. But that something was always vague in terms of funding, timing and delivery," Peters said.
As New Zealand now looks to recover from the impacts of Covid-19, Peters said the regions had a vital role to play and were "critical to our country's survival".
"Before Covid-19 struck this year, the government, through the Provincial Growth Fund, had a serious regional policy that is substantial, well-coordinated, and properly funded.
He said the Provincial Growth Fund, "run by serious businessmen and women" was putting $3 billion into the regions to fund a wide range of projects that delivered jobs, amenities and enterprises that "act as catalysts for further development".
"New Zealand First brought the Provincial Growth Fund to government in the negotiations to form the coalition."
He said there was a desperate need for a strong regional policy to ensure balanced and equitable growth; to relieve pressure off overloaded major cities and to make New Zealand's economy as a whole more diverse and resilient.
"The lesson we are re-learning from Covid it is that regions are critical to our country's survival, and that investment like the Provincial Growth Fund is desperately needed in the future."
During his speech, Peters also spoke to his audience about the importance of supporting seniors as well as the experience he brings to government, highlighting the fast action taken to move more than 150,000 people back to New Zealand or back to their country when Covid struck.
"And we didn't endanger this country's health in doing so. That is why experience is so important.
"Experience is needed in politics, and for the last three years, we brought experience and common sense to government.
"As Foreign Minister we've worked hard to re-establish New Zealand's respect in the world."
At the end of his address, Peters welcomed questions from the public but shut down Michael Speth, who asked where Peters' proof that SARS-CoV-2 exists was, calling him a "flat-earther".
Afterwards, Speth, who said he had a Bachelor and Masters in science and computer engineering, said Peters' reaction was "unfair" and wanted to make it clear that he did "completely agree and believe that the earth is spherical".
As Peters was getting ready to leave, he was flocked by supporters eager to greet him.
Watching from a distance, Peter Jespersen said he came to the public meeting to hear what Peters had to say. While he didn't agree with his stance on everything, Jespersen was a long-time New Zealand First voter and would continue to be one this election.
Tauranga's Jonny Stevenson said he supported Peters because he was "old-school" and "speaks for people in my mother's age group".
He wants to see Peters and New Zealand First being part of the next government to act as a "watchdog".