What do you ask the Prime Minister when you’ve only had a split second to think about it? 

“How’s it going running the country?” one man offered hurriedly, clearly caught short at coming face to face with the Labour leader.  

“Yea, good good,” Hipkins replied. 

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Another “how are you?” offered by the Labour leader was met with; “well a bit sad the All Blacks lost”. 

“Yes, I’m hoping the Warriors will pull one out for us,” Hipkins replied.  

So while the small talk wasn’t great – the reception could not have gone any better.  

There was no sign of protesters who made a point of attempting to disrupt his walkabout in Auckland a week ago, and again at Labour’s campaign launch.

After all, having been the MP since 2008 in an electorate that has never voted any other way, Upper Hutt is safe stomping ground. 

The crowd trying to catch a glimpse of Chris Hipkins as his entourage moves through the festival. Photo: Emma Hatton

Those not lingering for a selfie, at worst, complained about getting their faces caught in a television shot and scuttled sideways around the crowd. 

Ambling down Main Street, dedicated Labour volunteers elevating signs with the party’s election slogan ‘In It For You’ made it clear to those further up there was something, or someone worth stopping to take a look at.  

“Come on Chris buy a ticket!” the woman running the raffle for the Upper Hutt Women’s Centre yells out.  

A good sport, Hipkins climbed aboard the back of the truck where the raffle was being drawn. 

“As long as you pull my number I’ll be happy,” one woman yells from the crowd. 

She quickly dissolves with laughter as Hipkins calls out number 17 – her number. 

Laughter as her raffle ticket is pulled from the draw by Chris Hipkins, after she jokingly heckled him. Photo: Emma Hatton

“Wow a disco light, my grandkids will love this,” she chuckles.  

After taking close to an hour to get part way down Main Street and back, upstairs at a local fitness centre (there is a connection – Hipkins rents his electorate space from the owner) the Labour leader reflected on his reception. 

“It was pretty good. I mean, it’s always a little awkward in the sense that you don’t want to block people from getting to and from the markets that they wanted to visit, but the mood was really positive and it was nice to see some familiar faces.

“It is a home ground if you wanted to describe it that way and a lot of the people that I saw today are people who have had a lot of interaction with over the last 15 years as the local member of Parliament.” 

There was no policy announcement from Labour to talk to, with Hipkins instead faced with responding to National’s social housing policy released this morning.  

National has said it would aim to end the use of emergency housing motels in Rotorua within two years. 

It also would increase the number of social housing places funded by government, as well as providing more capital to Community Housing Providers to compete with Kāinga Ora. 

The new announcements sit alongside other policy to restore interest deductibility for rental properties, taking the brightline test to two years, and making changes to tenancy laws in an effort to bring down rent costs. 

They’ve also promised to unlock more land for residential builds.

Hipkins said it was simply more vague promises from National. 

“The track record speaks for itself. They’ve sold off state houses when they’ve been in government, they’re now somehow miraculously saying that they’re going to build a whole lot of extra houses, they haven’t said how much they’re going to budget for it, they haven’t said when they’re going to do it.  

“So it’s just another one of those vague promises the National Party seem to be putting out there.” 

Chris Hipkins holds a media conference at a local fitness centre afterwards. Photo: Emma Hatton

To rid Rotorua of emergency accommodation, National said it would prioritise people for a social house who had been in a motel for more than three months, tighten the eligibility for access to emergency accommodation and require people to stay in the area they were living in. 

They would also establish a social bond designed to keep families out of emergency accommodation. 

Hipkins said changing how people were prioritised for social housing would not solve homelessness. 

“Building more houses is going to solve homelessness.” 

The Labour leader is spending much of next week in the South Island, he could be taking with him a spring in his step from Saturday’s successful outing. 

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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