Speaker by Various Artists


You ain't from round here

by Greg Jackson

What  if your local body representatives are not really from your 'hood?  They may not be. I suggest that you take a hard look now at your  local-body election candidates and where they live. I did, and I'm appalled at what I found.

On www.vote.co.nz type in your address and you'll  find out who is standing for what and, for the first time, whether they live in the ward in which they are a candidate.

Of the beauties seeking my vote in the Christchurch Ciy Council's Spreydon-Heathcote ward, I was stunned to find these tallies. For the honour of being my Councillor, four out of eight candidates prodded with the compliance stick had to confess that, shucks, I don't live in the ward. Half of them. Two seats are available,

For the important-to-locals Community Board, there are nine contenders for the five voter-appointed positions.  Seven candidates do not live here,  leaving just two locals.

Meaning that, at best, two representatives  will live  in the ward.

Potentially no Spreydon-Heathcote Councillors or Community Board members will live in the ward. The majority of candidates wanting to represent me at local body level don't live in my area. Stunning.

In normal times, carpetbagging on this scale could just be shrugged off as job creation for the bossy classes, but in (hopefully) post-earthquake Christchurch, we do have a few pressing issues to address.

The Christchurch City Council was so lacking that the Government had no choice but to beget new systems for dealing with the problems of disaster and its aftermath.

CERA is in part the bastard child of the inept management of the city after September 2010's 7.1 earthquake. Active democracy got kicked to one side by central Government on one hand, on the other by  the city council's corporate-style managerialism.

After years of bricks in handbags being swung, ECAN had its elected heads severed and commissioners were put in place to impose some dubious order that, while effective on some levels, has also severely constrained democracy on others. Not the least of which is that  residents have not been able to vote for their Regional Council for years.

During the worst of the Canterbury earthquake cycle, Christchurch's infrastructure, especially below ground, came perilously close to system failure.  Basic functions like water reticulation and wastewater disposal hovered on the edge of collapse.

Close on 80 per cent of the central city building stock has been demolished.

So in rebuild city our new statistics are the sort that give old Stalinists an erection. Millions of tonnes of cement pours. Vast kilometerages of new pipe in the ground. Huge, complex infrastructure problems to be fixed. A city fit for double-cab utes, mega-cranes and thundering trucks on a scale not seen since the Ministry of Works built its gigantic hydro dams and Rob Muldoon unleashed Think Big.

The central city gets the focus  because our local newspaper journalists work there and the ruling classes love centres of power, even semi-vacant ones. “Nice” areas like my St Martins, which was right by the epicentre of the devastating February 22 earthquake, shudder through a stately twinset and pearls comeback from disaster. Not showy or noisy, (bad for property values, dear) but with huge needs despite the lack of headlines. Local churches put together food parcels for old gels who never thought they would be in need of help in their lives.

Throughout the city community groups and not-for-profits staff are buggered from overwork and burn-out. The poor struggle to meet horrific rents, while the middle classes in the firing line of the quakes are giving shrinks new benchmarks for sedation thresholds before they chill. People, me included, get inexplicable viral infections that go on for months as the adrenalin/cortisol combo aftermath hammers already-compromised immune systems while a rainstorm  makes  Elizabethan open sewers of our rivers.

The very real feeling of disempowerment that comes from not being able to literally trust the ground you stand on, never mind government and insurers, means people have a huge hunger to feel they have some say, some small control over their lives.

Our city has never been in greater need of people who know what is happening here.

Nor has the need for informed, incisive and responsive local knowledge at local government level ever been higher. But when I drill down into the candidates's brief biographies I find that they simply ain't from round here. (And they don't say where they do live.)

That's shabby and shameful.

I nearly put up my hand for community board this time, prodded along by one former Mayor until a family crisis got in the way. As a former adviser  to another Christchurch Mayor,  local body reporter and political/economic journalist,  small- business owner and parent,  I have useful expertise to throw in the mix. What held me back? I've only lived in St Martins for a few years, and frankly Christchurch has had its fair share of “media personalities” in local body politics, with very mixed results.

I ain't from round here, being originally a creature of the hardscrabble Eastern suburbs (which to northerners is equivalent to Auckland's Westies). My partner says it has given me an Archie Bunker affinity that makes me highly attuned to the likes and dislikes of lower Middle New Zealand. After a decade rejoicing in the nickname of “the enforcer” in local body affairs, it turns out I was the one with too many dainty scruples. Going by the candidates' details, it looks like a local address is so last century.

Maybe all the carpet-baggers will produce tragic back stories of how quakes and disaster drove them out from the local burrows they and their forebears had infested for years. I don't care, right now they ain't from round here. Maybe they will promise to move into the ward if elected (a flying pig just shot past my window).

As I've said, the need for local knowledge  has never been higher. At Community Board level the vital but banal calls on things like berms, footbridges, and parks are important little parts of everyday reality.

At Council level, where a perfect storm of catastrophe and incompetence has left a huge deficit in capacity and focus,  local advocates are vital.

Instead, more than a casual look shows the Council will be skewed  by carpetbaggers and party hacks parachuted in to impersonate local voices.

At Community Board level we will have a horde of bossy boots who, having ordained what happens round here, then go home to somewhere else.

Step back from the party political divide and just think about that for sheer arrogance.

This is not the case of getting the government we deserve. This is getting government nobody deserves. Especially here in Christchurch where trust in  the “authorities” is already at a very low ebb.

Wherever you are, take the time before you  vote to find out if your new voices will be able to represent your area and your local interests.


* Greg Jackson is chair of Tenants' Protection Association and was a spin doctor, loves gardening leave and is always open to exciting offers. 

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