Jacinda Ardern takes her campaign to the West Coast

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 25 Sep 2020, 2:58PM
Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern has been challenged not to dissolve the West Coast DHB as she took her campaign to Greymouth today.
Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern has been challenged not to dissolve the West Coast DHB as she took her campaign to Greymouth today.

Jacinda Ardern takes her campaign to the West Coast

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 25 Sep 2020, 2:58PM

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern has been challenged not to dissolve the West Coast DHB as she took her campaign to Greymouth today.

West Coast DHB chair Rick Barker, a former Labour MP and minister, told the Prime Minister that numerically small areas were better off with their own DHB and with democratically elected boards.

A report by Heather Simpson has recommended, among other things, shrinking the number of DHBs and scrapping DHB elections to improve the health system's accountability and efficiency.

The Government has accepted the need for reform, but not specified which recommendations it would follow through on if re-elected.

Ardern this morning officially opened the $121.9 million Te Nikau Hospital and Health Centre, which had its first patients in July, in Greymouth.

"We are nothing without our health and our wellbeing, and sometimes perhaps it's easy to take that for granted until we have a health challenge as a nation," Ardern said.

She said Covid-19 emphasised the importance of putting health first, including the services needed, the staff to care for people, and decent infrastructure.

"You have been waiting a long time for decent infrastructure."

She is later heading to Westport to turn the sod for the new Buller Health Centre, followed by a tour of the current health centre.

The new centre will be a 12-bed facility, with construction due to begin in February next year.

Ardern told reporters Labour would reduce the number of DHBs in New Zealand - while improving the level of health in the country.

She said those in rural communities are getting a "high quality service".

But she said "we have to do better".

Local and community voices have to be maintained, she said.

Asked about Labour's former policy of not mining on conservation land, she said under the last Government it wasn't possible to act of this promise - given all three parties did not agree.

But it wants to progress that policy if re-elected.

Mining would be part of Labour's economic plans in the next term.

Damien O'Connor, MP for West Coast-Tasman, said that mining was just one part of the West Coast's economy.

Ardern said there is diversity of economic activity in the region.

Asked about the creation of jobs in the area, Ardern again said mining has a role - but not the same that it has had in the past.

"No one has ever said there would be no mining," she said.

But what is mined would change, she continued.

On Gloriavale allegations, Ardern said if there were substantial issues, it would concern her.

But she would need more information.

Asked if Ardern would let the All Blacks leave managed isolation early, she said that "we have to be consistent here".

She said there wouldn't be a problem if the original game day schedules were stuck to.

Asked if New Zealand should restrict the number of people to come to New Zealand from India, she said that the Government cannot stop Kiwis returning home regardless of where they are coming from.

Ardern said she was not expecting to see Collins today - they are both campaigning in the West Coast.

But she said nothing would happen in their "force fields" overlap briefly.

Back on Covid-19, she said the Government is doing an assessment as to whether any practicals need to change.

She said officials are looking into if anything needs to "tighten up".

"We will tighten up the regimen, if that's what we learn we should do."

On her hoarding defacings, Ardern said she did not read too much into it.

"That's just how elections go."

O'Connor said those who are defacing Ardern's hoardings are "idiots".

She would not comment on National's policy - "I'm campaigning for the Labour Party".

Ardern said there have been a "number of issues" with National's numbers.

"I think probably they need to start again. It just does not add up," she said.

Back on mining, Ardern said the assumption that the West Coast solely relies on mining was wrong.

Ardern said the Government would be looking into how to get medical staff to the West Coast - the staff that it needs.

Ardern said the model in the health system hasn't always served the West Coast - but the Government is looking into it.

National Party leader Judith Collins is also on the West Coast today, visiting Westport, Punakaiki, Runanga, Greymouth and Hokitika.

Yesterday Ardern defended visiting recipients of government money as part of Labour's campaign after she was the special guest at the Rāwhiti Domain Canopy, which received funding from the Government's $3 billion shovel-ready infrastructure fund.

"A government is going to always acknowledge the things they've done in office to give a signal of where their priorities are, the values they have, and just give a signal of what people can expect in the future," she said yesterday.

She said Labour wanted to strengthen hate speech laws to protect people from discrimination against their religion, and criticised National's agriculture policy as taking New Zealand "back decades".

She followed a speech at the canopy yesterday by meeting and greeting dozens of locals, and then did a walkabout at the Riverside Market where she rebuffed several attempted handshakes and instead practised elbow bumps.

She has asked Aucklanders to take level 2 with them when they leave the city, but that has not been specifically asked of people who visit Auckland and then leave.

Ardern said she was taking precautions, having been in Auckland for Tuesday's leaders' debate.

That included washing hands, not doing political rallies, and staying away from campaigning if unwell.

She had declined hugs during a visit to Al Noor Mosque yesterday morning, but had also accepted one hug.

"I try very hard not to shake hands. You can see the efforts I make on the [campaign] trial. You can also see it's not always easy.

"But again I am in a level 1 environment so everyone else of course doesn't have that expectation."

On Monday, Ardern admitted she "made a mistake" when she took a selfie with a group of supporters in Palmerston North. No one in the group was wearing a face mask or practising social distancing.