First of all, as a Q&A it was hopeless: The politicians all brought their fictions to a fact fight. No candidate actually had the facts to answer the audience's questions. (Well, the Greens' Russel Norman did, but he preferred to make up whatever hurt the other candidates the most; and ACT's John Boscawen did, but unfortunately they weren't the facts about Steven Joyce's project but on the project Boscawen himself would like to see built.) It was all very bizarre, particularly as Melissa Lee's refrain for most of the evening was "I don't know," and "I'm here to listen."
Either National's Steven Joyce hadn't bothered to brief his party's by-election candidate about the motorway that's about to bisect her would-be electorate, or (being both a pretty girl and a former journalist) Melissa Lee simply hadn't bothered to find out the facts and thought a nice smile would be enough instead. Either way, it was apparent even to people in the room holding up National Party signs that when Melissa Lee says "I don't know" or "I can't remember" that on this much at least she's probably telling the truth.
I don't say that like it's a good thing. Clearly, details are not Ms Lee's thing. (And if she really was "there to listen," then why the hell was it so hard getting her to shut up when other people were talking?)
Details really are Russel Norman's thing. He thrives on details like the envirogeek he is, but he uses details less to explain than he does to explain away.
- He berated National "borrowing billions" to fund the motorway (which Liberty Scott points out it won't be), but was happy to have it borrow several billions to pay for his train set. He lambasted National for for building a motorway that will "cut the community in two," but is happy to build a heavy rail line that will have the same effect.
- He was happy to characterise the National proposal as "the above-ground option," when as he quietly conceded to David Shearer it is in fact to be in tunnels for around sixty percent of its length -- expensive tunnels built simply to avoid sites that are considered politically sensitive.
- He talked about how some American cities have up to eighteen lanes in their motorways "and we won't need that if we invest in public transport" -- strangely oblivious to the fact that all major American cities have made significant investments in public transport, but people still choose to use their cars.
- And in a question about the need to build roads to carry freight, he started blathering on about cycleways, prompting the person sitting next to me to ask if he really thought we were going to have the city's freight carried on a few cyclepaths?
The one candidate who did mean what he said was Libertarianz candidate Julian Pistorius. (Disclosure: I was there carrying his pamphlets.) And ironically the one group with whom he made the strongest connection were the chaps from the Socialist Aotearoa grouping. It was only Julian, they pointed out, who is prepared to stand up for the people who the State is going to throw out of their homes against their will. And they're right. He is. Everyone else is prepared to use the "Federal Bulldozer" to ram through their own preferred option of either road or rail (and as Scott points out, if even the French can work out how to build motorways without throwing people out of their homes, then surely we could learn something from them, couldn't we? Couldn't we?) but only the Libertarianz candidate was prepared to point out that the government is supposed to protect people's property rights, not do them over.
And what of Labour's David Shearer -- "the grey machine man"? Well, his own goon squad was noisy, but he wasn't. His tie was colourful, but he wasn't. I'm sure he can write a memorable report, but whatever it was he said tonight left me as soon as I left the room. Perhaps that's why he was known as a bureaucrat's bureaucrat. What he said was so forgettable, but said with such authority, that he's bound to romp in come polling day.
In fact, most of what every mainstream candidate had to say on the night was both instantly forgettable and intended only for short-term political advantage. But there was one thing one candidate said that is now going to dog her through the rest of the campaign. Maybe longer. It will probably be the meeting's headline tomorrow morning. I say "her,"because the foot in the mouth belonged to Melissa Lee.
Asked to explain how the new motorway would most help the good people of Mt Albert, she explained that it would stop the bad people of South Auckland driving to Mt Albert to burgle people's homes. Asked to clarify by a questioner, she repeated the claim. Showing she's truly not one to stop digging when she creates a big hole for herself -- a hole as big as the number of open mouths in the room -- she insisted that the local police commander had told her this very morning that the biggest issue with which he has to deal is the number of South Aucklanders driving to Mt Albert to burgle people's homes.
I swear I am not making this up. It's true that the likely winner of the by-election, David Shearer, grew up in South Auckland . . . and in being Labour's "machine candidate" he could be said to be burgling the seat . . . but what the hell she was talking about, only Melissa Lee herself would know. Probably.
It was as incongruous and frankly ludicrous as Jenny Shipley's comment in Parliament several years ago (apropos of nothing relevant) that Polynesians tend "to climb in the windows of other New Zealanders at night." And it deserves to be treated with equal contempt.
UPDATE 1: Let me clarify something here. Steven Joyce and several commentators around the traps -- and now John Key -- have all suggested Melissa's South Auckland comment was made "in the heat of the meeting," "in the face of a hostile audience" and so forth.
That's not the case, and those commentators weren't at the meeting, which was hardly "hostile" in any sense. More bemused. Posting at Hard News, commenter Stephen Horsley is spot on:
I was at the meeting, and I would have to disagree [that this was a rushed response to a hostile audience]. It wasn't something that she just blurted out, in fact she seemed very pleased with herself for having thought of it. When asked to clarify the comment, she went into a fair amount of detail justifying herself. . . it appeared to be a view that she genuinely subscribed too.That's exactly as I saw it too.
UPDATE 2: Liberty Scott runs the rule over the Mt Albert candidates, and says Vote For Freedom in Mt Albert:
I said on 4 May that "It might be better to just wait to see who all the candidates will be, before making a choice." of candidate. So I am pleased that Julian Pistorius is standing for Libertarianz.Isn't that a delicious thought!
Let's be clear, the motorway will be built, but only Julian can be a solid advocate for the private property rights of landowners who may face compulsory purchase, and for ways to respect that while progressing the road (for example, the Melbourne Citylink motorway was built by the private sector negotiating the land purchase from all those along its route).
Let's also be clear, a Labour MP will mean no change, a backbencher in a party that has no power over the next 2.5 years and which has shown a willingness to pillage taxes to buy an electorate.
A National MP will mean no change. Melissa Lee is already in Parliament, being MP for Mt. Albert will just give her a little more to do, but she won't be fighting for private property rights.
A Green MP will mean no change. Russel Norman will lead obstructive direct action against motorway building, whilst cheerleading on the pillaging of Mt. Albert taxpayers for a railway that even ARC has as a low priority.
ACT candidate John Boscawen has shown his level of judgment in voting for the W(h)anganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Act.
ALCP candidate Dakta Green is worthy of your vote if that one policy matters above everything else.
However, Julian Pistorius IS worthy of your vote if you want to shake up Parliament and get a man dedicated to standing up for Mt. Albert taxpayers and property owners. He wont be a backbench voice on a major party, or speaking to increase taxes or spend more of other people's money. He won't be claiming to speak for property owners on the motorway issue, but at the same time running roughshod over them with the RMA. He wont be supporting the megacity -- or even existing local government as long as it continues to have a legal "power of general competence" to do as it sees fit.
You see Julian will call for the government to undertake the tax cuts it promised. Julian will support private property rights as an absolute. Julian will also support the right of ALCP candidate Dakta Green to campaign to legalise cannabis without harassment, because Julian too supports legalising consumption and sale of cannabis for adults on private property.
Mt. Albert voters might baulk at voting Libertarianz when it is about choosing the government, but this is a by-election not a general election, and who could have a louder voice for Mt. Albert than a Libertarianz MP? Who will in principle oppose the confiscation of land for a road, or any purpose, and call for less government so Mt. Albert residents can make their own choices?
So go on Mt. Albert, vote Julian Pistorius as your local MP. Beyond anything else it will give Helen Clark the most unwelcome surprise when she wakes up in New York the next morning to see who she handed the seat over to.