Act Party leader David Seymour covered a lot of ground over the weekend, getting his steps in as the countdown clock to election day ticks louder.
Landing at Hawkes Bay airport he jumped into a media conference about his party’s latest crime policy push, “a dollar a day to keep creeps off the streets”.
He said the recent attack on a dairy owner in Auckland only vindicated the party’s position that more people who committed violent crimes should be in jail.
“It’s very hard to commit a crime against people in the community when you’re in jail. I defy anyone to say that given the increase in crime, that has been felt by people in New Windsor dairy [and] the people who are victims of Matu Reid.
“The simple question is should those people have been in jail or not? If they were, then we would have a lot fewer victims right now.”
Then on to a visit close to Seymour’s heart – charter schools.
A visit to Te Aratika Academy, a secondary schools for boys, saw the chair of the board Ronnie Rochel lay out her frustrations with a growing waitlist, but stymied resourcing to take on all the kids who needed it.
“It is a high school because we say it’s a high school, but those premises do not speak high school. Did you notice my science lab? Did you see my art class? Did you have a look at my gym?”
Of course, there were none of those facilities. Rochel wants the Ministry of Education to designate its plot of land across the road for education and industry, so they can build a better site for schooling and trades training; it’s just the red tape and regulation stopping them.
“I need support for our cradle-to-career vision, to actually have a multi-purpose building set up here.”
A bigger site would allow the academy to take girls as well.
Seymour asked if she could capitalise it. “Probably,” she answered. “Or we’ll just find someone with deep pockets who loves what we do, have we got anyone here?”
A new ministry to combat red tape and regulation was Act’s centrepiece of its party conference earlier this year, and while it hasn’t been number one on the campaign trail talking point list (that’s cutting wasteful spending), it’s up there.
Rochel said she needed to start making some noise or her boys would be working out of cabins (that they built themselves) across the road in 10 years’ time, and she needed help from people who believed in their cause, like Seymour.
“I asked the boys, before we hit break, why did they come to our school, because there’s actually nothing here, and they all talked about the sense of belonging. Whānau is the one that comes through all the time.
“But my teachers are flogged … staff are flogged, it’s hard when you don’t have resources. It’s hard working yet we’re producing.”
The Act Party bus ‘Big Pinky’ then rolled along to the Tumu Trucking yard, where transport manager Bevan Hall let Seymour behind the wheel after sharing his frustrations on the lowered speed limit from Hawkes Bay to Taupo.
It wasn’t a timing issue, he said. The problem was not being able to get enough speed up before hitting the steeper hills in a heavy truck.
“It’s burning through fuel.”
A lunch stop at the art gallery-come-candy store-come-cafe, Birdwoods in Havelock North, saw photo opportunities and local media interviews for the party leader who was then hesitant for a town walkabout at 4pm on a rainy Saturday.
“Don’t know if campaigning is going to be too great guys,” he warned the handful of media tailing him.
It was a bumpy start with the worker behind the counter at Best Burgers confirming she was only 15.
“Roll on election 2029 then,” joked Seymour.
Another man clearly had no idea who the party leader was until he looked at the brochure handed to him.
“Oh is this you?” He observed. Then he wanted to talk about tax, saying it wasn’t fair he had started working at 16 so had paid far more tax than other people his age.
“Well you won’t get it back but you’ll pay less tax with us,” promised Seymour.
But despite most stores being closed and very little foot traffic, Seymour managed to find more than enough people to bend the ear of, or vice versa.
The women behind the counter at clothing store Annah Stretton told him they planned on being at his meeting later that evening, and shared stories of shoplifting at some of the other stores in the town.
At Paper Plus, staff “just wanted [the campaign] to be over”.
“There’s a lot of messy stuff I’m seeing on the TV,” one woman said.
“You’ve got my vote,” a man yelled as he crossed the road in front of where Seymour chatted to another man, who told him “we’ve got to get this economy going”.
Popping into the dimly-lit Turks Bar, about a dozen televisions were playing various iterations of horse racing on full volume and the best beer, it seemed, comes from a swappa crate.
“Political parties used to be actual parties,” Seymour told a group of men. “But now the rules say as a candidate I’m not even allowed to buy you booze.
“Ah that’s a good excuse,” the men laugh.
After doing the rounds, Seymour fired a parting shot: “Has anyone seen the Ranfurly shield?” Raucous laughter followed him out the door.
He also managed to extract himself from a large group of women drinking cocktails across the road who said they’d vote for him if he danced for them.
“Well if it was my dancing that got votes I wouldn’t need to be out here campaigning,” he said, managing to avoid that deal.
Later that evening about 100 people packed into the No.5 Cafe & Larder in Hastings for one of his well-oiled Real Change meetings.
Cutting wasteful spending – tick; debate on what the Treaty of Waitangi means – tick, education and crime – tick, tick.
Questions came from farmers and business owners, but also from teachers, immigrants and students.
Munching on a bacon buttie at the Tomoana Showgrounds on Sunday morning, Seymour was also beset with a walkabout rainy day. However he managed to find common ground with most who stopped for a chat.
A teacher, a young mother, a business owner, a contractor.
Despite a recent drop in the polls, Act is still on track to achieve its biggest-ever caucus in Parliament.
A large part of that must be Seymour’s ability to talk to just about anyone.