New Plymouth finally got a taste of the Labour Party leadership debate yesterday.
Despite the party claiming they could not fit New Plymouth into a nationwide series of meetings to be held before electing its new leader, Grant Robertson flew into town for a day. Rivals Shane Jones and David Cunliffe have not made a stop in the region.
"I recognised the fact New Plymouth hadn't been put on the list, and I felt it was important that I came here and give the members a chance to talk," Mr Robertson said.
The 41-year-old did not waste time and took to the main street of town to introduce himself to people and held a members' forum at noon.
The current deputy Labour leader believes he can bring the party to victory in the 2014 elections and said he had the education system in Taranaki on his radar.
"On my previous visits here I've heard a lot about issues around education. Obviously, Taranaki is an area where people take the idea of good schools seriously and I've certainly had concerns raised about what National is doing to education.
"Teachers and parents have a desire for a system that just focuses on the kids' learning, not all these experiments that Hekia Parata seems to think are a good idea," he said.
While it was great to see the region succeeding in certain areas, Mr Robertson said he wanted to see more people employed in Taranaki.
"There is still unemployment of around 5 per cent in this region.
"The people who don't have jobs are still really struggling and the cost of living is still going up for those people."
The way to begin fixing that issue was with a sturdy education system, he said. "I think that regional polytechnics are vital to both the economy of regions but also providing that opportunity for people to stay here."
Witt was one of the institutions that suffered when the Government removed funding, he said.
"One of the things I hear time and time again, particularly from small businesses, is: where are all the skilled staff that we need? In regions, that has to come through the polytechs, like Witt."
Mr Robertson said making a stop in New Plymouth was an easy choice. "If we are going to represent all of New Zealand, then we have to be present in all of New Zealand."
He believed he was the right person to head the party. "We haven't been able to connect up what people already believe about Labour - which is we are a party that is about people, with policies that are going to make their lives better. If we can draw those together we will be pretty unbeatable."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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