The man whose resignation sparked the RAPPA by-election, former MP Albert Nicholas, rejects the idea he is in politics for his own gain.
Taking time out from the campaign - and preparing a family umu, to talk with CI News, Nicholas sits in his garage and shakes his head.
“I did it so I could get things done … I haven’t gained anything personally.”
Nicholas says he and his support team made a pact about what they wanted to achieve for the RAPPA community.
“We set out a platform and a roadmap and on that platform and on that roadmap, benefitting personally from the position was not part of the plan.
“Hence the reason I have turned down opportunities to travel as a minister and get the allowances available for doing so.
“I went once to a new MPs training workshop - paid for by the New Zealand government, and I went because it would not cost taxpayers here. I was entitled to allowances on that trip, which I refused to accept because it would be paid by the Civil List.
“I ride my own motorbike to work and pay for my own petrol for my own motorbike. These are some of the small things we agreed we would do as a way to prove to the community that we are not doing it for our personal gain. That we are doing this for the community’s gain.”
And Nicholas says that since being elected in 2014 he and his team have made a big difference to the people in his constituency.
“If you look back in history of RAPPA we’ve been left by the wayside … for donkey’s years.
“It was always my intention, when first approached to stand for parliament, to say to the government and politicians, ‘hey we are here. I know you guys haven’t recognised us but we are here.’”
Nicholas resigned from parliament earlier this year because he was in danger of triggering anti-party hopping legislation, which would happen if he voted against the Demos – or abstained, on a vote. He had been elected to the RAPPA seat under the Democratic Party flag, but decided to join the ruling Cook Islands Party so he could get things done for his community.
At the time of his resignation prime minister Henry Puna said Nicholas wanted to win the seat for the CIP and “do the right thing”.
Door-knocking throughout the electorate, Nicholas says the largest reaction he has is people saying: “You don’t need to explain yourself, we are with you we know what you are about.
“We are with you for what you have been achieving for us in the community for the past two years.”
He says there hasn’t been much of a negative reaction over his switching parties although he has encountered “a handful who have been saddened by what has happened, but who understand that at the end of the day it’s about the party itself, not the individual.
“And that’s the view I have been getting back from those that have concerns.”
Contrary to popular belief, Nicholas says, he has been a CIP member for 10-plus years going back to when he was RAPPA’s CIP youth president when his father, Albert Nicholas senior, was MP for the area.
He sees one of the best things he has done for the people of RAPPA has been dealing with the issue of flooding. The low-lying electorate was one of the most flood-prone in the country. Nicholas recounts how he would regularly wake to find water in his bedroom.
“I am happy to say we have addressed it. I tried in the Demo Party and while in opposition, but couldn’t get any traction on it so as soon as the opportunity came, then we did it.
“We deepened the stream, built the banks, lifted them higher and widened it a little.
“The road we have just tar-sealed here; people have been begging for it to be fixed for 20-plus years.
“Then there are the water problems. Most have been taken care of now, except the one going up Avatiu Valley. But I have just found out what problem there was, so we are waiting on the intake programme to kick off and that will be solved.
“In the two or three years I have been an MP I have found the most concerning things to people are the little things in their life.
“That tree beside your house, the hedge that is so high you cannot see your neighbour, the leak in your roof. They affect lives every day.”
One thing Nicholas regrets is that the by-election has forced him to stop doing work in the community.
“For more than three years we have been delivering help for elderly and needy in the community. Actually for the community … period.
“Our crew goes to their house every three weeks and maintains the property at no expense to them. They only criteria are you have to be a pensioner and have no young people living with you.
“We mow your lawns, cut your hedges and other things. If you have a leaky roof, we will attend to that … we will even pick you up and take you shopping or cart water to your home.”
So who funds this?
“Me, personally. There’s a community fund programme or out of my pocket.”
“But we haven’t been able to do that for past few weeks and I must say it has affected the elderly with their lawns.
“We were advised there was the possibility we could be accused of bribery and treating, I was willing to challenge that but my advisers said pull back and hold off until after the election. I have spent the whole of last week explaining it to our regular clientele that we guarantee we will come back and explain why we are not doing it.”
Many in the area are thankful he has not hung up his coaching boots as their Avatiu Nikao Eels league team is still proving seemingly unstoppable under his direction.
He admits that helps with his public profile.
But so does his hands-on approach to solving issues.
“I prefer doing things and addressing problems and I think the community knows that’s what I am about. Give me a problem and I will find a way to address it.
“I still intend to be that person and nothing more. I like to be known as a person who fixes things.”