Homelessness, snail-paced broadband, education and youth suicide were among the issues raised in the Mid North's first candidates meeting of the 2017 election campaign.
Organised by the Northland branch of the PPTA, the event drew more than 100 people to Kaikohe Memorial Hall on a chilly Thursday night.
The candidates were Willow-Jean Prime (Labour), Matt King (National), Catherine Delahunty (standing in for the Greens), Hone Harawira (Mana) and Winston Peters (NZ First). Each candidate had 10 minutes to introduce themselves and their party's plans for Northland before facing audience questions drawn at random.
The most poignant question came from Rawhiti Erstich-Coles, 16, who wanted to know how the candidates would combat youth suicide.
"You talk about building a four-lane highway to Whangarei, but there are young people who don't want to live long enough to see it finished," he said.
The answers left Rawhiti less certain than before who he would support once he reached voting age. Most candidates spoke about reducing poverty or shared personal stories with only Labour talking about boosting mental health services, he said.
However, he was heartened to see he was not the only young person at the meeting.
Kate Carr had a verbal stoush with Mr Peters over support for forest growers; while Meri George bemoaned internet so slow and costly at her home in Otiria that her mokos couldn't do their homework.
Joe Carr wanted a champion for the Kaikohe area to ensure it didn't keep missing out on the wealth it helped create; and the PPTA's Jack Boyle wanted to know what the parties would do to retain young teachers in the face of an ageing workforce.
Most candidates, and a number of audience members, argued that privatisation and the "neo-liberal experiment" that began in 1984 had failed and were behind many of Northland's woes.
Ms Delahunty blamed the exodus of young teachers on an emphasis on assessment over learning or, as she colourfully put it, "this mechanistic, technocratic bulls*** that says you have to measure, not teach".
Mrs Prime gave the most impassioned speech, talking about her upbringing in Moerewa and contrasting it with the poverty and homelessness - even among working families - that she saw now.
Mr King was more upbeat, citing the sums the government had spent on new roads, broadband rollout and the rebuild of Northland College. He told Mrs George if the government had left it to "the corporates" there would be hardly any broadband in the Far North; now it was expected to reach almost every corner within four years.
Mr Peters reiterated his byelection message that Northland had been taken for granted but now the region's time had come. For the first time in 175 years Northlanders would decide the outcome of the general election, he said.
Mr Harawira gave a recap of his three years outside Parliament, during which he had "got men off the couch" by creating a rebel Far North rugby league, and was working with police and the health board to combat the P epidemic.