School leaver joins farmer in race for Waitaki
A school leaver is set to campaign for the Labour Party in the Waitaki electorate.
At 18, he hasn’t yet had the chance to vote in a general election, but Ethan Reille has this week been announced as the party’s pick for October’s general election.
He will join on the campaign trail Southburn farmer Miles Anderson, who in February was chosen as the National candidate for the electorate.
A fresh face in Wellington representing the area is guaranteed come October, when sitting National MP Jacqui Dean will retire after close to 18 years in the job.
Mr Anderson is welcoming the competition “finally” getting themselves a candidate, as until now it has felt like he has been “shadow boxing”.
He says he met Ethan at an event earlier this week, where he had the opportunity for a “good yarn with his father”.
Mr Anderson is 54.
Neither candidate brought up their own age, but it is hard to ignore the difference.
Last year Mr Reille was head boy at Waitaki Boys’ High School, he shadowed Labour MP Rachel Brooking at Youth Parliament, and was chair of the Waitaki District Youth Council.
“Like any other high schooler, you come to the end of your journey and you think, where to next?"
He didn't have to look far. While still at school, he was already working part-time for the Waitaki District Council to implement a child, youth and whanau wellbeing strategy for the district. He has continued that role, alongside a pretty special second job that brings him up-close-and-personal with a rather cute local - the little blue penguin or kororā. He works part-time as a research assistant at the colony in Ōamaru.
Mr Reille joined the Labour Party at 15 and was the campaign coordinator for Labour's Waitaki candidate at the last election, even without the right to vote in it.
He says his family is not especially political, but his grandmother has always been a “proud unionist”, working in the health sector.
“I think that my (political) roots came from her, and I owe her everything when it comes down to my passion to ensuring that everyone has access to…essential services like healthcare and education.”
Meanwhile, when Crux first rung Mr Anderson at 8.30 this morning, he was loading wool.
His campaign Facebook page documents meet-and-greets at three A&P shows, a visit to the South Island Field Days donning Red Bands after "rough weather", and a selfie outside his old rugby club while pamphlet delivering, all since announcing his candidacy at the end of February.
He is able to reel off an impressive list of experience – the real world, getting your hands dirty stuff, as well as the sitting around governing tables stuff.
He is farming sheep and crops on land his family has worked for 130 years, he has owned a start-up backing ultrasound technology for sheep farmers before that tech was common in agriculture, he is involved in catchment water quality and biodiversity groups, and he has served on the Federated Farmers board and as chair of its meat and wool industry group.
“I have something to offer to the electorate and I am determined to make things better, I guess.”
He says he talked with family and friends after the news of Ms Dean’s retirement last year, before deciding to throw his hat in the ring. If voters put him in the hot seat after the election, he will be leasing out the family farm.
“The motivating factor was that I was really, really disappointed in how the country has been run.”
He cannot pinpoint the biggest issues: “I’m disappointed about everything – the excess regulation, the health system, the education system, infrastructure - all those basic provisions…by any metric you can measure, have all fallen dramatically over the last five years.”
It is his view Kiwis are not getting value for money out of their taxes.
“And middle-income earners in New Zealand are probably the ones who are shouldering the burden more than most.
“I think we have got to a point where the country's probably as divided as it’s ever been and things are in a bit of a mess.”
On the flip side, Mr Reille is a self-professed optimist, and he disagrees with commentary the country is more divided now than ever.
He says it is not the overwhelming feeling he gets from the communities of the Waitaki electorate.
“From Ōamaru to Palmerston to Geraldine to Wānaka, we’re all connected and I think in our own little networks we have that sense of pride, and that sense of connectivity and community. We are actually supporting each other. I think that’s something we can be proud of, that’s something that needs to be advocated for.”
He says it is “exciting” for Waitaki voters to have an age range debating issues in the lead up to the election.
“I think we’re in the position now where we can have two very different candidates and be OK with that.
“Now, more than ever, the issues that are facing the country need to have an intergenerational response. We need older generations and younger generations to put their minds together and get the job done.
“That’s something I am committed to doing. I have never wanted to let my age discourage me from doing what I think it the right thing.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t come down to age nor gender nor ethnicity, that makes you eligible to represent your community. It comes down to your experience in the community, your knowledge of your community, and the passion that you hold to fight for your community. I've definitely got all those three."
The Waitaki electorate, when it comes to land size, is bigger than most.
Whoever wins will clock up some miles representing it.
Mr Anderson says “he’s fortunate enough to have spent a lot of my life in and around the Waitaki electorate”.
“How do you represent them? You get out and about and talk to people and listen to their issues and then present those issues further up the chain, I suppose.”
He says communities in Wānaka and Cromwell have their own specific issues – rapid population growth due to “internal migration from the rest of New Zealand” and the infrastructure catch-up game that comes with it, and the chronic staff shortages and “red tape” frustrating business owners among the most pressing.
He says he will not take any vote for granted.
“If you assume something, you’re going to make a fool of yourself.”
In 2020, more Waitaki voters gave their party vote to Labour than National – 43.8 percent to 31.1 percent – and Ms Dean’s winning margin was a little more than 3,000 votes – in 2017, she won by more than 12,000 votes and in 2014, almost 17,000.
“There was that red tide last time that made a big difference throughout the country,” Mr Anderson says.
“The National Party is starting to present and will continue to present good policy to go into the election with.”
It will provide voters, who in his view are “in the mood for change”, a clear choice, he says.
In comparison to Mr Anderson, Mr Reille is a relative newcomer to the South, and not just because he was born in 2004.
He spent "a good part of his childhood" in Wellington, before moving down to Ōamaru. He now calls Waitaki home and sees a future here.
He says a good electorate MP will represent all voters "no matter their political views or their stance on issues", and advocate strongly for the interests of the area in Wellington.
However, he also says he is clear about what it is he is selling and, like Mr Anderson, is looking forward to talking to more of his party's policies as the year unfolds.
He's expecting some tough conversations at town-hall style meetings across the electorate in the months ahead, and he welcomes them.
"I think we're in a position now where people just want to be heard, they want to be understood.
"I've been a firm believer all my life that every person matters before every vote matters."
He says he is the first to admit he has plenty to learn.
"I'm not perfect, I don't know everything, and I don't have the answers to everything. But, what I do have are really good listening ears and a great sense of empathy, and I'm willing to learn more than I already know."
Main image: No more 'shadow boxing' for National candidate Miles Anderson, right, as the Labour Party announces this week its candidate for the Waitaki electorate for the 2023 general election - last year's Waitaki Boys' High School head boy Ethan Reille.
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