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It is one of the country's most vital regions, home to farmers and agricultural industries that continue to hold New Zealand's economy steady in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and now both Labour and the National Party have their eyes set on the heart of the North Island to transform it into a bustling economic hub.

It is the region in which both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Judith Collins were born and grew up in, and is set to become the key to activating the Golden Triangle between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

Since 1938, the Waikato has been a stronghold for the National Party with the last non-National MP to hold the electorate being Robert Coulter in 1935.

Jacinda Ardern stood in the Waikato in the 2008 election when the electorate was re-established after being renamed with new boundaries in 1996, and was elected on the list after losing out to Lindsay Tisch who was the Waikato MP for National until 2014, where he retired from politics and current MP Tim van de Molen took his place.

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This year van de Molen faces a new opposition for the Waikato seat, in the form of Kerrin Leoni from the Labour Party. James McDowall is also contesting the electorate on behalf of Act, while Caleb Ansell will stand for the New Conservative and Veronica King for the One Party.

For van de Molen, agriculture and transport remain the key aspects he will advocate for the region.

He has continued to advocate for the Cambridge to Piarere expressway extension, saying that the extended Waikato Expressway is crucial for the region.

"Extending the expressway down to Piarere is a no brainer in my head, you have over 20,000 vehicles a day travelling that road and it is the natural next step," van de Molen said.

Labour candidate for the Waikato Kerrin Leoni. Photo / Kerrin Leoni
Labour candidate for the Waikato Kerrin Leoni. Photo / Kerrin Leoni

"It currently finishes in the middle of nowhere, so to get it down to the SH29 and SH1 intersection is the natural progression because that is where the traffic splits. From there we then want to build a four-lane highway through to Tauranga which will include a tunnel through the Kaimai Ranges.

"That will completely unlock our region socially and economically. You think of towns like Matamata, if you have a tunnel running through the Kaimai Ranges then you are about 25 minutes from The Mount in Tauranga."

Van de Molen said he had heard of the planned metro rail plan between Hamilton and its neighbouring Waikato towns such as Morrinsville and Te Awamutu, but had questions over the economics over it.

"If there was a viable business case then I would be interested in looking at it, but at this stage I don't think there is the demand for rail in Matamata and Te Awamutu, maybe in the future."

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He also celebrated the success of agriculture in the Waikato as one of the reasons New Zealand's economy continues to hold firm amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It has underpinned the economy through this incredibly challenging time and we need to make sure we are getting the policy right for them. Under this Government we have seen that there is far too much expectation to have drastic change around the environment without too much support to do that.

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"You can't just expect farming to change overnight. We farmed differently 20 years ago and we will farm differently 20 years in the future as well, but farmers have to be given support to transition through that.

"It's about lowering our environmental footprint but also supporting productivity along the way."

His main opponent for the Waikato is Labour newcomer Kerrin Leoni, who has previously been elected to the Waitematā local board.

Leoni, who is a mother of twins, has been brought up with politics, advocating for social justice in the community.

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"I did my first masters in youth development, as I truly believe that if we can support our youth in the crucial times during their lives then that can change their whole life," Leoni said.

"I did my second masters at Kings College in London, studying international policy and economics as I have significant interest in seeing how New Zealand fits in around international politics."

For the Waikato, Leoni wants to see more conversations happening between local Iwi and Government to proudly display Māori culture.

"Any situation where we can share Māori culture and promote the culture not just with tourists but with locals as well to break down some of those culture barriers that exist in the country as well."

Leoni said she also wants to see a strong focus for affordable housing in the region.

"I think we really need to focus in the Waikato around the stability for family. You are going to have a lot of Aucklanders moving down to the Waikato and with the train as well stopping in Huntly that is going to provide more access."

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"But I want to get the current residents of the Waikato onto the property ladder through a range of means."