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Who do we serve?

Opinion Piece

The most difficult question facing members of the newly elected council and district health board, when beginning their respective three-year stints as your representatives, will be to work out where and to whom their responsibilities lie as they grapple with the hard issues of the day.

It is perhaps a sad commentary of the history of past local authorities that too much emphasis has been placed on the political consequences associated with individual decisions rather than basing them on what is in the best interests of the majority.

Local government history in this country is littered with cases where those who had the opportunity to make judgements that were visionary instead equivocated and finally capitulated to the pressure of a vocal, influential minority.

The end result usually adds nothing to solving the real problems that lie behind the issue — it is just put off until some other group of decision makers has the guts to look at it again. In the meantime, the negative effects of this procrastination are felt daily by those who should have been the beneficiaries of a more enlightened determination.

In order that readers can understand the relative importance of my challenge to candidates for election to either the council or the DHB, or to both, I have chosen an example of the dilemma they will face from a list of current politically charged issues.

Some will say that it is madness to bring this matter into the pre-election debating arena, and it may well mean the end of my own chances at the ballot box. If so, so be it.

However, I am hopeful it will serve its purpose in allowing us to focus on the sort of character we expect from our elected representatives.

They are elected to make the hard decisions. If they aren’t prepared to do that then they should withdraw their candidacy ASAP.

My example involves a rearguard action mounted by a group of protesters professing to have close whakapapa links to the Te Araroa foreshore and seabed area. This group who claim to speak for a majority of local residents have been vocal in their opposition to a well-designed motorised barging operation for exporting logs that offers a solution to the economic viability of virtually all the northern East Coast forestry estates — almost all of Ngati Porou’s forests would benefit from this development being allowed to proceed.

And the region would most certainly benefit economically and socially from a resolution to the ongoing damage inflicted by logging trucks on our fragile roading infrastructure.

There is no question the protesters have a legitimate right to use any lawful method at their disposal to stop this proposal gaining the approval necessary, yet it is unfortunate they have chosen to use the “culturally sensitive” argument to bolster their mana whenua claims knowing there is an advantage to be gained in the decision-making process by doing so.

In my view, they believe they will be able to triumph against logic and common reasoning when decision makers are required to weigh up the merits of arguments for or against the barging operation. They are counting on this issue being shoved off into the “too hard” basket.

Surely our representatives will have the spine to not be intimidated by such tactics.

It is perfectly possible, even desirable, for the people most affected by the introduction of any new system, that is on balance of benefit to the region, to be fully consulted and be able to influence a compromise decision beyond their numerical strength.

However, they should not be allowed to enjoy their place in the sun at the expense of those who are paying the bills.

Our survival as a community against the current threats to our livelihoods will depend as much as anything on brave, common-sense decision-making from our leaders.

Let all those who agree, put their hands up and vote accordingly.