If you were looking for signs in New Zealand of the voter anger that has brought Donald Trump to the White House, then the opening shots in the Mt Roskill by-election would have been a disappointment.
Instead, the first candidates’ debate was a raucous affair punctuated by protest signs, loud interjections, jeering and all round noise.
But there was no rejection of the political process; rather it seemed that the participants and the audience all took the chance to make their points as loudly as they could.
Labour’s Michael Wood and National List MP, Parmjeet Parmar, debated in front of a packed Three Kings Community Centre crowd.
The walls of the centre were lined with silent Indian students holding aloft signs demanding that they not be deported.
They were students who have been caught up in immigration rorts by India-based immigration agents.
Other protesters were not silent.
Tua Schuster — an independent candidate — suddenly interrupted proceedings and angrily (and loudly) demanded that he be included.
He wasn’t and the debate moved on though it was subject to constant interruptions as supporters of one or other of the candidates loudly jeered, yelled interjections, applauded or just laughed.
There was, however, one concession to Trump, immigration in this heavily immigrant electorate was an issue.
Wood said the fact that we had record levels of immigration made no sense in the middle of a housing crisis and when he had huge infrastructure needs.
“Labour’s policy is to review immigration levels and look to turn the tap down.”
(That statement was greeted by loud jeers from Parmar’s supporters.)
“We need to ensure that we can have affordable housing for all people no matter where they come from,” he said.
Parmar said immigration was part of our society.
“Blaming immigrants for house prices is not fair,” she said.
“It’s about giving a fair opportunity to each and every person who makes New Zealand their home.”
As would be expected in any Auckland electorate at present, housing is an issue in the campaign.
Once Mt Roskill was a blue collar state house suburb; now those state houses are full of immigrants and people wanting to buy a house can expect to pay $1,000,000.
Wood said housing was the biggest challenge the Mt Roskill community faced.
“The thing I always say about Mt Roskill historically is that it is a place where people can come to get a start in life.
“You could always afford a house in Mt Roskill, put some roots down and contribute back.
“That’s been lost.
“We’ve got to tackle it on the supply side by building affordable houses.
“And we have to tackle the speculators – the demand side.
“We cannot have overseas speculators driving up house prices for the benefit of people overseas.
“We’ll ban foreign investment in houses in this country.”
That statement was greeted with widespread applause across the various groups in the hall.
Wood also told POLITIK that there was a major problem with land banking in the electorate; that there was ample land on which to build houses but developers refused to release it.
Parmar defended the Government’s special housing areas policy in Auckland and accused Wood of joining with the Greens in attempting to drive house prices down by 50%.
That was not the only accusation she flung at Wood — she also wanted to know why, if he was so committed to Mt Roskill, he had stood in other electorates around Auckland.
A good deal of that was lost in general noise as the audience shouted back at her.
Crime was also discussed.
Wood says it is a major issue in the campaign. He cites the case of the liquor store owners just over the road from his campaign office who has been held up three times in three weeks and was hit over the head with a piece of 4 x 2.
He wants more police.
And he wants the Mt Roskill police station re-opened which Parmar claimed had not been closed.
But this was all local retail politics in New Zealand with an engaged audience who all obviously felt able to inject their own views into the debate even if the way they did disregarded any sense of courtesy or respect for their opponents.
NZ First Leader Winston Peters, however in a speech in Marlborough, saw parallels between his own political position on most things and Donald Trump.
““This is yet again a dramatic lesson for the commentariat, pollsters and the political establishment
“The greatest message for the elite is that the ordinary people in the Western world are not going to go on being ignored.
“The pollsters and media got it wrong because they refused to see what is happening in America and this is not a Republican victory over the Democrats, this is a rejection of neo-liberalism or, in plain words, the elite enriching themselves at the expense of the hard-working, law-abiding middle-class and workers.”
But as the Mt Roskill meeting showed, the New Zealand political process can accommodate those tensions much more readily than the American system.