What are the country's biggest pre-election issues? Depends who you ask
OPINION: What are the issues facing the country going into the election?
The environment, the pollution of our water ways, the proliferation of plastic bags?
Pay gaps, glass ceilings, disproportional numbers of male MPs, the tragic lack of transgender toilets?
Auckland traffic, the Auckland housing crisis, Auckland per se?
This or that minority group or iwi that hasn't been apologised to for some undoubted past injustice or on-going instance of institutional racism?
Bill English's personality, Gerry Brownlee's girth, Metiria Turei's past or Jacinda Arden's future, though don't for goodness sake ask about babies. Or is it just the economy, the economy and the economy?
Sometimes, when I am walking along Hamilton's main drag, doing my best not to trip over the homeless and the panhandlers, I am tempted to stop and engage with the great unwashed on these topics.
Imagine a conversation between say, one of the regulars, a Maori woman in her late 50s or early 60s, who usually begs for "10 cents" and has been known to defecate in the streets, on the pressing matter of female CEOs.
"Do you realise", I might begin, "that there are no women in charge of any of New Zealand's top 50 companies? Diane Foreman has described this as 'heartbreaking'.Theresa Gattung is 'gobsmacked'. Care to comment?"
"I weep for my mokopuna", she replies, actual tears welling in her eyes.
She pauses to contemplate a future where granddaughters cannot qualify for six–figure salaries or share bonus schemes or keys to the executive washroom.
She turns, looks me square in the face and says, "got 10 cents?"
I continue south, stopping at the traffic lights. A gent with a heavily tattooed face approaches, brandishing some kind of stick. "Don't worry bro, I'm not going to rob you", he begins, an avuncular lilt in his voice.
The thought hadn't occurred me, but as he brings it up I feel my sphincter muscles tightening. "What about the balls on that Mark Richardson?", I ask, "I mean, he was a decent enough at opening bat but where's he get off asking a woman about her reproductive plans? Would he ask Bill English the same questions?"
"I hear you", says my new friend, "but did you see that opinion piece by Holly Walker? It's pretty tough having a baby while you're in Parliament. After all, it's the female who actually carries the child and gives birth. Besides, those Mormons breed as fast as the Catholics. Once they start they can't stop".
Having acquaintance with a few large families of Latter Day Saints, I nod sagely.
He turns, looks me square in the face and says, "got any money?"
I cross the road and halt outside Town & Country. The begging communities' usual suspects eye me up. It's a large and hungry congregation. A hulking man in his late twenties appears to be channelling Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket. If he had a rifle he'd likely shoot his drill sergeant and then himself.
He grunts at me. "That Waikato Expressway sure is coming along", I observe, "not a bad achievement for nine years of National Government, don't you think?"
He grunts again, no doubt affirming the road as a vital part of the Waikato-Tainui inland port development. Maybe he's part of the tribe. He grunts a third time. I think he wants money.
Moving on, I spot a bearded man in the mid-distance. There's a smile on his face and his gait could be described as jaunty. The closer he gets, the more familiar he seems.
"Hello Richard, you don't know me, but I am a Hamilton ratepayer", I offer, not quite telling the truth. I pay rent, not rates, but I'm guessing that he gets a slice of that pie too. "I'd like to congratulate you on the pay rise. How much was it again, $60,000?"
"Yes, that's right, an even 60k", he replies, "but it doesn't go as far as it used to".
"So your total salary now is $440,000?"
"Yip. For every role there's a band. My band happens to command close on half-a-million dollars. The council has every confidence. I'm here until 2021. I've got the best job in Hamilton".
"You took the words right out of my mouth", I say, "but, what exactly do you do?"
"Oh, I attend meetings, answer the odd email, read some documents. You're lucky to have me, frankly".
I turn, look him square in the face and ask, "got any money?"