Political banter heats up at Meet the Candidates event

Labour candidate Ala’ Al-Bustanji (pictured centre) and Louise Upston (National, right) were the only candidates present from the local electorate.

It was an interesting display of politics at the “Meet the Candidates” event on Sunday, where about 50 locals gathered at the St Andrews Church Hall to hear from four political candidates; Louise Upston for National, Ala’ Al-Bustanji for Labour, Stu Husband for NZ First and Philippa Stevenson for the Green Party.

Winston Peters had originally been planned to represent NZ First, but another engagement on his home turf meant he couldn’t attend. But Stu Husband filled the “big shoes” quite well and had a warm reception with the crowd. Stu is a Morrinsville dairy farmer and Waikato Regional councillor, standing for the Waikato electorate which encompasses Tamahere, Matangi and Hautapu.

Being a Tamahere local, Philippa Stevenson is also running for the Waikato electorate. Louise Upston is a Cambridge local and Ala has lived in Taupo for the last 9 years, having moved to New Zealand from Jordan.

The meeting kicked off with introductions from all of the candidates before question time got underway. During his introduction Ala mentioned that he is a Muslim, which later begged the question, what were his views on gay rights and women’s rights?

Ala reassured the crowd that he does fully support gay rights and women’s rights, even mentioning that his best friend back in Jordan was gay. “Unfortunately he wasn’t openly gay because of the culture there, even in New Zealand it is still kind of an issue some times for gay people, let alone being gay in the Middle East,” he said. “So yes, there is a problem with Muslims understanding the rights of gay people.

“As a person and as a Muslim, here in New Zealand and back home… and I don’t see that as a problem at all of any kind… There isn’t a real mention of that in the old book (religious text).”

Stu Husband

Stu Husband’s background as a farmer and regional councillor provided some valuable insight when Greens candidate Philippa Stevenson spoke on the issue of polluted waterways.

“Agriculture intensification over the last 25 years is responsible for much of the harm to our waterways in rural areas,” Stevenson said. “The Green party has suggested that we could charge $2 per kilogram of nitrate leeched each year, per hectare, and that would be paid at processor level, not directly by the farmer. All of that money raised would go back into areas to help transition into a better sort of farm.”

A member of the public later said, “Following on from your pollution statement, that the polluters would be charged… I want to know how you can overcome the logistical problem of measuring pollution from every farmer in New Zealand, how it could be done and how it can be monitored.”

“It’s not perfect but it’s the available tool, and that’s oversee it, which is already used on farms, to measure inputs and outputs, and it would be better if it could be developed better, but that would be the mechanism, it’s already used, and I’m sure Stu could elaborate on it being a Regional councillor on how it’s already used in the Waikato, we know it’s not perfect.”

Stu then added, “No, there’s a 30 per cent margin of error.”

Philippa Stevenson

“Hopefully it could be developed to be better before it’s instituted,” Stevenson said.

“It sounds reasonably imperfect at the moment, it’s 30 per cent out,” added the questioner.

“But it is already being used on farms isn’t it?” said Stevenson.

“Yeah but they’re not being charged for it, if they’re being charged hard dollars then that percentage of variation does matter,” said the questioner.

The hot topic of bringing rail to the region was put to the candidates. Upston said research would need to be done to look at public usage and costs, “before the reality of a rail is feesable”.

The Labour and Green party candidates said they planned to introduce rail to the region, which would include a link to Cambridge at a later stage.

Stu Husband said their focus was on linking up all of the regions. “New Zealand First’s policy is linking up our regions. We’re a big believer in rail, getting people to health care in these rural communities, that’s essentially needed… The policy that NZ First has got is the GST coming off the tourist spend, that will a hundred percent be going to go back into those local authorities to put that infrastructure in place.”

A shortage of police in Cambridge and other areas was one point of concern for many. Upston thanked all those in Cambridge who signed the petition which has brought two more Police officers to Cambridge.

Louise Upston

The other candidates highlighted the need for more police in Cambridge and across the country. Stu Husband said there was a shortage of 1800 front line police officers in New Zealand, and his party planned to fill every one of those roles. “We are massively short in the country areas,” he added.

The Labour candidate said his party planned to add 1000 more police officers across the country.

In the wrap up of the meeting, which was organised by Cambridge Grey Power, President Val Massey said, “I hope that members here in our audience have learned something. So go away, think about what these folks have said to you and put it down on paper next week.”

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