Ubuntu — representation respect
Ubuntu is an African concept meaning “I am because you are”. It embraces the idea that people cannot exist in isolation. We rely on connection, community and caring — simply, we cannot be without each other. This philosophy requires a conscious shift in how we think about ourselves and others, especially in times of uncertainty and fear.
Recent opinion pieces about the representation at council have made me reflect on what effective representation means and requires, and that the structure to date has created division rather than inclusion.
The Tairawhiti region as a whole continues to encompass strong rural communities and a growing population in the urban area. We have also seen a growth in semi-rural properties that are close to the city.
Periodic representation reviews give us an opportunity to look at how we can do better to ensure our representation model is fit for purpose and relevant to the current population's needs, as well as the future of our region.
It is obvious that for many the thought of changing the status quo is likely to be bad for them. I'm not so convinced.
As elected councillors we each sign an oath that we will “represent the whole region to the best of our abilities”, and we are “district councillors”. It is on all elected local government representatives to know the entire region's needs and aspirations, to understand the complexities and challenges and, taking all this into account, ensure we make the best decisions for the region.
Some rural residents believe they aren't getting influence at the council table — let me assure you this is not true. Since arriving at council I have learnt that unless you speak up, you simply will not be an influence or be heard; it was the rural councillors who taught me this.
I understand the ongoing complaints from rural lobbyists regarding representation goes back to the amalgamation of the borough councils and the creation of Gisborne District Council.
I can appreciate that rural ratepayers feel having someone who lives in their location and has shared interests gives them a stronger voice and better representation.
However, if everyone elected adhered to the oath to “faithfully and impartially and according to the best of their skill and judgement execute and perform in the best interests of the Gisborne district, the powers authorities and duties vested in, or imposed upon us as a councillor” there shouldn't be concerns that the rural communities won't have a voice at the council table.
Our debate around the representation at council was based on what would be best and fairest for the region. The representation review gives council an opportunity to look at how we can do better within local democracy.
We do have hard-working and effective councillors from our rural communities. Our change means rural voters have a stronger say in who they want to elect to represent them, no matter where they reside.
Candidates will need to demonstrate they don't have a bias towards the city or rural areas if they want to be elected. We need “Ubuntu” leadership for the whole region rather than maintaining the contrived urban-rural divide.
An option rejected by council was to establish community boards. We stuck with 13 councillors but if a city like Portland with over 600,000 residents can be effectively governed by six people, why not Tairawhiti? What Portland also has is a strong network of community associations. Tairawhiti could have another 20 elected representatives around the region if we established five community boards — three rural and two in the city.