Wednesday, July 14, 2004

We'll Fight Them on the Beaches.

It appears I spoke too soon about things petering out between the Christchurch City Council and the Government over the Seabed and Foreshore Bill. The Council may not want to pick a fight but there's a group of Government MPs who're more than happy to oblige.

Today 6 Government MPs based in Canterbury (Ruth Dyson, Clayton Cosgrove, Lianne Dalziel, Tim Barnett, Mahara Okeroa, and Jim Anderton) put out a joint statement rubbishing the processes used by the Council in making its submission. Anderton was particularly strident saying it was a bit rich the Council was puporting to present a submission representing its ratepayers when it hadn't even gone to them to seek their opinion. Woeful seems to be the theme of this tit-for-tat dispute as that's how these MPs are describing the Council's processes. They were also very aggrieved that Councilor Dennis O'Rourke had leaked a draft of the Council's submission passing it off as policy (yes he is politicking madly!) Dalziel believed the Council had gone beyond its original intent. Okeroa reckons their focus is too narrow. Dyson says the matter should have at least gone to the full Council, and Cosgrove is venting his spleen at O'Rourke (in his words "Dennis the menace O'Rourke).

It's an unusual response as for the life of me I can't recall anything like this happening in recent history. Ruth Dyson seems to accept that as well. To an outsider it looks like an attack on the Council and it'd be fair to say the Council will be seeing it as such. I understand the Mayor Garry Moore was a little surprised when he learnt of it and is considering it an over-reaction on the part of the MPs. It's certainly playing into the hands of the National Party which is already labeling it, through local government spokesman Nick Smith, as a case of a paranoid Government using strong arm tactics to get its own way. Needless to say this is something the MPs emphatically deny. Apparently, in the words of Clayton Cosgrove, it's not an attack its a democratic process. So following that argument it's democratic for Government MP's to criticise a local Government body for observing its legal right to comment on proposed legislation that impacts on its operations.

You see this is what the Council has been doing. According to Mayor Garry Moore at least 30 council land areas would pass into the hands of the state should the Seabed and Foreshore Bill be passed. They're imagining the can of worms that could eventuate over the city's planned ocean outfall wastewater pipeline. How would that be affected if the Bill became law?

Other issues are the ones raised by the MPs about the Council not consulting with the community and allowing a sub-committee to handle the submission without allowing it to go to the full Council for approval. I'll deal with the consultation point first. The Government proposes new legislation all the time and in many cases (where it affects Council business) the City Council will make a submission. Do these MPs seriously expect the Council to consult with the entire community every time the Government proposes a new law? When would anyone find the time to do anything if we got into a perpetual merry-go-round of consultation? With regard to the submission not going to the full Council for approval, well that's a decision the Councilors made when they voted to give the sub-committee delegated authority to make the submission. Due process seems to have been obeyed ... hasn't it?

All in all it's a little bizarre to see a liberal council with strong Labour Party ties get lambasted by 5 Labour and 1 Progressive MP. You would have thought they could have sorted their differences through back channels without letting it spill over into what appears to be a very public spat. However that doesn't appear to have been an option, as Helen Clark was aware of the actions of her MPs before they made the release and didn't stop them from proceeding. National's Nick Smith reckons it's a deliberate strategy on the part of the Government to attack anyone who criticises the policy. For this to happen to a Council that's traditionally been Labour friendly doesn't contradict his theory. It certainly can't do the Government any favours in pushing the seabed and foreshore Bill.

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