15 Jun 2020

Nick Smith prioritises jobs in 2020 Nelson seat election campaign launch

2:09 pm on 15 June 2020

Veteran politician Nick Smith says it is not significant that his campaign launch is being attended by National's finance spokesman and not the party's new leader.

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Transport infrastructure for the Nelson region is also on MP Nick Smith's mind. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Smith, the longest continually serving MP in Parliament, today launched his 11th bid for the Nelson electorate. He has been a Member of Parliament for almost 30 years, and has represented the Nelson electorate since 1996.

He was the Member for Tasman before that, from 1990.

Today's launch in Nelson is a two-tiered affair and is supported by National's Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith.

Smith said he would not have expected the party's new leader to be in Nelson for the event as he had never had a National leader at any of his campaign launches.

In 2011 then Prime Minister John Key made a flying visit to Nelson to help launch the election campaign of Dr Smith, who was then his sixth-ranked Cabinet minister.

The event was memorable for Key's act of signing the belly of a heavily pregnant woman, on a day he announced the country was in the grip of a "man drought".

Smith said while Key had indeed been there, it was not his formal campaign launch.

He maintained his stance of not saying who he had backed in the recent leadership challenge, but that new leader Todd Muller was a "change for the better".

"Politics is a brutal business; the role of leader of the Opposition is really tough, and Simon (Bridges) had as leader of the Opposition been too focused on the negative, and that had damaged his brand."

Muller was expected to visit the electorate soon for a "major event" being planned.

Smith said he loved the job, but conceded the political climate was tougher than in the past. He said a key plank of this year's campaign would be job creation in a region that has seen a sudden and rapid rise in unemployment.

"The key issue of Election 2020 is jobs. We've had unemployment in Nelson grow by 500 percent in the last year. Quite credible economic reports are talking 4000 job losses in the region."

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese told a recent council meeting that the impact of Covid-19 was creating levels of unemployment never before seen in the region. The total number of unemployed across Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough had doubled to more than 4000 since 20 March.

Smith said National had a proven track record in helping to get unemployment figures down.

Quake risk at Nelson Hospital a concern

Smith said investment in Nelson's hospital was his top priority.

"It's about the big projects and I think it's time for the government to invest in infrastructure and my top priority for the Nelson community is the Nelson Hospital - a half-billion-dollar project."

He said Nelson City Council had recently issued notices on its seismic risk, and one of the bigger hospital blocks had met only 22 percent of the building code for earthquake risk.

"We really are taking an unconscionable risk when Nelson is right in that centre zone of earthquake risk in New Zealand, and having a critical building like a hospital that is so vulnerable.

"It's not a question of whether Nelson is going to get a major earthquake, it's only a matter of when."

Smith said transport infrastructure would also feature.

"Labour criticised the Southern Link that National committed to in the last election but hasn't come up with any credible alternative, but they've increased the petrol taxes, and have taken an extra $10 million a year in road user charges out of the region."

The final recommendations of the Nelson Future Access Project were about to be released. The NZ Transport Agency-led study is the investigation of a future-proofed transport system for Nelson, which has been a hot topic for the city for decades.

Smith said Nelson is a bellwether seat, and he concedes the task ahead will be tough. While he kept his seat three years ago, for the first time since 2005 Labour did better in the party vote than National did.

"It's interesting that every MMP election where National has won the party vote we've been the government, and when we have not, we've been in Opposition, so it makes it a really interesting seat, and one in which I have to work very hard to retain the public's confidence," Smith said.

His majority was slashed from 7600 to 4300 by Labour's Rachael Boyack, who secured 12,450 votes, in the last election. Boyack is standing for Labour again this year.

Labour candidate in Nelson Rachel Boyack concedes to Nick Smith who has held his Nelson seat but with a reduced majority so far.

Labour candidate for Nelson Rachel Boyack concedes to Nick Smith in the 2017 general election. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The Green Party's 2017 candidate and Nelson city councillor Matt Lawrey scored 9750 votes. Lawrey is not standing this year. The party has instead installed geologist and business owner Aaron Stallard as its Nelson candidate.

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