Labour leader Jacinda Ardern draws crowds during visit to Nelson
With just 10 days to go in an election campaign that appears balanced on a knife edge, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern spent a chunk of her visit to Nelson on Wednesday with people who can't vote.
School exams kept many senior pupils at Nelson College for Girls away from a gathering in the school library to hear from Ardern. It was packed nonetheless and the voters of the future listened closely as the aspiring prime minister spoke without notes, telling them not to let anyone hold them back.
"Who's got a dream job in their mind," Ardern asked and lots of hands were raised.
"Put up your hand if that's what you think you're going to end up doing," to which fewer hands shot up.
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Ardern then asked the girls why many of them were "already deciding that you can't do that thing that you would love to do".
"When I go into schools and do this exercise with boys, the dream job is exactly the thing they think they'll end up doing – everyone's going to be an All Black," she said to laughter.
"But I notice with our young women – and I know this because I did it myself – we're very quick to decide that there are too many barriers."
Ardern offered a "cheater's way" around that confidence gap.
"Just say yes," she said. "I've gotten over that little voice in my head. Now, I'm one of only two people right now running to be prime minister of New Zealand – how cool is that – so never ever let anyone hold you back, especially yourself."
Year 9 pupils Isabella Kennedy and Charlotte Faulkner were impressed.
"It's great that she came in because a lot of us are wondering about her policies and ... if we could vote, who would we vote for," Isabella said. "We've been talking a lot about politics in social studies; there's a lot of interest in this, I think."
Isabella added that if she could vote, she thought it would be for Labour, based on its policies and Ardern as its leader.
Charlotte called Ardern's speech inspirational.
"It certainly gave me a lot to think about and it felt really personal, rather than being sort of impersonal politics," she said. "I was looking at one of my friends and she was like: 'Wow' across the [room], so I think everyone thinks it was really cool."
When asked if she had a dream job, Charlotte said would love to be a doctor.
She added that she had been having some doubts that would happen "but now, I think, I'm just going to go with what she [Ardern] said and just say yes".
After the visit to the college, Ardern spoke to more than 450 people at a Grey Power-organised gathering. It was standing room only at Annesbrook Church for the third of four planned meetings for party leaders. Many members of the media were also present including a television crew from ABC News in Australia.
Nelson residents Mary Ring and Tracy Rolle were in the crowd. As they waited for Ardern's arrival, the pair said they were left-leaning politically but still had not made up their minds which party they would support.
"I want to see what she [Ardern] says before I decide," Rolle said.
The duo said they had not attended smaller Grey Power gatherings in August for English (260 people) and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters (220), adding there was a "freshness" about Ardern that they believed attracted people.
After Ardern spoke, Ring said she came across clearly, following through on many policies she was keen to hear about including a planned boost to health and dental care including cheaper doctors' visits.
"She's tapped on all the things ... that are going to have an impact [for me]," Ring said. She was looking at giving her party vote to Labour.
Rolle said she found Ardern to be well spoken and was now also now likely to give her party vote to Labour.
"The big one for me was housing," Rolle said, adding healthcare was also important as she had a daughter with special needs who was often in hospital.
At the final stop of her Nelson visit, Ardern announced the launch of an online calculator to allow families to see at a glance how much they will get from the Labour's Families Package.
Mum Rebecca Young with four-month-old Mabel Avery was in the crowd at Tahunanui Community Centre where a pop-up playground was held for the announcement.
Young, who also has an older daughter, Nina Avery, 3, said she heard about the event via Facebook.
While Ardern was answering questions at a media stand-up outside, Young tried out the calculator and said she was pleased to discover her family would be "much better off".
"I think it's definitely helpful," she said of the online tool.