Last week, the Herald on Sunday embarked on a search for The Average New Zealand Household. From dozens and dozens of applicants, we have selected four finalists who sum up some of the challenges facing the country ahead of this month's election. Now, you can help us choose who should put a question to prime ministerial contenders John Key and Phil Goff.
John Key appealed this week to New Zealand's working families, saying they face many of the same challenges as the sick and unemployed, he said.
"A lot of people who get up in the morning and go off to work are just like people on benefits _ they are not well off, they are sole parents, and they have medical conditions of their own,"' the National leader said. "And actually, it's these working people who are paying taxes to keep the benefit system going."
The same day, Phil Goff appealed to the same households: "Families are finding it hard to make ends meet and there is no sign that things are getting better,'' he said. ``Most Kiwis are really struggling.''
So who are these regular Kiwi battlers, these middle New Zealand families that every politician claims to represent - and, given the chance to turn the tables, what would they ask of the men who are campaigning for prime minister?
The Herald on Sunday last week launched a search for The Average NZ Household. The questionnaire was somewhat tongue-in-cheek because, let's be honest, there's no such thing as "average''. Every person, every family, every household is unique.
But there is a serious intent to our search. Some of the challenges faced by Kiwi families are common to many, yet ignored by political parties that are determined to set their own agenda. From the dozens of applicants, we have chosen four households facing four distinct challenges. You tell us whose concerns are closest to your own - and
we'll give one of the finalists the chance to put a question to Key and Goff.
(And, for good measure, we'll give them a nice dinner for two at a top restaurant - because unlike the politicians, we're allowed to offer inducements!)
The four finalists face different challenges and priorities.
For 18-year-old Ella Nisbet and her mum, it's about the future of our young people. After Ella finishes her exams at Havelock North High School this month, she'll be heading off to Victoria University in Wellington. Eventually she wants to perhaps join the air force, perhaps work overseas for the United Nations. There's nothing much to keep her and her friends in New Zealand, she says.
In west Auckland, stay-at-home-mum Rebecca Reader says the cost of food and petrol, with her husband commuting and three active primary-aged kids, is almost unmanageable.
In the central city, Soo Ryu and her partner are more worried about whether our leaders recognise how the world is changing. Soo and her partner work long hours. They've got no car, no grassy back lawn, no kids to play on it - and they are representative of a growing urban demographic.
For radio DJ Mike Wilson, working six days a week and night shifts to pay the rent in Auckland, the challenge is finding time to spend with his wife and two little daughters. It's not about the money, he says - they'll get by. It's about quality of life.
Ella Nisbet, 18, and her mother Fiona, 50
Havelock North, Hawke's Bay
Ella is finishing high school and working part-time teaching swimming to children; her mother works as a primary school teacher. The two go walking together at weekends, or fix up their small home-with a-view in the Hawke's Bay.
"I love the beach and couldn't imagine life without it,'' says Ella. "Me and my friends are going on a road trip in the summer, to great destinations like Tauranga and the Coromandel, but I had to start saving for it ages ago. I have an aversion to credit cards, and the policy in our household is if you don't have it, you can't spend it.
Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year, because the whole family goes to my uncle's farm, and we basically have a big barbecue and a great family reunion. Even if I travel overseas, I will always call New Zealand home.''
THE YOUNG FAMILY
Mike Wilson, 25, wife Emily, 22, and their two daughters
The couple moved up from Tauranga when Mike got a job hosting the night show on The Rock radio station, paying $40,000 a year.
They have been lucky enough to rent a three-bedroom bungalow with a trampoline and a swingset in the backyard. A tax credit and accommodation supplement help them pay the $430/week rent.
"We have Freeview on an old TV and we don't always pay the bills on time - average!'' says Mike.
"Caitlin is 18 months and had an operation at 1 for kidney reflux. She's all okay now. Every second weekend we have my older daughter Lily, 6 in my care. We don't have much cash left over. I work 6 days a week and wish we had a boat, but we find time to take the kids to Auckland Museum or Mission Bay for fun.''
THE URBAN PROFESSIONALS
Soo Ryu and partner Thomas Warden, both 27
Soo is an architectural graduate, and Thomas is a brand strategist. They have no children, they don't own a car, They live in a trendy inner-city apartment and, says Soo, spend the typical Saturday morning recovering from the night before.
"Auckland represents a quarter of the New Zealand population with young people making up the most. New Zealand's middle class demographic has changed over the years and I'm part of that new generation living in urban areas with no kids,'' says Soo.
"We are both Kiwis, but I immigrated here when I was 8 from South Korea and Tom is from Wellington. We have lived all over in Asia and Africa for 7 years.''
THE BIGGER FAMILY
Rebecca Reader, 33, husband Darren, 41, and their three children
West Harbour, Auckland
Rebecca works part-time in childcare and office admin, while Darren works fulltime for Vodafone, bringing in a joint income of about $75,000.
"We are currently in the process of buying a new family home, our kids are all in state education, we are a Christian family fellowshipping at our local Baptist church,'' says Rebecca.
"Kids are involved in soccer, ballet, and just being NZ kids. I feel like a taxi but love being a mum.''
The Average NZ Household results
* More of us live in suburban bliss than on farms, in inner-city apartments - or in Australia
* We prefer MasterChef to Coronation St or Shortland St.
* We choose rugby over netball or football
* Half of us spend our Saturdays ferrying the kids between sports and ballet; the rest of us are either at work or recovering from Friday night
* Most surprising of all, most of us prefer wine to beer - with Earl Grey tea taking a distant third place