Mohammed Rauf was enjoying his day off when he read a news alert that Jacinda Ardern was visiting his local Hamilton mall.
He rushed down, hoping for a picture with the Labour leader, but settled for a smile and a wave because the crush of fans was too tough to get through.
The 68-year-old teacher tried calling out “Jacinda we love you, come over here”.
“She looked at me and waved. That was one of the greatest moments I’ll ever remember,” Rauf told the Herald from a bird’s-eye view of the mob from The Base’s second floor.
It was a particularly pushy crowd of fans at the mall all scrambling for photos, handshakes and to thank the Prime Minister for her leadership.
Ardern acknowledged this later, saying some days were “more intense than others” though said she “didn’t find it that bad”.
Some had to leave disappointed, however, even waiting an hour for a selfie.
Tailua Mekuli, 22, hurried to the mall after her sister working across the road tipped her off.
Mekuli and her sister were part of the large crowd waiting for Ardern after her press conference but the Labour leader snuck out through another exit to her next appointment, leaving local MP Jamie Strange to break the bad news.
“Yeah I’m disappointed but I still love her,” said Mekuli, who will still be voting Labour despite the blow of not getting a selfie.
Rauf would also be putting two ticks in the red boxes – though he couldn’t name a specific policy he supported.
But he wanted to see Ardern remain Prime Minister and wanted Labour to govern alone “to see what they could do without the others”.
In both a morning speech to supporters and later at the press conference, Ardern played up the work she’d done during her first term to build consensus and told a crowd of supporters at the Hamilton Gardens her childhood in the Waikato was where she first learned the craft.
Standing in the building where she attended a sixth form ball, Ardern said being in Hamilton felt “a lot like coming home” as she had grown up in nearby Morrinsville.
“There are a few things that I learned from that period in my life. The first of which is that at any given time I got very used to not necessarily having the same ideas and opinions as everyone else around me.
“What it taught me was the importance of empathy – of seeing the world of someone else’s perspective and not considering someone else’s view as less legitimate or less important than mine, but actually working really hard to build consensus.”
There was a point of contention when five farmers with Federated Farmers managed to carve out some space in the swarm of supporters at Hamilton Gardens to talk to her about the freshwater reforms.
The intent of the regulations is to clean up the country’s waterways. They were drafted in September 2019 for consultation with the sector.
More than 17,500 submissions were made and changes made to the regulations before they were formally gazetted on August 5, 2020.
King Country sheep and beef farmer Reon Verry said his issue wasn’t so much with the regulations, but how they would be implemented, the bureaucracy involved and the timeframe.
“Do you want us to spend our money on paperwork or on improving the waterways? Every dollar we spend should be on the environment,” he said.
Verry said he’d recently spent $40,000 on labour alone to fence a small part of his property and other farmers he knew were leaving the sector because they couldn’t be bothered navigating the reforms.
Verry, with Federated Farmers’ dairy section chairman Chris Lewis and Waikato president Jacqui Hahn, went to the meeting to raise the issue with Ardern directly.
Lewis told her there was “a lot of disillusionment and worry” about the freshwater changes and Labour had lost a lot of support from the sector and local councils about the reforms.
Ardern told the group Labour wanted to bring the sector along with the changes and not alienate farmers in the process.
“I sometimes get represented by the Opposition in a way that I don’t think is fair … the cities need to do their bit as well. It’s all the same rulebook and the expectation is the same. But what we need to do is support our rural communities as well.”
Ardern said later the framework had been set up to make New Zealand’s waterways swimmable again and they would work through implementation issues with the sector.
“The goal has to remain the same.”
Ardern was also clear she was campaigning for a strong mandate for Labour. The most recent polls put the party on the cusp of being to govern alone, which would mean it wouldn’t have to seek Cabinet consensus in their next term.
The Labour leader wouldn’t say whether she would miss their former governing partners, the Greens and New Zealand First, if they didn’t make it back to Parliament, only saying she was proud of what they had achieved together.
“I’ll give everything I’ve got for a strong mandate for a strong recovery,” she said.
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