Back home in Southland for the holidays, former Prime Minister Bill English reflects on what the new coalition Government might mean for Southland, a small upside to being in opposition, and unexpectedly meeting Southlanders abroad.
Getting away from the Beehive over the holiday season, Mr English has come back to Southland to spend some time at his Dipton home as well as visit Stewart Island.
Mr English said he was looking forward to spending time down south again, and even hopefully get out on his bike along the trails in Northern Southland as well. Following the election he said he enjoyed riding the Around the Mountains cycle trail leg between Kingston and Castlerock during a day excursion.
Now in the role of leading the opposition in parliament after last year's cliffhanger election, he said the focus was keeping New Zealand, and Southland, on track.
Some of the big issues facing Southland, he noted, were the ongoing labour skills shortage, the arrival of the bovine disease Mycoplasma bovis, which was identified in Winton by the Ministry of Primary Industries last month, how the Regional Development Fund was going to work, along with how the new free tertiary education plan would have an impact on the Southern Institute of Technology in Invercargill.
"I think you're going to have a period of some uncertainty while a new government figures out what it wants to do.
"With the coalition, we've yet to see whether the new government understands how the Southland economy and communities work, and they do seem to have the view that nothing much happens unless the Government does it. That's not been our way and I think it's important people don't wait around for the Government to solve whatever problem they think they've got."
While the National Party obviously wanted to stay in government, Mr English said a significant number of National supporters were happy the party didn't form a coalition with New Zealand First.
"We had an opportunity to form a government, we wanted to form a government, we weren't able to do so. So the Government's changed, and we're just getting on with the job of focusing in opposition," he said.
"Over the next two or three years we'll be able to tell whether we dodged a bullet or not."
There was one small upside to his role in opposition, however. Mr English said it was great to be able to get out and enjoy Southland without the Prime Minister's extra security detail.
"It is quite valuable to get around without supervision."
While his travels stayed domestic over the holiday season, Mr English shared a recent tale of his hometown making a splash of sorts on the international stage.
"I've got one [child] in California, and one in China. And this is pure coincidence... they both ran into other young Kiwis connected to Dipton. And on the same day."
Not only that, but both people they ran into were related, he said.
"You never know where you're going to come across [Southlanders]," he joked.
"Even if they come from Dipton."