Farmers still have questions for Christopher Luxon after his brief visit to Gore last week.
The National Party leader held a public meeting at the Gore Town & Country Club with Southland MP Joseph Mooney on Friday afternoon, which was attended by more than 200 people.
Mr Luxon spoke about the party’s intentions to get inflation under control, address the cost of living, improve education and healthcare and restore law and order.
He said he would stop ‘‘dumb spending’’ and get more money to ‘‘the front line’’ instead of in the pockets of Wellington bureaucrats.
When Mr Luxon opened the floor to questions, one farmer asked whether National would repeal the incoming tax on agricultural emissions.
Mr Luxon said such a tax would have to be introduced at some point, as overseas customers were demanding more environmentally friendly product.
‘‘But we do that in a pragmatic kind of way . . . not through bankruptcy. We don’t destroy livelihoods in the process of doing that.’’
He acknowledged there were too many regulations coming at farmers all at once and said that needed to be looked at.
‘‘We’re going to back our farmers like our All Blacks. We are the best farmers in the world,’’ he said.
Clydevale farmer Steven Crawford told The Ensign after the meeting that a big issue was labour shortages and he was hopeful Mr Luxon would do something to bring in more workers.
‘‘I think they’re very aware that immigration settings need to change,’’ Mr Crawford said.
The meeting was shorter than planned as Mr Luxon had been delayed by road works, leaving some attendees disappointed there was not more time to question the man who could be their next prime minister.
Mataura man Paul Cox, who came from a rural background, said he wanted to see Mr Luxon come back and answer the ‘‘hard questions’’.
Repealing the Three Waters reforms was on Mr Luxon’s agenda as he wanted to retain ‘‘local ownership and control’’ of water assets.
The Ensign questioned Mr Luxon after the meeting on what a National-led government would do for Gore district, which needs $300 million invested into its water infrastructure over the next 30 years.
‘‘From our perspective, we want to be able to work with local district councils and regions to make sure they get the investments right for the infrastructure they’ve got,’’ he said.
His answer was the same when questioned about supporting the district’s growth and addressing challenges brought about by climate change, such as flooding.
‘‘We’re very much committed to investing in all regions.’’
He wanted the Southland region’s councils to come together and work with central government to fund those critical infrastructure challenges.
‘‘I’m not interested in each district council having a slightly different view about things, because actually the people of Southland are travelling between district councils.’’
This relationship between central and local government could function like the partnership between Australia’s federal and state governments or ‘‘city and regional’’ deals in the United Kingdom, he said.
‘‘That’s a partnering model we’d have going forward.’’
A National-led Government would give Dunedin Hospital the support it needs, despite rising construction costs, party leader Christopher Luxon is promising.
Mr Luxon spoke about his party’s intention to improve the country’s healthcare system, which he said was ‘‘going backwards’’.
Audience member John Falconer questioned Mr Luxon about the new hospital in Dunedin and said he was concerned the project would be scaled back to cut rising costs.
‘‘The people of the South deserve at least to have those operating theatres restored and all those various activities that go in relation to the health department restored,’’ Mr Falconer said.
Following applause for Mr Falconer from the audience, Mr Luxon said he knew an increase in construction costs had impacted the project.
‘‘[It] would have been better if it got started six years ago when it was cheaper to have done and build it to spec and build it for what we actually need.’’
He reminded the audience the new hospital was a project started by the previous National government.
At the time, the National Party promised to have it completed by 2027, but in 2017 Labour campaigned on getting it started before the 2020 election, which it failed to do.
The project had been ‘‘mucked around’’ by Labour for the last six years, Mr Luxon said.
‘‘Trust us. I don’t know the detail of how they’ve done their business case or what assumptions have changed… but we will make sure that in a growing area like Southland and Otago that we actually have the support that Dunedin Hospital will need.’’
He did not want to see the same mistakes with Southland Hospital repeated, which he said was too small and had not been future-proofed when it was first built in 2004.
John Gardyne: ‘‘It’s a pity there wasn’t more question time. I wanted to hear from the local government side, what sort of changes they’re going to do for three waters, council reforms, hospitals, schools and just generally how is National going to turn it around.’’
Rob White: ‘‘[He’s] got to have a strategy.’’
Paul Cox: ‘‘I was just interested to hear Chris Luxon speak personally. I’ve only ever seen him in the media. [I wanted] to really guage a feel of his person and to get some idea of where their policy direction might be headed. I just felt it’s got election-year spin. He needs to come back and needs to answer hard questions.’’