Labour hopefuls back mining

By Laura Mills

The trio of Labour Party leadership hopefuls walked in the footsteps of their Labour pioneers last night, fronting a meeting of party faithful in working-class Blackball as they jostled for leadership votes.
All three adopted a pro-mining stance in this once staunch coalmining town, where a miners’ strike in 1908 led to the eight-hour work day and the formation of the labour movement.
In a good natured and spirited meeting, attended by about 100 people, Shane Jones said New Zealand should use its natural resources, but instead people were “going to Australia to dig up their country”.
“I don’t like the hypocrisy of it.”
Grant Robertson said he had a grandchild on Australia’s Gold Coast but “I don’t want to be a Sykpe grandparent”.
“We need industry in the regions so there are jobs in fishing, forestry, mining and tourism.”
But it was David Cunliffe who tailored his speech mostly to the West Coast, saying the question was not whether to mine, but how to mine. Before anything else, mining must be safe.
“It was in John Key’s power to move faster on (Pike River) recovery and make sure they got a fair payout. The (Pike) parent companies and shareholders have run off with the bulk of the insurance money for those families.
“That will be fixed,” Mr Cunliffe promised.
However, he also said mining was never going to be a “silver bullet” and the regions had to diversify, mentioning more manufacturing and research and development.
All three candidates showed off their knowledge of the Labour Party’s roots in Blackball.
“This little town held up a torch for workers’ rights. Now it’s our task to honour that,” Mr Cunliffe said.
“History’s repeating ... John Key is taking away the lunch break those fellows (miners) fought for.”
If Mr Cunliffe’s speech was most relevant to the Coast, Mr Jones’ was amusing, referring to John Key as “Key Kong”.
The trio of MPs agreed it was time to regenerate the regions.
“John Key is more interested in his mates at Sky City,” Mr Robertson said.
Mr Jones said that for Labour to win the election next year they had to put the heart back in the party and bring the regions with them.
The Blackball meeting was chaired by Development West Coast chairman John Sturgeon.
The final meeting of the 10-day leadership tour will be held in Christchurch tonight, and a new leader will be in place on Sunday. It has covered 4000km, and involved more than 3000 party members.
West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor said the MPs had “come here for a battle”.
Mr Cunliffe surprised the crowd when he revealed that his father was born in Ngahere in 1915, and was courted there by his mother, Blanche, who used to ride for a day on horseback to date him, and through his mother he was related to the West Coast’s most famous politician, ‘King Dick’ Richard Seddon.
The meeting ended in private, so party members could quiz the candidates before voting.