By Suzanne Hansen.
The Whitianga Town Hall was all “abuzz” with political insight, good laughs, and good food on Saturday night with the Mercury Bay Business Association’s Evening with Barry Soper and Heather du Plessis - Allan. The MBBA organised a great evening - a seated crowd of almost 90 were treated excellent catering by Sugarfish, followed by some very candid thoughts by the veteran political media couple at this event, timed with the run up to our national election.
The evening was compèred enthusiastically and humorously, by Thames native, and Trucking Media Mogul, Dave McCoid. The couple spent time talking about their long media histories, followed by some very open questions and answers. The answers were straight and to the point, even if some of the questions were less so and the crowd seemed to soak up the commentary with gusto.
Barry Soper has been a journalist since the 1970’s with the last two decades spent in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. He is the longest serving member of the gallery and the country’s most experienced political broadcast journalist. He has worked with and travelled abroad with seven NZ prime ministers, starting back with Muldoon, and has met many world leaders including Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and most of the Australian Prime Ministers. Paul Keating once called him a “blow fly”. He also served an unprecedented three terms as chairman of the press gallery and shared some interesting experiences he has had, particularly in these past years of Labour Government.
Describing some of the top echelon of the current Labour Government as inexperienced and impractically trained for such large roles, he described the atmosphere in the Jacinda Adern press gallery as incredibly “manipulative” towards those press who stayed positive. He said that Adern avoided him like the plague and over the years, he has noted that media access to the Prime Minister in general was dwindling. He went on to describe the Government as having no practical life experience outside party work and possessing the worst collection of in-depth and practical political knowledge he has experienced in his 43 years.
Heather du Plessis-Allan, who is known for her straight down the middle approach, particularly on her drive programme on Radio ZB, was not shy in adding in and highlighting specific examples, and I could only surmise that their dinner conversations at home must be incredibly spicy. However, Heather suggested that dinner table conversations these days are more baby issue related than in depth politics.
Soper went on to talk about life in the press gallery being very different today than it was back in the days before MMP, where the press used to revere politicians and politicians used to take riskier and more hard-line stances. Nowadays, because of MMP, both major parties are taking a much more centrist approach, and mirroring each other, so as not to risk the election and that it will be up to the more fringe parties to affect any real change. He called out David Seymour as an incredibly hard worker and Winston Peters as a very effective hand-break and harkens back to the days of Roger Douglas since there has been any fundamental reform.
When asked about how we should vote in the Coromandel, the couple suggested that we should vote for our candidate in of your choice, but perhaps party-vote a fringe party if we really want to see any real change. The peripheral parties will be the change in this country going forward.
Two special thank yous
To Barrier Air who organised a special flight to enable Heather Du Plessis - Allan to be able to come and accommodate the needs of their 18 month-old child.
To local performing artist, Francie Lidgard for her excellent vocal and acoustic accompaniment to the evening’s dinner conversation.
Caption: Berry Soper.