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Heatley happy to focus on being MP

DENISE PIPER
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2013
Phil Heatley
DENISE PIPER

SANDSPIT SAVIOURS: Whangarei MP Phil Heatley, left, and now-dumped Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson announce the purchase of Ngunguru sandspit in August 2011.

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Infrastructure in Whangarei and wider Northland will be a key focus for Whangarei MP Phil Heatley after he was unexpectedly dumped from his Cabinet post.

Mr Heatley was one of two losers in last week's Cabinet reshuffle, with him and Kate Wilkinson both being stripped of their ministerial portfolios.

Mr Heatley's role as housing minister will be passed on to a refreshed Nick Smith while Simon Bridges from Tauranga will be energy and resources minister. Newcomer Nikki Kaye has also been promoted to the Cabinet in the reshuffle.

Mr Heatley says the changes mean he has more time to devote to his Whangarei electorate and a key focus will be building infrastructure.

Despite a call from Labour candidate Pat Newman that he has been missing in action, Mr Heatley says he has never lost focus on Whangarei.

"It's just a timing issue, I'm going to have a lot more time to focus on local issues," he says.

"I'm a great believer that Whangarei and wider Northland needs to invest quite heavily in infrastructure. I'm going to beat that drum."

Mr Heatley says in his four years in the Cabinet he was able to achieve a lot for Whangarei, including extra funding for Toll Stadium, the purchase of Ngunguru sandspit, an upgrade to State Highway 1 through town and a focus on SH1 to Auckland.

"I understand that John Key has to continually refresh the team and I respect the fact. I'm disappointed obviously but my first love is being local MP.

"The reality is I've had four years in Cabinet - most people get none."

When he entered the Cabinet in 2009 Mr Heatley moved his family from Whangarei to Wellington but he says the family has not made a decision yet about returning to Whangarei.

"We have still got the family home in Onerahi and a home here in Wellington. We're still working through those decisions but Whangarei's home obviously."

TOUGH ROLE

Mr Heatley does not believe his demotion was because of his role as energy and resources minister led him to promote mining and oil exploration, which drew flack from conservation-savvy Northlanders. However he agrees Northlanders love their environment. "Showing leadership is always hard because you simply can't make everyone happy... I really believe we need jobs in the north and that our natural resources offer the best opportunity. That doesn't matter if it's our natural resources with fishing, beaches and tourism, or our resources under the ground with minerals, oil and gas. "I've seen elsewhere in New Zealand, like Taranaki, where they can work together – tourism, dairy farming, and oil and gas," he says. "I'm the same guy who was beating the drum on oil, gas and mineral exploration and also the guy who promoted the purchase of Ngunguru sandspit because I believe we need them both. Some areas are for protection and some areas we want to get the most out of the natural resources."

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- Whangarei Leader

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