Friday, 13 May 2011

Community Is Where An MP Belongs

Now that Rodney Hide has released the Cabinet Paper “Smarter Government - Stronger Communities” it’s time for the consultation to begin. That means real consultation in a way that stimulates public debate – not just calling for submissions from powerful interests. My fear is that like the Auckland “Super-City” and so many other changes currently forced on New Zealand , “consultation” means telling people what you are going to do and then doing it.

I’m pleased to see that the paper is about both stronger communities and smarter government (although I would obviously disagree with Rodney’s view of smarter government). Also “stronger communities” can also mean a lot of things.

I’ve found over the years, and particularly through walking the streets of the Wairarapa towns, that where you belong becomes part of your identity. I am intending to represent the Wairarapa electorate in parliament, but a massive chunk of this electorate declares (sometimes in quite strong language) that it does not belong in the Wairarapa. The further north I go, the stronger the opinion, so that Waipukurau and Waipawa people declare that they belong to Central Hawkes Bay, sometimes to the extent that they feel disenfranchised by being drawn into the Wairarapa electorate. That attitude could soften if there was greater contact with the MP for the electorate, whoever it is.

Identifying with a district isn’t just habit, it’s not even a matter of the name of the district. People have a real sense of community and belonging and to tamper with that can lead to unstable communities – communities without a focus and without a centre. People define their community in terms of its centre, the local sports teams, the high school their kids go to, the community centre, clubs like Rotary and Lions and the local police presence. We know who is “us” and who is “them” and that’s not unhealthy .

I strongly support the construction of the new community facility in Carterton. Last Tuesday I had the privilege of being shown around the Events Centre and was impressed with its design and multitude of uses. It will strengthen the heart of the Carterton community. It will be a truly intergenerational facility containing the restored library, which will be the oldest functioning library in the country, married successfully into rooms for Plunket, Scouts, meeting facilities and a concert venue.

It is regrettable the current MP signed a petition against its construction, which did not stop him from turning up to have his photograph taken when the first sod was turned. Pity when he was offered the opportunity to say a few words he declared, ‘‘It was wonderful to be back in ‘‘Greytown’’. I love Greytown but it is a few miles down the road.

“Stronger communities” may well mean supporting what is there, rather than setting up the divisive and expensive government structure that Aucklanders are now stuck with.

It is inevitable that there should be ways for local bodies within the electorate to make savings through economies of scale, as they are doing, and that might mean further developing the approach to sharing facilities. Further it could mean mergers once ratepayers see the benefits that may result. The overriding standard, however, must be the survival of the distinctive character, cohesion, and spirit of each community.

The fear most strongly expressed by people in our electorate is being consumed by Wellington. In this case size does matter and there is already a growing concern that a merger with Hutt and Wellington is part of Rodney’s “Smarter Government” proposal. After all he was, until recent interesting events, the head of a party which has as its primary standard “Less Government”. Ratepayers beware.

My main concern, however, is that it must be the people of the Wairarapa who decide the outcome not some political appointees in Wellington. More important still, it must be the people who shape any proposal. I will fight hard to ensure that the Wairarapa retains its independence. The last thing we need is to be swallowed up in some Wellington “super-city”. Let the discussion begin.


  1. Thank you Michael for touching on the issue of Amalgamation in the Wairarapa, i have been waiting patiently for Local Council to open the debate about Amalgamation in the Wairarapa, but i have not witnessed any lively debate about any merits or pitfalls of an Amalgamation? There seems to be a deafening silence about this subject here in Carterton?

  2. Hi Merlene.

    It is no wonder that the National Government and the local MP are going quiet on the issue. You can find some references to it on the Carterton District Council website: once there track down to "Wairarapa Governance".

    I understand that a combined council hearing will receive written submissions with the opportunity for oral submissions.