13 Nov 2023

Port Waikato by-election voting begins today

7:26 am on 13 November 2023
Casey Costello, right, and Winston Peters at the launch of New Zealand First’s campaign for the Port Waikato by-election.

Casey Costello, right, and Winston Peters at the launch of New Zealand First’s campaign for the Port Waikato by-election. Photo: Katie Scotcher / RNZ

Advanced voting to fill Parliament's 123rd seat begins today in the Port Waikato by-election, but local voters appear unaware it is happening at all.

It was triggered by the death of ACT Party candidate Neil Christensen a week before the general election.

New Zealand First candidate Casey Costello has been met with confusion when putting up hoardings again and said people thought the election was over.

"There isn't a huge awareness that there's actually a by-election going on, or what's happened, or why it's occurring, so it's not just talking to people about me and my campaign and New Zealand First, it's actually talking to people about 'did you know there's a by-election?'

"People are just over elections, over voting. It's going to be difficult."

No caption

Andrew Bayly. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

National MP Andrew Bayly has been going door to door.

"Talking to people on the doorstep, most of them said to me, 'hey Andrew, I voted for you already haven't I?' and I'm having to say to them, 'look thanks for that but no, unfortunately the vote wasn't counted and that's why we need you to come out and vote again on the 25th of November'."

Incumbent Bayly, who is already in Parliament on National's list, said he "wouldn't assume anything, but it's certainly been a strong National seat for many, many, many years".

Labour, the Greens and the ACT Party are not standing in the seat.

Because of that, Women's Rights Party co-leader Jill Ovens said the turn-out would be "very low".

"They've announced they're basically handing the seat to National and so I think that the fact that I'm standing as a candidate, I'm clearly of the left, means that there is an opportunity for Labour and Greens voters to vote for a candidate who shares many of their views and priorities."

Electoral Commission data showed the average voter turnout for the past five by-elections was 36.86 percent, compared to about 80 percent for the general elections.

Vision New Zealand candidate Vijay Sudhamalla said if people wanted New Zealand to prosper, they should go out and vote.

"If someone can find the time to go watch an All Blacks match or go to the pub and have a beer, I see no reason why someone should not come out with the same attitude and participate in this democratic process."

The Port Waikato electorate was first established in 1996 ahead of the first MMP election. It was abolished in 2008 and reinstated for the 2020 election.

The electorate's largest town centre is Pukekohe and includes Pōkeno, Te Kauwhata, Tuakau and Waiuku.

NewZeal leader Alfred Ngaro said if he was elected to the seat there would be three MPs representing one electorate, as Costello is in Parliament as a list MP too.

"I don't think there's been many other electorates that have had that sort of historic opportunity before," Ngaro said.

He said people in the area have told him employment, the cost of living and law and order are big issues.

"Ensuring that we have a safe community for our families, for our children and for our residents as well. That's really important."

Costello said she was offering a strong local voice.

"This is where I live. This is where I've worked most of my life. That's where I did my police service. It's an area that I feel really strongly about.

She agreed law and order and crime was a big factor in the area.

"Particularly with small provincial towns that are kind of difficult to have a strong police presence, you know, geographically isolated. There's a real sense of feeling unsafe. So that's one of the key drivers for me as well."

Ovens said she would raise issues of inequality and the environment.

"We feel that there is a need for a women's voice in Parliament and I know people will say there are a lot of women MPs in Parliament, but it's a bit like Te Pati Māori which takes a uniquely Māori stand on issues, even though there are other Māori within other parties.

"Their voices don't necessarily get heard, and that's the same we believe as women."

NZ Loyal candidate Kim Turner said she was certainly not a politician but was going whole hog on the campaign.

"I think there's a lot of people out there that don't know about New Zealand Loyal and what we have to offer," Turner said.

"We're not offering the same old, same old that all the other parties are actually offering. We're offering something absolutely different for the people of New Zealand, being the people representatives and our campaign policies reflect that."

Sudhamalla said he wanted to ensure small businesses had a voice.

"If you look at Port Waikato, the top three professions comprise of managers, tradies, the regular professionals who are working in probably tiny stores ... I want to bring this voice to the table. It cannot be just about the farmers, which often is the case."

Anna Rippon from the Animal Justice Party said she would lobby for an independent Commissioner for Animals rather than it coming under the Ministry for Primary Industries portfolio, "which is a clear conflict of interest. This would be my Private Members Bill should I be elected to Parliament."

Democracy NZ's candidate and independent Gordon Dickson did not respond to RNZ's requests for interview.

Voting closes at 7pm on Saturday 25 November with official results declared on 6 December.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs