Michael Wood campaigning in the 2016 Mt Roskill by-election

From the rhetoric at Labour candidate Michael Wood’s street corner meetings you might think that Phil Goff was still actually standing for Mt Roskill.

Wood invokes Goff’s name frequently as he stops off at corner after corner in the state house heartland of the electorate which will go to the polls this weekend.

He goes as far as to say that everything he learned about politics he learned from Goff.

Even the van that accompanies him on his trek is the same one that Goff used when he was the MP.

And he says that people want a continuation of the kind of strong representation that Goff gave the electorate over the 35 years he was in Parliament (except for 1990 – 93 when National held the seat).

As to policy issues, he says housing is number one.

“Virtually every person wants to talk about housing, whether its ownership or rental or social housing issues,” he told POLITIK.

“Transport problems are just unavoidable in Mt Roskill and then, and this issue has really up, is crime and law and order.”

Mt Roskill is a state house suburb; 37% of the houses in the electorate are rented, most off Housing New Zealand.

Advertisment

A quick drive-past down Housing New Zealand streets, reveals houses which show few signs of any recent maintenance. Most are occupied by immigrants. 40% of the electorate are classified as Asian; either Chinese or Indian. 60% of the electorate’s school children are non-European and  non-Maori.

Yet perhaps paradoxically, unemployment is low at 4.3% and most of the electorate have white collar jobs, albeit many as sales or administrative assistants.

But the picture is one of the immigrants who have arrived with limited resources but who have begun the upward climb in New Zealand society.

“Many people in this community who have come here have by nature an aspirational focus,” says Wood.

“They’ve made a quite brave decision to start up somewhere else, and it’s usually about the next generation and setting them up.”

Wood’s campaign team for the street corner meetings is largely Indian but then they are joined by a Pacific Island contingent complete with their own loud hailer and boom box which at times threatens to drown out Wood’s loudspeaker.

However, both groups get plenty of acknowledgement from passing locals with an almost continuous cacophony of toots at the Stoddard Road, Richardson Road intersection.

Labour’s electorate Chair and local board member, Shail Kaushal, is along to help with the meetings and it’s clear that Labour has strong support from among the immigrant state house dwellers.

But the question dogging Wood and Kaushal is whether they will actually vote.

Wood says that interest in the election seems to have picked up over the past week. Even so, he is clearly nervous.

He makes a plea to his listeners to vote, reminding them that “our” ancestors have fought and died for the right to vote.

Ultimately though his pitch always returns to housing.

He talks about his own experience moving into the electorate in 2003 in Roskill South – “an unglamorous working-class part of Auckland” – where he bought for $300,000.

Now, he says, three bedroom houses in his street go for $800,000.

“It’s totally locked out for most people,” he says.

.Wood is something of a policy wonk. He says his big interest is local government, not something many MPs admit to, and beyond that he is interested in structure and systems such as how the labour market works.

But as he moves around the suburb of Wesley for his street corner meetings he gets approached by potential constituents with a wide variety of questions.

An SUV stops, and a passenger wants to talk about asylum seekers. (He supports them).

Perhaps he gets the only small indication of confidence that Wood allows himself when he suggests they have a talk next week “after the election”.

The Prime Minister will be in the electorate today with National’s Parmjeet Parmar, and POLITIK will be there too.