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Reality And Media Spin

Wed, 08 Sep 2004

Reality And Media Spin

[Background: the region's only daily paper Hawke's Bay Today has stated baldly on several occasions, most recently and prominently at the top of page 2 on Monday 6 September, that "this year's local government elections lack any big issues". This is nonsense - but the paper is not accepting letters from candidates, so I cannot respond that way. My challenge to Hawke's Bay Today is to publish this media release in full. My challenge to other media is to see they do not join in discouraging voters from going to the polls in the mistaken belief there are no issues of consequence. There are! Read on...]

No "big issues" in our local elections? Rubbish! In Napier there are at least three.

First, the most basic of all election issues in a democracy, representation.

Surburban residents' associations in Napier repeatedly claim that Council does not listen to them or work with them - "we are shut out in the decision making process", as the Westshore Association put it in a submission earlier this year.

Seven of the present 13 members of Council live in the Hill area. Not only are country areas like Meeanee and Bay View not represented, but nor are the suburbs that form the whole central heart of the city - Marewa, Onekawa, Maraenui, Pirimai, Tamatea, most of Napier South.

Citizens with longstanding concerns in the youth, health and transport fields find little Council support for their efforts.

Other signs of discontent with local government process include some forty approaches to the Ombudsman from Napier in the last three years. The evidence says there is a fundamental failure of representation for many Napier residents.

The second issue is health. Health services should one day be re-established on the Napier Hill site, and Council should be developing a vision for that purpose. It isn't; any vision for preserving public health services in Napier long term is lacking. Yet the Hill site is publicly owned for that express purpose, and rent free. Wellesley Road is dreadfully expensive for what it offers, and so is at risk of eventually being abandoned. Where then will public health services be located, if not on the Hill?

Meanwhile it has taken Council almost the whole of the past term even to form a committee to start pushing for the services Napier should have had since we lost the hospital.

Third, rates. In the last three years Council has moved to nearly treble Uniform Annual Charges, although it had no mandate to do so - the issue was hardly raised at the last elections. The result has been to transfer a significantly increased share of the rates burden onto the badly represented, poorer areas of Napier.

The chair of the Council Committee that deals with rates, standing again for election, is advertising his wish for "a fairer rating system for the residents of Ahuriri, Greenmeadows, Tamatea, Taradale, the Hill and Westshore". Twelve of the thirteen present Councillors come from these wealthier areas, and the Council has announced its intention to review the level of Uniform Annual Charges once more. In other words, there is a plan to further shaft the poorer areas of Marewa, Onekawa, Maraenui, Pirimai and most of Napier South which have no direct representation on Council. For myself, I am opposed to any further transfer of the rates burden to the areas with least ability to pay - we should be looking to the good of the city as a whole, not just its wealthier suburbs.

Inadequate representation of many of Napier's suburbs and local citizens' associations. Whether Napier can hold on to any public health services through the twenty-first century. Fundamental changes in how rates are levied, changes which benefit the areas where present councillors live at the expense of those where they don't. A community going to the polls could hardly be expected to face bigger issues.

Perhaps Hawke's Bay Today is waiting for councillors to announce they have been to Mordor and reforged the one ring or called for an invasion of storm troopers from a galaxy far far away. While we're waiting, let's stay with reality, not media spin.


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