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Hobbs And Bunkle And The City Council Deal

The Wellington City Council coalition between Labour and the right-wing Wellington Alive may or may not be relevant to the coming national general election - it depends who you ask.

However the surprise decisions of Labour Councillors Alick Shaw, Sue Piper and Lionie Gill to join forces with the Blumsky-led Wellington Alive looks certain to be a key issue as the race steps up to see who will hold the strategically important seat of Wellington Central.

The Council coalition agreement has angered many Wellingtonians who voted Labour in opposition to the Wellington Alive ticket. And with Wellington Central undoubtedly one of the country’s most significant seats - not least because it is the home of two high circulation daily papers - the fallout from the decision promises to flow over into the national election campaign.

The Labour-Alive coalition now chair nine of the 12 Council committees and have effectively shut down any left-leaning and independent members of Council.

Alliance Wellington Central candidate Phillida Bunkle said the issue for Wellington voters, especially those who had previously supported Labour, will now be one of who they can trust. “The conduct of the Labour councillors is a key, unavoidable issue for this electorate to face,” said Bunkle. “Can the voters of Wellington trust the Labour Party to act on the policies they are elected to? On the performance of their councillors the answer is clearly no.”

Bunkle said the Labour councillors had backed down “on just about every one of their election promises”. She said they had voted to put the most right-wing member of Council, Chris Parkin, in charge of the city’s finances and to appoint National Party member Kerry Prendergast to the deputy mayoralty.

“They have backed down on their promises regarding public transport, public housing, user-charges and asset sales and recently broke their commitment to conservation by voting against the Council purchasing Long Gully,” she said.

However Labour’s Wellington Central candidate Marion Hobbs said the Council coalition had absolutely nothing to do with the Wellington Central campaign. “I like to make it very clear that it is not my job to get into local politics,” she said.

“I don’t expect what happens on the Wellington Council to be an issue in the electorate,” she said. “I’m not being defensive, but the Council is not a burning issue for me. It is not one of my priorities.”

Hobbs said the fact that Labour councillor Alick Shaw was Labour’s Wellington Central candidate in the last general election, and that he very nearly won, was irrelevant to this election and that the Council deal had not been discussed within the Labour Party.

However Bunkle said if the performance of Labour councillors was not an issue for Wellington voters she would soon make sure it was. “I will be telling voters in Wellington Central the full story of what has happened on the Wellington City Council because I think they need to know,” she said.

Bunkle said it was “ridiculous” for the Labour Party to try and distance themselves from the performance of their members in the local arena. “Marion Hobbs cannot simply sit on the fence and say the Council fiasco is nothing to do with her. Hobbs needs to publicly reject what has happened on the Wellington City Council and give a commitment to voters that it will not happen nationally,” she said.

“Is Marion Hobbs saying these councillors are from a different Labour Party to the one she belongs to?” said Bunkle. “If what has happened on the Wellington City Council was to happen nationally - and it has happened before - then Mr English will be in charge of finance and Cabinet will comprise of only National and Labour Ministers,” she said.

Bunkle said she was particularly upset that the Council coalition had voted to approve the sale of waterfront land “for millionaire apartments”, despite the fact that “Alick Shaw campaigned explicitly on 100 per cent public ownership of the waterfront”.

“Basically for the first time in 20 years there was the very real possibility of a progressive, centre-left Council in Wellington,” she said. “That has now been completely destroyed.”

When Scoop called Hobbs back for more comment she declined. “I don’t want to comment. That’s the way that [Phillida] plays it. I don’t,” she said.

Both Bunkle and Hobbs plan to run hard campaigns in the seat and it looks almost certain that National will not stand a candidate against incumbent MP, ACT’s Richard Prebble.

Either Bunkle or Hobbs will have to stand aside closer to the election and urge their supporters to vote for whoever is left – that is if they are to defeat Richard Prebble. However just who will stand down is the as yet unanswered question. Phillida Bunkle has lived in Wellington for 25 years and has a high public profile while Marion Hobbs comes from Christchurch and has been quiet as a Labour MP.

Bunkle is also likely to make an issue of the fact that, in a surprise move, Labour scuttled her bill calling for a moratorium and Royal Commission of Inquiry into genetic engineering at the eleventh hour last month.

While it is widely expected that Hobbs will eventually be the candidate left standing, the candidate who is polling the highest closer to the election is sure to run. Bunkle will be pushing hard to increase her support in the electorate and clearly this will involve publicising and criticising the goings on in the Wellington City Council.

Marion Hobbs is adamant she does not want to become involved in the decisions of Labour members at a local level, but it would seem that, like it or not, she is simply going to have to. Bunkle is going to make trust a key issue in this campaign and Hobbs may now be forced to take a position on the deal done by Labour councillors.

Bunkle seems set to make sure she cannot avoid it.


Richard Prebble has been unwell and unavailable for comment this week. Next week Scoop hopes to talk to Richard Prebble and National List MP Annabel Young.

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