Standing in sheep s*** in the paddocks of Central Hawke’s Bay, Chris Hipkins capped off a day where he showed some of that vintage Chippy character Labour is relying on to win this election.
Despite another poor poll result and a debate many commentators deemed dull, Hipkins appeared more vibrant and engaged on Thursday than he’d been at some events over the past few weeks while winding his way down the North Island’s East Coast.
It was a slow start attending a local candidate’s breakfast at the Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce. Those following the Labour leader know Hipkins has a tendency to wear a slightly vacant expression when he’s seemed to be lost in thought, bored or tired - perhaps all three.
It was a virtual Christopher Luxon that sparked him into gear - the National leader, appearing by video, told the audience his tax plan numbers did stack up, eliciting a scoff from Hipkins.
His short speech went down well. It always helps to include $1.1 billion funding package for a new hospital when hoping to win over a crowd.
It was his trip to the iconic Wattie’s factory in Hastings that Hipkins showed off his personable side. Not afraid to take the mickey out of himself, Hipkins took delight in showing off his overalls and headset to the cameras, noting it was his first time in a hairnet in the campaign.
In the staff room after the tour, his chit-chat with workers was much more engaged than at previous events.
Having just scoffed back his umpteenth sausage roll since becoming PM, Hipkins was quite candid when one staffer asked if he was flagging, admitting he was a bit tired following Tuesday night’s leader’s debate.
However, he said if he got about five to six hours of sleep, which he got last night, he was usually okay. Hipkins did note he was looking forward to a break - though it won’t come until next Friday.
Next stop was the dump. A fan of DIY work, Hipkins will be no stranger to his local transfer station.
About $2m had been committed to the region to assist with the storage and recycling of waste left behind by Cyclone Gabrielle.
Despite having described his personal emphasis on recycling in Tuesday’s debate, the Labour leader didn’t seem too keen when prompted to re-purpose one of the tossed items of clothing piled up before him.
A short stint in Napier featured a brief walk to see the city’s Art Deco gems before he settled himself into a 1940s Packard for a leisurely chat with driver Tony.
He concluded what was a busy day on the campaign trail at a water treatment plant just outside of Waipawa and announced $2.5m to build up a stopbank to prevent the nearby river from flooding the plant like it did during Cyclone Gabrielle.
The plant’s flooding, which nearly claimed lives, left Waipawa and Otane residents boiling their water for five weeks.
A stopbank, set to be established by April, would protect against a 1-in-100-year flooding event.
Having done a quick tour, Hipkins was stopped on his way out by a farmer who lived near the plant.
He told the Labour leader how his 96-year-old father had died after catching pneumonia from being caught up in the floodwaters and he wanted to see what action would be taken to protect the area.
Hipkins responded with empathy and while not agitated to begin with, the farmer - hardly Labour’s voter base - ended by wishing him all the best: “You’re a lovely speaker”.
Meanwhile, Luxon spent the morning in Invercargill launching a plan to make New Zealand more attractive for international students.
He breezed through his agenda, working a 50-person room at the Southern Institute of Technology for 15 minutes before heading to Majestic Tea Room to make cheese rolls, and then to Transport World for a tour of the museum.
International education used to be a $3.7 billion export before the pandemic but is yet to fully rebound.
Most student visas currently take almost nine weeks to be processed, and when the students get here, they can only work up to 20 hours a week.
National wants a 14-day processing time for those who pay a fee to jump the queue and a work allowance of 25 hours a week.
The fee would be set by Immigration NZ and spent on enough resources to ensure it can meet the 14-day target. But to be competitive, the fee should be capped so that a New Zealand application is 10 per cent cheaper than an Australian one.
Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.