At times, it can be surprisingly difficult to see clearly from the ninth floor of the Beehive.
To understand what people are thinking out in regional New Zealand, you have to look past the officials in the office buildings arrayed protectively around the seat of power, past the Wellingtonians with their unique take on life, and most of all, past the preoccupations of your own Cabinet and caucus.
It's not easy, but you need to do it. Otherwise you might miss the straw that breaks the camel's back. The tipping point that makes everything else you do redundant.
The Three Waters reform is feeling like such a tipping point.
At one level Three Waters is a weird candidate to be a last straw. Rearranging who provides the pipes that bring water to your house and take away the waste seems hardly likely to get pulses racing. Yet it has. Three Waters reform has become a lightning rod for dissent in provincial New Zealand.
Regional New Zealanders have put up with a lot over the past five years. The Government didn't cause Covid, but the lockdowns and migration bans that Covid spawned have hit regional New Zealand hard.
The provinces struggle to have enough people at the best of times. The lack of tourists, international students and temporary workers have made already thin retail and hospitality sectors less viable still. And the Government hasn't made things any easier.
The refusal to make sensible arrangements for RSE workers from Covid-free Pacific Islands nations to pick fruit is one example which won't be forgotten any time soon. Provincial folk are sick of the impression the Government leaves that tourism begins and ends in Queenstown.
In regional New Zealand, the only immigration re-set that's needed is one that brings people to help sustain and grow their communities.
Then there is the great centralisation. Regional people have watched suspiciously as Wellington takes away their ability to run their local polytech or hospital on the grounds that Wellington knows better, with the unspoken corollary that locals aren't up to it. Woe betide the first bureaucrat who centralises services away from New Plymouth or Whangārei in the name of efficiency.
Regional businesses fear national pay agreements making it harder to run a niche exporter from places like Gisborne and Invercargill – where such businesses are celebrated and all too thin on the ground. And regional people are sick of hearing about vanity projects in Auckland and Wellington with ridiculous price tags, like bike bridges and light rail.
I am a big fan of regional New Zealand. I was born and spent my early years in New Plymouth. Work took me to the big smoke 25-odd years ago but the hankering to get out into the regions and catch up with their practical people has never left me.
Places like Southland, Taranaki, Waikato and Hawke's Bay are heartland New Zealand.
The people are resourceful, direct and get on with getting things done. They don't stand on ceremony and everyone has to rub along. Regional people are sceptical of Wellington and decisions made there. It's never hard to find someone ready to tell you about the "shiny-arses" in the capital and how divorced from reality they are.
Which brings us back to Three Waters. It doesn't take an Einstein to work out that running Hawke's Bay's water facilities from Wellington will likely make the needs of Napier and Hastings people secondary to the much publicised water woes of Wellingtonians.
And how much time do you think the good people of Auckland's water services body will spend thinking about the water issues of Northland?
There's the not so small matter of the Government confiscating the water assets communities have built up over generations.
In the beginning, ministers tried to tell locals that these were hardly assets because they were expensive to maintain. On that basis you shouldn't build a playground, or even own a home. Now they have taken to saying the community will still own the assets and pay for them, only locals will have no control over them at all. That's not ownership.
Finally, there is the accountability issue. Few in the regions are under any illusion that the convoluted spaghetti of governance arrangements has been set up to suit Labour's Māori caucus and pretty much no-one else.
Good luck working out who to call if your "water service entity" fails to fix a sewer pipe, or a stormwater drain causes a pothole in the road outside your gate. In past times you'd ring the mayor and get it fixed. Now you'll be given an 0800 number and no way of voting the bastards out.
All this could easily be solved. There is a germ of a good idea here. Local water companies with a steady income stream exploiting economies of scale across a region to get things built and maintained is eminently sensible. Auckland's WaterCare is for the most part doing a good job.
Similar arrangements in Waikato, Northland and so on would work well. Hawke's Bay was going ahead and created such an organisation after the campylobacter issues in Havelock North, but that is being ripped up by these reforms.
Local councils would own shares in their local water company according to the assets they contribute and importantly, directly appoint directors to the company boards. Those directors would be accountable back to the councils and any surpluses would flow back to the owning councils and their ratepayers.
There could be places on the board for local iwi representatives if that was desired, assuming that well hasn't already been poisoned by the overreach of Labour's Māori caucus.
A sensible, pragmatic government truly focused on the water needs of regional New Zealanders would make changes like these to the Three Waters model and get the job done. That they haven't is what makes this issue a lightning rod. Regional people suspect their interests are being sacrificed for Labour's internal political needs, and not for the first time. They've had a gutsful.
The Prime Minister suggested the Tauranga byelection result last weekend wasn't too bad if you compared it with 2017, as if that was a high water mark for Labour. Labour did well in the regions in 2020, not 2017.
If the PM doesn't stare down the factions in her caucus and get a clearer view from the ninth floor, all those regional seats she won in 2020 will be lost next year, and then some.
•Steven Joyce is a former National Minister of Finance. He is director at Joyce Advisory.