The 2023 election results have seen a clear National Party victory across the country. The same mandate for change is evident throughout the wider Bay of Plenty region. We went to press with this issue just before the final count including special votes was confirmed in early November. But there will almost certainly be no change in the Bay of Plenty results.
While it remains to be seen whether Winston Peters’ NZ First Party picks up enough special votes to influence the final shape of the future government, National, with David Seymour’s ACT Party in support, is almost certain to hold power.
As well as the individual electorate MP races in each of the five electorates, National also won the party vote by significant margins.
Only Labour’s Tauranga-based Jan Tinetti, who has yet to win a local candidate seat, will return to Parliament as a locally based List MP because of her high placing on the party vote.
One could see the result as a resounding swing to National. However, as many have commented, as much as anything it suggests a move away from the outgoing Labour Government and the left wing in general.
Labour failed to follow through
As several of the people interviewed for this story noted, Labour had in recent years enjoyed resounding electorate success and had a clear mandate for its policies. But it failed to achieve what it had promised and initiated too many ambitious projects that were never likely to be realised.
There are plenty of places to lay the blame: a left-wing government that wasn’t united across its supporting parties; the rigours and costs of Labour fighting Covid 19, and the unfortunate recent public disgraces of a large number of senior Labour MPs.
But it came down to a sense in the electorate that Labour had stalled despite its initial mandate.
The Ardern factor
I regard former prime minister Jacinda Ardern as one of the most successful Labour leaders in decades.
Ardern is also exceptionally astute. She read the early signs of Labour falling in the polls and opted to promptly jettison her prime ministership and head for US academia.
She handed on what proved to be a poisoned chalice to the new and now defeated Labour prime minister Chris Hipkins.
I have been fortunate in my career to have reported on, travelled with and worked for a number of politicians from various parties.
In my experience, most intelligent politicians I have known tended to have gone into their profession out of a genuine desire to do their best for their constituents’ interests.
Unfortunately, many end up spending too much of their careers in parliament in Wellington, away from their families and constituents, grinding out 90-hour weeks.
I am not suggesting that senior electorate jobs don’t come with pay, perks and some glamour – they do. But I’m not sure voters always appreciate how wearying and sometimes ungratifying MPs’ jobs can be.
The current mayhem and massacres in the Middle East and the bizarre behaviours in the US house of congress make me appreciate that we are fortunate to live in a relatively stable and democratic country, in which exercising our vote is easy and accurate.
How business views the result
Todd Muller recently retired as a National MP and has taken up the role of independent chairman of council and local business-owned group Priority One. He told the Bay of Plenty Business News that the local business community would have a strong expectation of new momentum from the incoming government, matched with hope that it brings some additional local investment to the region.
“My sense is that there was significant frustration at the lack of urgency of central government investment to support our city and wider region over the last few years – and that this was felt throughout our local business sectors,” said Muller.
Tauranga Business Chamber chief executive Matt Cowley told the Bay of Plenty Business News there was a lot of low-hanging fruit in Nationals’ policies that would be supported by the business community.
He cited fair pay agreements and some adjustment to employment relationships, like the return of the 90-day trial, as things that would be supported by the business community.
I think people are going to be looking at 2024 as probably a challenging year, in geopolitics as well the US election. But there are some really good green shoots coming through – Food and Beverage is growing in new markets as well.”
– Matt Cowley
Cowley said that currently there were business areas that were hurting quite a lot, but some sectors were growing well.
“I think people are going to be looking at 2024 as probably a challenging year, in geopolitics as well the US election,” he said.
“But there are some really good green shoots coming through – Food and Beverage is growing in new markets as well.
“Businesses are preparing for the economy to cool sideways,” he said. “For some people it will be tough.”
Not enough achieved
Veteran National MP Todd McClay, who has again retained the Rotorua electorate, told the Bay of Plenty Business News that the election result was very humbling.
“I think the reason for the result is similar to the rest of the country – there has not been nearly enough achieved,” he said.
“The cost of living has increased quite significantly, and in the BOP the roads were in a very sad state. During the campaign that was expressed quite clearly by many people.”
McClay said that over the past six years the polling suggested that what might have been achieved had gone backwards.
“We will put a stable government together, and are clear about the first 100 days commitments.”
Newly anointed National MP Tom Rutherford, who took over Muller’s seat, said there were a number of key issues.
“There was a mood for change,” he said.
My sense is that there was significant frustration at the lack of urgency of central government investment to support our city and wider region over the last few years – and that this was felt throughout our local business sectors.”
– Todd Muller
“People were unhappy with how the Labour government performed – particularly as they had a majority and they had no reason not to bring about change in their time. They weren’t successful. “
Rutherford said he believed the biggest issues locally were the cost of living, fixing and rebuilding out the economy, law and order and improving education and health care.
‘I would often talk about our focus on transport and infrastructure,” he told the Bay of Plenty Business News.
“We’ve got a real congestion issue here and we need to ensure we have suitable transport infrastructure to service our role as the fastest growing city in NZ. Transport infrastructure has not caught up.”
Communities feel hard hit
National’s Scott Simpson retained his Coromandel seat in a landslide, an electorate he has held since 2011. He told the Bay of Plenty Business News that he felt National’s success was in part a result of the fact that like many other communities, the Coromandel had been hit hard by the Labour government’s rigid and centralised approach to policy.
“Ours is an electorate made up of small businesses, usually family run,” he said.
“They’ve been doing it tough.”
Simpson said the community’s age demographic skewed towards seniors aged 65-plus.
“They have been trying to cope with the cost-of-living crisis, reduced access to health care and, like all New Zealanders, they have been outraged by the crime wave sweeping their local communities,” he said.
“These were people who want a government focused on the issues that matter to them. Labour simply were not.”
The most pressing issues he found in the leadup were the cost-of-living crisis, out of control crime, poor access to health services and roading infrastructure issues, he said.
The East Coast electorate went blue after National candidate Dana Kirkpatrick convincingly won the seat. In an interview with the Rotorua Daily Post she said that given Labour’s big win in 2020, her campaign was conscious they had ground to make up.
The seat was convincingly won in the previous election by Labour’s Kiri Allan, who had turned around what had previously been a National stronghold. She subsequently became one of the several Labour MPs to recently resign.
The electorate understood the need to have someone from there, who lived there, who worked there, who had been a CEO and a general manager there, Kirkpatrick told the Post.
Muller told the Bay of Plenty Business News that once the new government had been sworn in, the business community would be looking forward to progressing genuine partnership that facilitated the roading, housing and wider amenity infrastructure that the region desperately needed.
“A wider New Zealand recovery requires the Bay to be leading from the front – that can happen with the right shared investment in infrastructure and people,” he said.
> REGIONAL WINNERS
The region’s winners include:
- Bay of Plenty, Tom Rutherford (National)
- Tauranga, Sam Uffindell (National)
- Rotorua, Todd McClay (National)
- East Coast, Dana Kirkpatrick (National)
- Coromandel, Scott Simpson (National)