Former Labour Party MP Shane Jones has been selected as New Zealand’s First’s candidate for Whangarei in the upcoming election.
The announcement, which has been signalled for years and should come as a surprise to few, was made by party leader Winston Peters in the far North Island electorate this afternoon.
Mr Peters says Mr Jones has the “full backing of the New Zealand First caucus.”
“Their backing is encapsulated in a message sent to me this morning of support and best wishes from the deputy leader of NZ First, Ron Mark, and all our MPs.”
He says the representation of an electorate like Whangarei “will not be easy.”
“This is no time to be looking around at novices or an MP with training wheels on but rather someone who will hit the ground running. knows the system inside out, and knows that we have to concertina, within a short time, real milestones of achievement for Whangarei.”
He says Mr Jones is a country boy from a farm who made the most of educational opportunity to become a national and international leader.
“This candidate has a stunning record but most recently has devoted his professional skills to turning the natural resources of diverse Pacific peoples into long-term sustainable assets.”
In the last election, National Party incumbent Shane Reti won more than 20,000 votes – some 13,000 ahead of Labour’s Kelly Ellis.
Despite Mr Reti’s commanding victory, political commentator Bryce Edwards says Mr Jones’ chances of winning the seat shouldn't be written off just yet.
“We live in really interesting times and there have been a few upsets in politics, especially overseas.”
He says there is the potential for an upset in Whangarei, especially after Mr Peters won the Northland by-election in 2015.
Mr Jones was in good spirits when he took the stage, jokingly telling the audience to "give [me] a decent clap."
He began his speech by saying his standing for New Zealand First was the "worst kept secret" in New Zealand politics.
"It’s [been] a bit of a challenge telling Murray McCully on a regular basis ‘I really don’t know what I’m going to do when I finish being an ambassador in the Pacific.’"
But the newly minted New Zealand First candidate took the time to have a crack at the government, saying National has been abandoning the regions for far too long.
But those days, he says, are over.
"Throughout the North, stand up, have a voice, back me because every voter in the Whangarei electorate is entitled to have a view about the issues that [we’re dealing with.]"
Dr Edwards also says people from the North “like maverick candidates” and that bodes well for Mr Jones.
Dr Edwards thinks deputy leader Ron Mark will keep his job but it’s likely Mr Jones will one day take over as leader.
“Mr Mark is going to have to accept he is going to be overshadowed now not just by Winston but also by Mr Jones.
“That might be hard for him to take but he’s just going to have to put the best interests of the party first.”
Before Mr Peters’ announcement, ACT Party leader David Seymour published information obtained under the Official Information Act revealing that during his time at Mfat, between 2014/15, Mr Jones spent $128,000 of taxpayer money on travel and entertainment.
The document shows ACT requested the figures in March last year and has been sitting on them until today.
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