14 Sep 2023

Cost of living top of mind for people in Hokitika, as PM visits

From Checkpoint, 5:34 pm on 14 September 2023

Hokitika's beachfront is a busy place in the late-morning spring sunshine.

Whitebaiters are assessing their morning's catch, a few tourists take photos and dog walkers get their daily exercise.

The West Coast town of about 3000 people was founded in the 1860s and has known booms and busts.

When RNZ visited this month to discuss election issues, many cited hip-pocket pressures and housing.

Russell Price headed to the sea for a smoko break.

While sitting in his truck eating a snack, he said costs were going up everywhere and this was affecting people on the coast.

"A lot of it is with the price of petrol. These companies we work for, they're struggling, and there's a lot of people in this town and on the West Coast who work for companies and are worried about their jobs," Price said.

"It pushes everything up. It pushes rates up. It pushes up insurance. It pushes up food, and in a beautiful country like this it shouldn't be happening."

Russell Price says there are growing gaps in New Zealand society.

Russell Price says there are growing gaps in New Zealand society. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

There was now a big gap between the haves and the have nots, he said.

"When I came out here from England in the early 1960s it was supposed to be a place where you didn't get rich and you wouldn't be poor, and that was the beauty - why my parents brought us out here.

"That has changed now. Really, we all need to get back to that way of living."

Price wondered how young people would ever afford a home.

"I was lucky. I've worked all my life and I was in the time where the playing table was a bit easier. I own two houses, but I've only done that because I want to leave them for my three boys.

"If the parents don't help their kids, the kids don't stand a chance of getting a home."

Price had not decided who he would vote for.

On their morning walk, Julie Cain and Hali Porter said they were feeling the pinch of rising costs.

"We've cut back a lot of what we used to buy because things are so dear," Cain said.

"We're not wasting as much food because we just can't afford it. I do feel sorry for the children who go without as well, and the mothers struggling just to clothe them, let alone feed them."

Porter pointed to how a tray of mince, even on special, now cost $22 at the supermarket. And then there were travel costs.

"I'm thinking of selling my car because I can't afford it any more. It's too much."

She said she might find a cheaper, 1990s vehicle instead.

Cain was making savings too.

"We bike as much as we can to save the fuel. [Porter] is my daughter and she's got children to take to school...

"Then she's got to go to work, so she uses the car a lot. By the end of the week it's out of fuel."

Cain was worried about the number of homeless people forced to live in motels, while Porter said building apartments could help with that.

Meanwhile, Cain said even workers were struggling despite wage increases.

"It does help a wee bit. It might help us get a bit of extra bread or butter, stuff like that. The minimum wage workers, I think they deserve a bit more of a pay rise, especially when they've got a lot of children to feed."

Whitebaiter Simon Rogers wonders how cost of living increases have been allowed to happen.

Whitebaiter Simon Rogers wonders how cost of living increases have been allowed to happen. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

Simon Rogers drove to Hokitika from Akaroa, southeast of Christchurch, to catch whitebait. Catching and growing food was one way to stave off price increases, he said.

"Everything's on the rise, isn't it, really? I don't know what the justification is. People sit there and ponder about is it going to stop or is it going to keep going, or have we lost control of our country?"

The condition of New Zealand's roads, over-regulation in recreational fishing, and housing inequality were also issues for Rogers, as were divisions in society.

He wondered if the voices of "little people" were being heard.

The Gold Room jewellery shop owner Barry Rooney was not sure West Coast was well represented in Parliament.

"At times, no, I don't think we are," he said.

"We're too small to be noticeable, so we have to fight for our position, I think, and some of our representatives haven't been overly kind to us in that department over the years. The jury's still out isn't it."

Rooney wondered what impact cost of living pressures would have on business after the usually quiet winter, heading into the busy summer season.

"No doubt there will be implications for us. We're ever hopeful that we'll get a lot of foreign tourists that will keep buying as well, but certainly the economic situation affects the local trade quite a bit."

Fergus Bryant says maintaining infrastructure is an important issue for West Coast voters.

Fergus Bryant says maintaining infrastructure is an important issue for West Coast voters. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

Retiree Fergus Bryant said West Coast's isolation came to mind when thinking of election issues.

"Mostly it's maintaining, repairing and keeping infrastructure up and running," he said.

"Because of our heavy rainfall there are times when we get isolated on the coast and that, of course, interrupts everybody's life."

He said he did not feel well represented by Parliament.

"I still vote because it's the one and only time of year we can join the popularity contest for the clown reception, and I'm quite serious about it.

"I don't believe that we are fairly represented, nor do I believe that it's a democracy. I believe it's a hangover from the old English parliamentarian nonsense that we got landed with."

Rising costs and the cost of doing business were also important issues, Bryant said.

Hokitika is part of the West Coast-Tasman and Te Tai Tonga electorates.