On Wednesday the 9th of November the Western Heights Residents and Rate Payers hosted a ‘meet the candidates’ meeting at Summerland Primary school. I’ve had a great time getting feedback from residents across the electorate and in the past couple of months it’s exciting seeing so many people becoming more engaged in the issues. Waitakere doesn’t have the best voter turnout at elections but Labour’s Westie team and I are hoping to change that this time round.
Wednesday’s meeting was particularly notable as it was the first meeting Paula Bennett has fronted in the electorate – a change from her absence at other recent community forums. In tough times, more than ever, I think it’s really important that local MPs are in the community with constituents having a visible presence and listening to their concerns- that’s definitely been my mantra.
It’s a shame that residents have been unable to see that type of visibility from Paula Bennett. She’s missed some hugely important forums on education, disability and housing- all areas where people have been desperate to see this National government’s vision for the future and areas that we have particular concerns about here in Waitakere. Instead we’ve had the likes of Maggie Barry undermining disability issues and Jami Lee Ross sent to debate issues in Waitakere of which he was ill prepared and ill informed.
One of the things that caught my attention was actually some of the feedback I received after the meeting. There were some young Unitec students –mostly undecided voters like a lot of our young people, present at the meeting. I met one of these students yesterday at the Unitech Fiafia day. These are some of the concerns she shared with Paula Bennett about the evening on Facebook:
“Was interested in hearing what you had to say at the debate tonight as i had not chose a place to put my vote. It changed my mind when i heard national supporters and people wearing national t-shirts addressing poor people as rats, and saying it was “good” the woman was living in her car with her children as she chose to live like that. And she shouldn’t of “bred”. I find this hugely derogatory and sickening that the party would condone this type of disgusting talk. Dont forget where your roots are! You were once like us too Paula Bennett. I too had my baby young and I’m studying the same as what you did without the training incentive allowance! And i would never condone that type of talk. My vote is anybody BUT national.”
Of course Paula Bennett refutes these comments – and to be fair we can’t be held responsible for the things that are said by spectators at these meetings- although it’s clear that these comments were coming from those in National t-shirts.
What she can be held accountable for though is the lack of opportunities this government has provided for our young people, and in the case of the Training Incentive Allowance, for kicking out the ladder underneath her once getting to the top. She and the National led government can be held responsible for developing a ‘platform’ that ‘enables’ National supporters to take these derogatory positions towards the most vulnerable in our society. This government’s welfare reforms are a clear indication of that ‘platform’ which encourages the great divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The reforms are short sighted, as usual, and likely to have the biggest impact on those who find it difficult to fight in their own corner.
Instead of ‘justice’ and ‘responsibility’ we hear National preaching ‘choice’ and ‘hard work’. Sure there’s got to be a balance between all these things but in the current climate- how much ‘choice’ is there when your back’s up against the wall? How much hard work can you do in a market where there are no jobs?