NZ First leader Winston Peters made a last plea for votes at a rally in central Whangārei today and he had message for those who had written his party's chances off this election - they are going to be disappointed.
Around 150 people turned up to Peters' final election rally of the campaign at Laurie Hall Park where he was accompanied by the party's Northland candidate Shane Jones, candidate for Whangārei David Wilson, Darroch Ball, MP Palmerston North and Talani Meikle, NZ First candidate for Remutaka.
Peters told the crowd that until three years ago, when NZ First went into coalition with Labour to form the Labour/NZ First/Green government, Northland was a forgotten region, but it was now being transformed by the money his party put into the region through the Provincial Growth Fund.
''Cast your mind back three years ago when Northland was a forgotten region. We've got the best port in the country – but not developed to its capacity – it doesn't even having a rail track to it.
''The rail track to Dargaville had been shut down, the rail track from Kauri, north to Otiria – shut down, and rail movements from Whangārei to Auckland – halved and about to be closed.
''The Hundertwasser development in Whangārei had been stalled due to lack of funds and the Hundertwasser development, in Kawakawa, not even started.
''All of our farming hinterland was suffering from an over-valued dollar, there was no central government funding going into rural roads and over a thousand single-lane bridges and 3500km of metal roads.
''Cast your mind back three years ago when Northland was marginalized, cinderellaised, just forgotten. Since then, our dollar is stable, is around .66 cents to the US dollar. And we've had three years of record primary industry exports.''
He said the party had been ridiculed every time it had tried to help Northland.
''But New Zealand First has ensured we've opened up project after project. Big ones and small. Whether it be planting of millions of trees, fixing up wharfs and jetty's in the Kaipara, Hokianga and Bay of Islands. And the Riverside Hotel and Convention Centre, right here in Whangārei, funded and approved,'' Peters said.
''Isn't it amazing how much criticism New Zealand First has taken, because unlike the rest of the parties, we have stood up for the provinces.''
Regarding rail, he said they were reopening the line all the way to Otiria.
''We are deepening all 17 tunnels, all the way from Whangārei to Auckland. We are fixing up the track so that heavy rail cargo movements can come north, and go south.
''And we've completed the geotech study for a new rail line to go all the way from the mainline to Northport. At last, a four decade old dream is about to be realised.''
He said despite Covid-19 and its disaster to NZ's and the world economy, Northland for the first time in decades is coming alive.
He also outlined other achievements of his party while in the coalition government.
''We've got water storage projects starting everywhere. We built the Māori Battalion Museum at Waitangi. We put millions into Kaipara, and Far North roads.
''We're building roundabouts on main roads for safety. We're building a Kauri Sanctuary. We're taking Whangārei from a minor to a major New Zealand city.''
Peters said every project in the north, is a NZ First project in the coalition government.
''Is it fair that one party should take all the criticism - and another party take all the credit?''
He said if NZ First had gone with National after the last election, rather than Labour, the Covid 19 response would have been different.
''If we'd have gone with National, what would they have done about Covid-19 and its massive threat to the health of New Zealanders and Māori in particular. They wanted us to reopen air flights to everywhere, including China,'' Peters said.
''America has had 220,000 deaths and eight million cases. There are about 79,000 more new cases every day in India. National kept on screaming about bringing students in from India and China. Just imagine what would have happened to the population of Northland, where you've never had one case. So, think hard before you vote.''
He also had a clear message to those who have written him and his party off after they are on 3 per cent in the polls - below the 5 per cent needed to get back into Parliament, or winning an electorate - they are going to be disappointed come Saturday night.
''Our enemies have made us an underdog in this campaign. But it's not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, it is the size of the fight in the dog.
''And we know as our opponents have always feared that there would be a late surge for New Zealand First. And believe me ladies and gentlemen its happening, and it, with you, is going to bring us home.''