3 Oct 2023

Labour-friendly turf Christchurch throws up some testy exchanges for Carmel Sepuloni

9:29 pm on 3 October 2023
Deputy Labour leader Carmel Sepuloni campaigning at The Palms shopping centre in Christchurch.

Carmel Sepuloni defended Labour's track record during a visit to The Palms mall in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ/ Katie Scotcher

Cabinet Minister Carmel Sepuloni was challenged on her party's record on crime, the cost of living, veterans and beneficiaries during a visit to territory normally considered a Labour heartland.

Sepuloni, who has held several portfolios including social development and employment while also filling the role of deputy prime minister since Chris Hipkins took over as prime minister, did a walkabout in The Palms mall in the east of Christchurch on Tuesday afternoon.

She chose a quiet time to visit, however, two women were keen to express their concerns on crime and how the cost of living was hitting young people.

They said young people were not facing consequences when they committed crimes.

Sepuloni responded that there were a lot of different issues going on in young offenders' lives, including fallout from suffering family harm or having other family members who have been to jail.

By offering them wraparound services there had been a massive reduction in ram-raids, she said.

"Then it's not just them but also their siblings and their families who are getting the support so they aren't going on to re-offend ... if you just lock them up and throw away the key then in the future it's just going to cause more problems for us."

She added the government had also been trying to help retailers who were affected by crimes.

Sepuloni was also questioned about people on benefits using their dole to buy drugs.

It was too easy for these people to do nothing, the woman said.

"What are you going to do with these guys cos they're just taking taxpayers' money and getting high?"

When told that some drug users needed support from the health system rather than punishment, the woman said she doubted they would be willing, or interested, in accepting this help.

The majority of people went on a benefit for a short time to get a helping hand, Sepuloni said.

Her government had seen higher numbers of beneficiaries moving into jobs, in part because of the government making it easier to take up apprenticeships and introducing programmes to help them upskill, such as getting their driving licences.

One woman said in contrast to Sepuloni's day it was much harder for young people to move out of home these days.

Sepuloni said Labour had lifted the minimum wage each year and and had also raised the student allowance.

Half-price public transport, cheaper or free prescriptions and plans for free dental care for under-30s were other initiatives.

Carmel Sepuloni is greeted by a woman who said she had cast an early vote for the Labour Party already, at The Palms shopping centre in Christchurch.

Carmel Sepuloni speaks to a shopper. Photo: RNZ/ Katie Scotcher

Sepuloni was approached by an army veteran, James, who asked why Labour does not have a veterans policy.

He complained about the massive delays to accessing veteran support services which ranged from 80 days to a year.

When she tried to respond, the veteran said: "I'm going to keep talking."

After a long list of complaints, he said: "None of this is being discussed in the election and I don't think this is fair."

He said it was a problem for him that service during the Canterbury earthquakes which had caused him to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was not covered by Veteran Affairs while ACC did not understand the needs of veterans.

He refused to accept her offer to shake hands at the end of the conversation.

Sepuloni told RNZ Labour does not have a veterans policy and she will be following up.

Rounding off her mall visit, she joined volunteers hitting the phones to ask people to vote for Labour. There was no answer on her first two calls and on her third call the person answered but did not want to chat.

Earlier on Tuesday, Sepuloni and Ilam MP Sarah Pallett visited the University of Canterbury.

When both met with a group of Pasifika students, one asked why politicians and Labour's Pacific caucus only visit the Christchurch Pacific community in an election year. Sepuloni said she has visited Christchurch on other occasions, as have Aupito William Sio and Poto Williams.

One student asked what would stop supermarkets from pocketing profits if GST was removed from fruit and veges. Sepuloni said the grocery commissioner would ensure that does not happen.

Asked what Labour was doing to tackle racism, Sepuloni said the party was calling it out.

On whether New Zealand should cut ties with the monarchy she said there were more pressing issues.

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