Saving the refinery and bringing the four-lane highway south of Whangarei back on the table were the most popular issues raised with Christopher Luxon during his first visit to Northland as National leader.
About 150 people turned up at The Celtic Barn in Waipū yesterday for a meet and greet with the former Air New Zealand boss, who was accompanied by Whangārei list MP Dr Shane Reti.
A small group of placard-waving protesters in favour of retaining the refinery camped outside the venue after they were not allowed to take the signs indoors.
Luxon highlighted the high cost of living, waste of public money on initiatives with little results, the importance of tackling mental health, investment in key infrastructure, and the need for less bureaucracy from the Government.
He answered in the affirmative when asked by a woman whether the four-lane highway would be back on the cards if he became Prime Minister, and on plans to improve roads in general in Northland.
"My real frustration is the fact that under successive governments, we had a good roading programme in place. It all made sense and then you have a government that comes in and says we don't want to invest in roads.
"We know infrastructure is the key that unlocks the potential of the North, and the thing that could make the single biggest difference right now would be a decent four-lane highway."
In June last year, the Government decided to suddenly ditch the much-touted four-lane motorway south of Whangārei.
Instead, the money would be invested in a rail link between Whangārei and Northport and safety improvements along State Highway 1 such as installation of centre median and roadside barriers, and wide centre lines.
A man in the crowd asked Luxon for an undertaking that the Marsden refinery would be saved if National came to power.
"Chris, I think it's absolutely vital that you say today we're not going to be led at the hands of ideologues in Wellington. Are you going to commit to saving our refinery?"
Luxon said he'd like to be able to say that and it would depend on whether the plant has been mothballed or dismantled.
"What I am concerned about is that we won't have the storage facility under this model to have the cover we need should we be unable to access that supply. Covid has highlighted that you cannot rely on and assume you can always get stuff from imports," he said.
National under his leadership, he said, was not only interested in criticising the Government but to propose ideas as well.
Waipū resident Brian Glamuzina asked Luxon how he planned to finance infrastructure.
Through a mixture of returns from Kiwisaver investments, central and local government working together on regional plans, and Government-private partnerships, said Luxon.
Glamuzina was unimpressed.
"He had nothing innovative to share. Talking about private partnerships... it's the same old, same old," he said.
Others in the crowd waxed lyrical about the way the National leader answered questions on issues that affected Kiwis.
"The most important thing was he answered the questions in a way everyone understood. I am hoping he's able to save the refinery, we need it because there's massive unemployment here," Jan Gemmell said.
Another said Luxon thought in the same way as Northlanders about pressing issues.
"I am concerned about the farmers who work really hard, they've had regulations thrown at them that have resulted in massive mental health issues," said Shirley Neal, of One Tree Point. "I hope he gets on to the mental health side of things when he gets into government because farmers are so stressed out."
The retired farmer and motelier said it was time for the Government to look after the working class rather than throw money on those that relied on handouts.
Luxon touched upon mental health, which he said affected one in five Kiwis, and said National would have a dedicated Minister of Mental Health if it formed the next government.
Farmers were made out to be villains in this country, he said, when the reality was they were the best and most carbon-efficient in the world and should be supported.