Pat Seymour, Uawa ward councillor GDC
THE public of Gisborne deserve to be better informed as to the influence a very small number of individuals can potentially have on representation for this district.
Every six years, councils are required to review the representation for their district. This began months ago, with Mayor Meng Foon discussing it at city and district meetings earlier in the year.
In total 205 submissions were received in support of the status quo — eight councillors elected at large in the city and six rural wards, each electing one councillor. Twelve submissions were received opposing the status quo — all from people in the city ward.
The council voted to retain the status quo and the proposal was notified, a process which allows another opportunity for opposing views to be heard.
Last Friday the commissioners came to town to listen to the Mayor submit on behalf of the council. He invited Crs Bill Burdett and Graeme Thomson to support him. The commissioners also listened to four submitters prepared to speak in opposition, and an apology from one too unwell to appear — a further opportunity will be made to hear their views.
What needs to be exposed is that five people have the ability to undermine the current representation for our district and in particular our rural wards. These five appear to carry more weight than the thousands of residents who did not oppose the proposal.
Mr Foon pointed out distance, isolation and the importance of face-to-face communication; the effectiveness of the current model and the fact that at the last six-year review we proposed the same model and there was no opposition.
Our rural wards, three on the Coast and three to the west, are home to many individuals and families living on incomes well below the national average, yet two submitters assured the commissioners that email and the new fast broadband will be good enough communication. No matter that many families live miles from access to the new broadband cable being laid around the Coast. This shows a blatant lack of understanding of our rural communities; the isolation, the lack of service and the deprivation.
A couple of submitters acknowledged the efforts of the rural councillors yet still determined that over-representation — simply on the numbers, taking no other matters into account — was unfair on city voters so should be reduced.
Currently in determining the number of councillors in any ward, the +/- 10 percent rule of thumb applies — i.e. there should be a fair comparison of the number of people any one councillor represents. However, it is also clear from the Local Electoral Act section 19[v] 3[a] that if the commission or the territorial authority considers that the effective representation of communities of interest within isolated communities so requires it, wards or subdivisions of a community do not have to comply with the +/– 10 percent rule.
The commissioners indicated that they saw the three major issues as being fair representation, effective representation and communities of interest. In our district fairness could be considered in the context of numbers of voters to a councillor, or a huge geographical area for a councillor to cover.
Why is one scenario any more fair than the other? Effective is being able to freely represent the views of those in a ward — many in the city, fewer in the rurals. Make the rural wards larger and the rural communities will be denied effective representation. Communities of interest are a recognised determinant of ward structure and our rural wards do have quite defined communities of interest.
The views expressed by those who chose to submit were sincerely held. But it would be very disappointing if those few views diminished the representation for our already isolated rural townships and the productive hinterland.