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Electoral revamp favours National

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 26/11/2013

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National's stranglehold on Taranaki electorates will tighten under proposed boundary tweaks for next year's election.

In the biggest change, New Plymouth will extend its southern border from Okato to include Opunake, which currently sits in the Whanganui electorate.

To make up for this, Whanganui will take the town of Stratford off Taranaki-King Country, which will gain an outlying Hamilton suburb and 2400 people from the Waikato electorate in return.

The changes have been proposed by the Representation Commission to ensure each of Taranaki's three electorates meet its population quota until 2017.

Two-term New Plymouth National MP Jonathan Young believes his electorate extension will strengthen his party's position in north and coastal Taranaki.

"I think that New Plymouth is moving progressively more toward National simply because we are a real region of development which is what we have encouraged.

"There is an alignment of thinking which exists here," he said.

That has not always been the case. Though Mr Young had a 4270-vote majority in 2011, it was only 105 in 2008 when he narrowly won the seat off six-term Labour MP Harry Duynhoven.

Back then Mr Duynhoven blamed his loss on a swing against his party and a boundary change which brought the rural area of Egmont Village into the electorate.

Left-wing columnist and Taranaki union representative Ross Henderson yesterday said rural areas were traditionally more supportive of National than Labour, which usually got its strongest support in urban centres.

"But I think all of these rural areas are actually struggling.

"Opunake services a farming community but other than being able to do that, there is not a great deal of other employment.

"I'm sure if political parties can come up with policies that give people hope for themselves, their kids and their grandkids, I think people will seriously consider switching," he said.

Whanganui National MP Chester Borrows was in two minds over the changes. Though he swaps one area of strong National support for another and is therefore likely to retain much of his 5046 majority, up until now his electorate has been tidily comprised of two districts, South Taranaki and Whanganui. Now he stands to have the urban voters of Stratford on his plate as well.

"But I worked there for six years as a detective sergeant and really loved the place," he said.

However with offices in Hawera and Whanganui already it was unlikely he would open another office in Stratford, where Taranaki King Country National MP Shane Ardern operates from.

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That office would close under the changes and potentially open in Inglewood, the "new" southern boundary of his massive electorate Mr Ardern said.

The dairy farming MP said the changes would not strengthen his political position, which saw him elected with a massive 15,000 majority in 2011, but nor would they materially weaken it.

His biggest fear was that picking up the urbanised Hamilton West area would confuse the focus of his largely rural electorate.

New candidates would not necessarily require rural experience and their success could come at the cost of the rural voice in government. "It's very, very important to have a rural agricultural business representation in Parliament. It's a question of where that will come from now.

"That is my concerns about the continued demise of large rural electorates," Mr Ardern said.

No changes are proposed for Taranaki's Te Tai Hauauru Maori electorate.

Objections to the proposed electorate boundaries can be made online or in writing to the Representation Commission.

Objections close at 10am on December 23.

- Fairfax Media

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