Roads, jobs and wages were three of the key issues emerging from a candidates meeting in Kawakawa just two weeks out from the general election.
Recent floods in Kawakawa and Moerewa made the state of Northland roads, and claims of cuts to regional road funding, a hot topic.
A few bold new ideas were floated, such as a proposal for a rapid rail link, but perhaps the most striking aspect of the meeting was the age of the candidates - three of the six would-be Parliamentarians were in their early 30s. Labour's Willow-Jean Prime was the youngest at 31, with the Maori Party's Te Hira Paenga and Anaru Kaipo both 32.
Responding to a question about roads at Thursday night's meeting, Focus NZ leader Ken Rintoul said his party had a "cunning plan" for a rapid rail link from Hamilton to Kerikeri or Otiria.
Carrying passengers by day and freight by night it had a five-year payback so it made economic sense. It would also take a lot of traffic off Northland roads.
Green candidate David Clendon said his party would axe the $1.8 billion "gold-plated" motorway to Wellsford. Northland would benefit more from a spend of .5 billion to fix the worst bottlenecks on its state highway network.
Mrs Prime said the Far North District Council had not received any government funding for sealing metal roads in six years, because money once spent on rural roads was now being diverted to the Government's Roads of National Significance. Meanwhile many Far Northerners living next to unsealed roads were "literally choking on dust", she said.
Mr Rintoul said $55 million in road user charges and fuel taxes paid in Northland was being "sucked out" of the region to pay for motorways in the big cities.
Other topics traversed included education, employment, boosting the number of Maori in skilled jobs, the minimum wage, whether government salaries should be capped, and the exchange rate.
Many spoke of the need to move to high-paid industries so one parent could stay home to look after the children.
Labour's Kelvin Davis said education was the way forward for everyone, particularly Maori.
"I'll argue that to my dying breath. One generation of education will achieve more than the last 170 years of chest-beating and foot-stomping."
Eliminating Northland's "rampant" sexual and domestic violence was another of his top priorities, Mr Davis said.
Mr Clendon said easing the burden of student loans was one way of helping Maori into skilled professions and encouraging the newly trained to work in the provinces.
Mr Kaipo spoke passionately about being raised in poverty and surrounded by domestic violence. Many of his friends and cousins were in jail but he had got an education, gone abroad, and become a youth mentor.
"I came back here to give back to my people, to do something for my hapu."
Mr Paenga and Mrs Prime said their youth allowed them to connect with young people, who made up a large proportion of Northland's population.
Responding to a question about whether police numbers needed boosting, Mr Clendon said it was funding, not the number of officers, that was the problem. The police budget had effectively been cut every year for the past four years.
Mr Davis said a review was currently underway of police station support staff. If their jobs were cut frontline police would have to do more paperwork and have less time on the street.
He had been told people in Kawakawa were not reporting crime because their calls to the station were transferred to Whangarei.
Candidates for the Focus NZ, Green, Labour and Maori parties attended the meeting.
National and Internet-Mana were among the parties invited but not represented.
JOBS THE BIG CHALLENGE
The biggest challenge facing the Kawakawa area is "jobs, jobs, jobs".
That was the view of former Kawakawa Business Association chair Richard Duley, who chaired last week's candidates meeting in the town's St John Hall.
If jobs could not be found for Kawakawa's young people, a way had to be found of keeping them involved in the community.
Another challenge was the ongoing threat to he town's basic services. In the past two years the hospital, police station, post office, bank, council service centre, library, recreation centre and pool had all been threatened with closure or downsizing.
Mr Duley said he looked forward to the day when the people of Kawakawa did not have to use up their energy fighting governments, councils and corporations as they sought to rationalise services or boost profits.
Successes of the Kawakawa area included the resilience and self-reliance of the people, as demonstrated in the July floods.
About 40 people attended the meeting. Mr Duley said the turnout may have been affected by bad weather. A previous attempt to hold the meeting had to be cancelled due to the July floods.