Time for action to stop asset sales, says O'Connor

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 13:10 28/11/2011
Damien O'Connor
CALLING FOR ACTION: Damien O'Connor is calling for marches opposing asset sales.

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New Zealanders will need to march in the streets to prevent asset sales, says Damien O'Connor, the only Labour candidate to oust a National electorate MP.

O'Connor comfortably beat West Coast-Tasman MP Chris Auchinvole by 2287 votes, reversing their 2008 election result and going against the country's tide of support for National.

O'Connor said his greatest fear was that New Zealanders would now sit back.

"I think it's time for more action by New Zealanders who clearly identified their opposition to asset sales, to prevent that happening."

Asked if that meant marching in the streets, he said: "Absolutely."

O'Connor celebrated his win with more that 70 supporters at Community House in Motueka on Saturday night.

"We were very pleased with our local support but somewhat saddened by the Labour vote across the country. We had worked hard for a Labour vote as well as against National Party policies and proposals which unfortunately might be implemented.

"I think we are going to have to fight hard to try to halt the sale of assets and ensure social welfare reform does not clobber people who are vulnerable, and ensure the regions get consideration.

"We have seen a huge amount of funding, especially roading, go into the main cities at the expense of the regions. We have to make sure they get their share."

Auchinvole conceded defeat to O'Connor in a phone call at 11pm on Saturday, congratulating him on his win. Auchinvole will return to Parliament as a National Party list MP.

O'Connor said he had a great team on the ground campaigning, and had more time in opposition to get around the big electorate, which was difficult to campaign in.

First elected to Parliament in 1993, he said his years of experience probably helped this time, with contacts he had built up over the years.

"I would like to think [voters] see me as a strong representative who is prepared to speak his mind and advocate for them strongly when needed."

In April, Mr O'Connor was chastised by Labour leader Phil Goff and told to apologise to caucus for saying the party's list selection was run by "self-serving unionists and a gaggle of gays".

O'Connor said that in the last parliamentary term, he had worked on a range of issues, such as advocating for rural rest home services in Golden Bay and Murchison, and hoped his advocacy for the agriculture sector had also accounted for some votes.

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He has been Labour's rural affairs spokesman, and said he still had a passion to do some things in agriculture and rural areas which were at the heart of the economy.

"We desperately need to change some things or we will see people go, and we desperately need them for the future."

The Government needed to intervene with the apple industry, he said. "We are facing some very sad times, and the dollar has to be better managed for exporters across the board."

O'Connor praised Goff, saying he ran a very good campaign. "Unfortunately, he had been written off by mainstream media and many in the public in the past two years, and it is very hard to turn around that view over five weeks."

He would not be drawn on the Labour leadership, saying: "We just need to take a big breath and sit down and talk about a lot of things, and maybe come back in February to see what we will do."

He will attend Labour's caucus meeting tomorrow.

West Coast-Tasman was one of Labour's few electorate celebrations.

"I guess I am humbled by West Coast-Tasman people who put their faith in me again," Mr O'Connor said. "It is a huge responsibility, and I will do my best to meet their expectations."

The Green Party candidate in West Coast-Tasman, Kevin Hague, who scored 1796 electorate votes, returns to Parliament as a list member. Notably in the West Coast-Tasman electorate contest, there was no New Zealand First candidate.

- The Nelson Mail

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