Updated: The Waitaki electorate, home of one of New Zealand’s youngest political candidates, is an odd-shaped jigsaw piece.
It separates a chunk of Central Otago from its natural neighbours, with the rapidly growing town of Cromwell falling in with Wanaka to the north, rather than Clyde and Alexandra to the south.
After boundary reviews over the past 15 years, Waitaki now extends from Lake Dunstan across the Mackenzie Basin and North Otago, taking in Geraldine and Mt Cook to the north and Palmerston to the south. The remainder of Central Otago, and the Queenstown area, are in the Southland electorate.
As well as its quirky boundary line Waitaki also boasts the only teenage candidate standing in this election.
Standing in what is a long-established National seat is 19-year-old Ethan Reille.
A climate activist and Labour Party follower since he was 15, Reille says he hopes to normalise youth leadership and pave the way for others to follow.
Although he’s unimpressed by having to face the “brunt and normalisation of political hate and rhetoric” towards young people, he won’t be caving in to it.
“If we want to ensure young people are engaging in our political systems we must be electing those very young people who are the future of those seats in Parliament.
“I’ve had it all, though – the classic ‘who changes his nappies?’ to ‘does his mum drive him around?’.”
Young people are not the only generation describing this election as the most divisive and heated ever seen, Reille says.
“There are political leaders who are choosing age and race-baiting to gain political clout.
“It’s abhorrent and utterly unacceptable but we cannot let such rhetoric scare us away if we want to see the change and proper representation we so desperately need.”
Up against it
Contesting a heartland National seat while at number 76 on Labour’s list makes him an extremely long shot at becoming an MP this time around. But Reille says he would stand again for the sake of youth representation.
“I will continue to prove that young people are absolutely capable and needed in politics, regardless of being elected myself or not.
“If there is still a need for that to be proven, then absolutely. Policy, politics and communication can be learnt, but passion cannot.”
Reille says 40 percent of voters nationwide aged 18 to 25 are not enrolled although in Waitaki the figure is slighter better at about 30 percent.
“We have no MPs under the age of 29 yet under-25s represent a third of our population.”
Hard-working National Party MP Jacqui Dean is retiring after 18 years representing southern regions. Miles Anderson – 59th on the party list – was chosen earlier this year as her replacement candidate for Waitaki. Aged 55, he farms at Southburn, inland from Timaru, as well as running a livestock scanning business.
Anderson has experience at national level in rural politics including as chair of Federated Farmers’ meat and wool industry group.
His main motivation appears to be dissatisfaction with “wasteful spending and bad policy” by the government.
Priorities for Anderson are healthcare, education and the cost-of-living crisis.
There are eight candidates for Waitaki’s scattered voters to choose from, not all of whom live in the electorate.
Act Party candidate Sean Beamish lives in Lake Hawea but spent years overseas working in engineering services and touring by motorcycle.
New Zealand First has Dunedin-based driver and nurseryman Anthony Odering standing for Waitaki and the Greens candidate is Pleasance Hansen.
Hansen lives part time in Southland and Arrowtown according to The Spinoff.
South Canterbury farmer Roger Small is representing DemocracyNZ and Timaru delivery driver Ray Bailey the New Zealand Loyal Party.
In the 2020 election independent candidate Daniel Shand’s slogan was “I don’t know anything about politics but I’ll give it a go”.
Nothing seems to have changed there aside from his face on billboards being replaced by a golden retriever.
With diverse pockets of rural and urban landscape falling into the Waitaki electorate the successful candidate will have broad issues and plenty of kilometres to cover.
Balancing a healthy economy that can house and pay its workforce with safe-guarding and improving the natural environment will be key.
Conservation groups are desperate for more funds for pest control, the threat of over-tourism is an ongoing worry and water quality and supply is front of mind for many in both rural and urban settings.
In addition, anyone who has needed healthcare recently across the region will be looking for a reversal of a somewhat alarming decline in levels of service.
* This story has been updated after advice from the Animal Justice Party that its Hamilton East candidate, Lily Carrington, turned 18 in August and they believe she is the country’s youngest candidate.
Made with the support of the Public Interest Journalism Fund