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New era: one district, one council

Opinion Piece

My views on why I voted for one district-wide general ward for the representation review . . .

Choosing councillors from one ward for both the Maori and General rolls, enhances representivity.

It is not about excluding rural representation — it is about including everyone to choose who they want to govern their council.

Gisborne District Council has been dominated by rural, non-Maori interests since its inception.

A report by historian Jane Luiten speaks of policy development and delivery shaped by the governing demographic.

However, this has not been representative of the Tairawhiti rural population.

Who are we to assume we know that only city people will be elected on to the council?

The voters know Tairawhiti is a diverse region and needs a range of different people on the council.

Thank you to the more than 1000 submitters for the hearing last week.

Responses from iwi, hapu and Maori organisations were clear and refreshing to read.

A common thread was expressed — we are moving into a new era with one district, one council.

The consultation report explained the over-representation of a certain age group in the survey and under-representation in others. It was not a complete picture.

Much of the opposition to district-wide wards came from names I recognise as being in the sheep and beef industry, past or present.

There are more than sheep and beef farmers who live rurally, and many more who work in the rural sector.

Instead of just sheep and beef farms, for example, there is a community of people involved in forestry — one in four people in Tairawhiti are connected to the forestry industry.

It is the biggest driver of our economy with sheep and beef and horticulture second and third.

People living in townships have not submitted either.

From my point of view, rural people will not have one councillor, they can pick from 13. That is true democracy at work.

If it doesn't work it can be changed in six years' time.

A couple of points from the editorial on Saturday:

— Block-vote?

I was one of the people voting and there was no block voting Jeremy.

I'm not sure how or why you think that.

In the debate, every councillor expressed a different rationale in support of a district-wide general ward.

This is not town vs country, it is councillors district wide.

— With the reference in the editorial to forestry owners requiring consultation - it's more than owners.

The editor notes more rural people attend long-term plan community meetings than town people — this is correct and the rural people will still want to connect if representation changes. Maybe even more so.

Also, our consultation tells us more and more people now want to communicate with the council online.

There is not much on at council this week so I have mostly used this space to respond to questions asked about the representation situation.

In councillors' diaries there is nothing official, but I intend to take part in a Local Government New Zealand webinar on Wednesday about overcoming vaccine hesitancy. I am interested to see if there is anything I can do.

On Thursday is the weekly Three Waters update via Zoom.

The Government sent out an email update last week which basically said thanks for the feedback.

“Cabinet is expected to consider the feedback . . . later this month and take decisions on next steps on the reform pathway.” (Take decisions? Is that a typo or a new way of talking?)

Debbie Gregory

  1. Lloyd Gretton, Auckland says:

    In China, they have a different local government system. I lived under it for ten years. All local officials are given a set of goals for social improvement, based on market research of local citizens. If they are not reasonably met after a year, the local official is demoted or dismissed or sometimes falls out of a ten-storey window.

    1. P.J. Reed says:

      I agree Lloyd, our system of local government doesn’t appear to serve us as well as it should. The perception that elected officials are the best fit for the position is in itself flawed. Apart from lacking any ten-storey buildings here I have yet to find a system that would fit our city’s needs. Apart from tampering around the edges until another system more suited is found, we are saddled with this – with all its flaws.

  2. A McKellow says:

    The real problem is that Elwood’s formula for local body representation has its flaws in these times.
    It works well for an urban only electorate, perhaps even for a regional council but is not fit for purpose for a district council like ourself.
    The problem comes in trying to fit the formula to the numbers. That formula is not fit for purpose for district councils with a demographic rural and race mix like we have.
    Depending on what form of democracy is sought there is a need for a fresh look at how we choose our representation.

  3. Dave says:

    Personally, I think the councillors once again are deaf as to what the people they represent actually want. As a city ratepayer, I feel that the rural people are being sold short. Unless they have specific seats then they will not be truly represented. They pay a huge amount in rates.

    1. Alistar McKellow says:

      Look at it this way Dave.
      The urban councillors are playing a game of Russian roulette.
      For urban councillors there are no bullets in the chamber.
      For the rural councillors there are 4 bullets in the chamber each with rural inscribed on them.
      The odds here are stacked against rural and every logical thinking person can see this except urban councillors with eyes wide shut.

  4. Toby Williams says:

    Debbie you seem to want to use the campaign that Federated Farmers ran as a negative and it was only about sheep and beef farmers. It is not! We are a pan-sector organisation. I do not honestly think you would have voted differently even if there were lots of submissions from people who live rurally but were NOT sheep and beef farmers. How could you tell anyway where each submission comes from? It is a pretty big assumption from you that only sheep and beef farmers submitted.

    1. Alistar McKellow says:

      In this instance the urban councillors have eyes wide shut.
      Some of us submitted from a purely fairness perspective.
      It is arrogant for these councillors to portray that they understand rural concerns.
      After all some of these same councillors represented maori in an inadequate way necessitating the insertion of maori seats into the equation.
      Maori need to articulate the maori viewpoint.
      Similarly rural theirs.
      Having failed, we are now asked to accept that inadequacy but despite that they can understand rural needs.
      From my perspective as an urban voter since 1976 but connected to rural through my professional and business interactions in the past and as a forestry investor in the present a rural voice is essential to provide a balanced viewpoint.
      To leave that to chance and to say that if the decision is wrong it can be changed in 6 years time gives little confidence that serious thought apart from future election probabilities have been taken with earnest sincerity.