Christopher Luxon’s marathon job interview for the top job in the country continued today with a visit to Labour stronghold South Auckland, where Luxon leant on law and order concerns to attract favour.
Luxon was a guest of the Punjabi community in Papatoetoe Wednesday morning as he met with a line of beleaguered shop owners along Great South Road.
It’s an area where the socioeconomic pressures of the past few years are visible in the bollards and security doors.
And safety concerns for business owners is the exact kind of leverage Luxon will be looking for in the traditionally left-leaning Ōtāhuhu-Panmure electorate.
He can hold up National’s strong man law and order policies, which promise harsher penalties for criminals and cut judges’ ability to opt towards lenience in sentencing.
Luxon’s tour guide was National’s Ōtāhuhu-Panmure candidate Navtej Randhawa, a supermarket owner and co-founder of community radio station Spice FM.
Randhawa’s father was waiting at the radio station to meet Luxon. He said the station and Papatoetoe itself served as a focal point of the country’s nearly 40,000-strong Punjabi community.
And after Luxon’s brief time in the Punjabi community this morning, he’ll likely go away believing support is strong from the group.
A number of shop owners spoke about their concerns around crime and egged him on.
The owners of Batra’s Fashion Villa told Luxon they’d consider leaving the country if he didn’t win, citing worries about pollution and the health system.
Mashaal, a volunteer on Randhawa’s campaign, said he’d been in New Zealand since 2010 but felt like it was a very different country from when he arrived.
“This is not the place I came to,” he said.
He and many of his fellow volunteers had only recently started supporting National.
Luxon finished off his brief trip to South Auckland with a visit to Gurudwara Sri Dasmesh Darbar temple, where he forewent his shoes and donned a head covering, before heading off to a tour of a cement factory in Onehunga.
But even with his tough-on-crime promises, Ōtāhuhu-Panmure could prove a tough win for National. Labour incumbent Jenny Salesa took the seat in a 77 percent landslide in 2020, the first election for the electorate in its current form.
Before that, much of it belonged to Manukau East, one of Labour’s safest electorates. Salesa herself has reigned here since 2014.
Nearly half of the population in the electorate are Pasifika, while nearly a third are Asian. It’s a demographic that’s younger, more diverse and more likely to have arrived recently. In the 2018 Census it was also the area with the highest unemployment rate and the highest share of family incomes below $20,000.
They are trends echoed in neighbouring South Auckland electorates, and as areas that also tend to have lower voter turnout, they are also sites of massive untapped political power.
And Luxon isn’t the only one trying to tap into this – former Auckland mayoral candidate Efeso Collins is running for the seat under a Greens banner.
At the Greens Auckland campaign launch in July, Collins said he’d be focused on growing the Green vote in South Auckland and even wanted to get competitive with Chlöe Swarbrick’s performance in Auckland Central.
“I’m proud to be the Green Party candidate for Panmure-Ōtāhuhu, because that’s where we are going to continue to grow the vote,” he said.
His answers to law and order issues will be starkly different to those National will be offering. Greens policy prioritises restorative justice and considering underlying precursors of offending – poverty, alcohol or drug addiction, and systemic racism.
The question will come down to whether shop owners like those in Papatoetoe’s main drag will be won over by solutions that focus on fixing the root cause, or the quicker, short-term ‘tough on crime’ approach.
Last time around, the Green candidate for Panmure-Ōtāhuhu only won 650 votes – 2.5 percent of the total.
With the momentum of his mayoral campaign and an established political profile, Collins is likely to do better than that.
But nevertheless, it’s not going to be easy for anybody to weaken Salesa’s grasp.
Luxon finished off the morning with a tour of the Cemix plant in Onehunga, where he swapped his National blue polar fleece for high-vis in electoral commission orange, and nodded earnestly while managing director Bhav Dhillon explained how the industrial products get made.
“This is the kind of business I want to see a lot more of,” Luxon said. “It’s growing people, training them and developing them.”
He also pressed the flesh with most of the workers, giving each a moment to explain what they do and receive his teacherly encouragements of “good job” and “well done”.
“We have Mr Christopher Luxon coming on Wednesday,” read a whiteboard on the warehouse floor.
Some staff were visibly excited to meet him, although there was also a bit of skepticism once he’d moved on to the next handshake.
“I couldn’t see if his fingers were crossed,” one staff member said to a colleague as the politician walked away.
Newsroom asked what kind of impression Luxon had made on the group of young labourers.
“I don’t know too much about him,” one said. “I wonder what he thinks of us.”