Getting out and hearing people share concerns

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A lot of people think that politicians are too focused on what happens in Wellington and Auckland, and to a certain extent, I agree.

This big city focus is far from healthy and can come at the detriment of the rest of the country.

There have been too many cringe-worthy moments these past few years as Government ministers have tried to justify the staggering amounts of money thrown at big-ticket Auckland projects, such as light rail and the cycleway debacle.

The Auckland obsession is one thing, the continued building of Wellington bureaucracy is another.

I fear this predilection is blinkering Government ministers to what’s going on in the rest of the country. Recent big announcements on climate change and Health New Zealand appear to be born out of Wellington meeting rooms with heavy influence from officials and consultants.

Big city PR firms have had a field-day snaring high-value Government contracts advising on how to sell these projects to the voting public.

I have no issue with the concept of a climate change emissions reduction plan — it’s something we should be doing.

I have no issue with the intent to improve our health system — improvements are definitely needed.

But I do have an issue with the Wellington-centric approach that sees plenty of reports and meetings that seem to come at the expense of targets and financial prudence.

I also feel uncomfortable about officials and consultants in Wellington influencing important decisions that impact people in this part of the country without having spent time here talking to local people about what they want and need.

Recently, National leader Christopher Luxon and deputy leader and finance spokesperson Nicola Willis came and spoke to a large southern crowd to share their vision and hear what those attending thought in return.

This came on the back of Ms Willis speaking to a packed crowd of female business people in Central Otago a couple of weeks prior.

These public meetings, complete with question and answer sessions, help us to stay focused on the most pressing issues which right now revolve around the cost of living crises and critical worker shortage.

If politicians spend too much time in their Wellington offices, it becomes easy for them to be side-tracked by politicking and points-scoring.

It’s why we as politicians need to take every opportunity during recess weeks to get out and about.

It’s why Christopher Luxon is so keen to re-schedule his Covid-curtailed trip to Oamaru and meet up with the people so eager to talk with him.

I rack up countless kilometres travelling around this vast electorate and it does me good.

Lately people have been sharing their concerns with me about how they’re working hard but going backwards. The same applies to business owners who are desperate to ramp up but can’t get the staff they need to operate at full capacity.

When you hear people sharing their concerns with you it makes them real — far more so than if you were to read numbers off a spreadsheet from behind your office desk.

I recommend that Government ministers follow suit, get out more from behind their Wellington desks and go and meet the people their decisions impact on.

They may not like what they hear, but that’s part of the job.

Jacqui Dean is the Member of Parliament for Waitaki