4 Mar 2015

Labour urged to make way for Peters in Northland

7:14 am on 4 March 2015

An independent candidate in the Northland by-election has asked the Labour Party candidate to withdraw and give Winston Peters a better shot at winning.

The president of the Mangawhai Ratepayers Association, Bruce Rogan, said he was contesting the seat left vacant by National's Mike Sabin, solely to publicise the grievances of Kaipara ratepayers.

He said he and his wife had worked for the Labour Party for years, and they approached its candidate, Willow Jean Prime, because they believed Labour could not possibly win the seat.

Mr Rogan said the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters could beat National's candidate, but he said Ms Prime had declined to withdraw.

Winston Peters

Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Rogan led the ratepayer campaign that saw Kaipara Council sacked, for running up debts of $80 million after it allowed the cost of the Mangawhai sewerage project to balloon by $25 million between 2006 and 2009.

The council then borrowed to extend the scheme and unlawfully raised rates without telling ratepayers.

Mr Rogan, from Mangawhai, who is known for his sometimes fiery rhetoric, said he and his wife Heather were long-term Labour supporters who campaigned for the party in the September 2014 general election, and they admire Ms Prime.

But they asked her to withdraw because she can not, in their view, beat National candidate Mark Osborne, while New Zealand First leader, Mr Peters, could.

"A loss of that seat to another party, to New Zealand First, would spike the National Party's guns," Mr Rogan said.

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Mr Rogan said a win for Mr Peters would also be a win for Kaipara ratepayers.

Mr Rogan said National tried to tidy Kaipara Council's debt fiasco away by rushing through a special bill, introduced by its former MP Mr Sabin.

He said the bill validated years of illegally-set rates for the Mangawhai sewerage system, to cover council borrowing that ratepayers never approved.

Willow-Jean Prime and Andrew Little

Willow-Jean Prime and Andrew Little Photo: NZ LABOUR / Twitter

Mr Rogan said in contrast, Mr Peters had publicly supported the Kaipara ratepayers' efforts to challenge the debt and rate rises.

"So if he were to be the MP for Northland, we would expect him to act on what he said, and he would also be in a position to do something about it, because the government would not have the kind of first-past-the-post type majority it has today."

Mr Rogan is disappointed that Labour will not act strategically, as National does, in electorates like Epsom and Ohariu.

Former Labour party president Mike Williams, also said he would have advised Labour not to contest a by-election it can not win - despite its excellent candidate.

He told Radio New Zealand that by-elections are expensive, costing up to $80,000.

Mr Williams said in the general election Mr Peters had helped Labour by endorsing Kelvin Davis, who went on to win in Te Tai Tokerau.

But Labour leader Andrew Little told Morning Report this week the party had no intention of pulling out of the race for the Northland seat.

Mr Peters launched his by-election campaign last weekend at the Dargaville Field Days.

A round of meet-the candidate meetings starts this weekend, and early voting in the Northland by-election starts next Wednesday 11 March.

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