Saturday, July 10, 2004

Who Bloody Cares?

So there's a by-election in the Maori seat of Te Tai Hauauru today. Is this a significant moment in NZ's political history? No, not really. The result's a foregone conclusion with former Labour rebel Tariana Turia assured to sweep to victory under the banner of the newly formed Maori Party. There's a bare half dozen candidates in the field and none are serious contenders as none of the major political parties are fielding a candidate.

This sorry excuse for a democratic process is part of the fall-out NZ is still suffering from the foreshore and seabed debate. I won't go into detail here as others can (and have) summed up the situation far more succinctly than I. Basically Turia had a fundamental disagreement with her Labour Party over its proposed legislation covering access and ownership of the country's seabed and foreshore. On a point of principle she walked out and forced this by-election. As she was always expected to win comfortably (her actions received rapturous support from her electorate and Tainui) the major parties didn't bother to contest the seat. Why waste the effort and money seems to have been the philosophy ... no point in battling a foregone conclusion.

The whole thing's been a damp squib with the foreshore and seabed issue barely mentioned in the weeks leading up to today's poll. Which is ironic considering it's what sparked the whole thing. The only issue that's been debated is the number of polling booths available. I guess the media felt they had to do something about the by-election, but even this has been a travesty of sorts.

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week TVNZ quoted the Maori party and its complaints about there not being enough polling booths available. Last election there were around 400, this time just 100. "Our people won't be able to get to exercise their democratic right" was the cry from Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia. The funny thing was the exact same complaint had been made two weeks previously by independent candidate Peter Wakeman but at the time (other than a brief bit on Newstalk ZB) nobody seemed to give a damn. Three days out from polling day though it was a different story. The major news rooms were falling over themselves covering the story but attributing it to a "new" concern made by the Maori Party. Newstalk ZB apparently forgot it had already run the story and did it all over again (I know radio is immediate, but I didn't know it also had short term memory impairment). One can only assume poor old Peter Wakeman must be feeling a little peeved. The one semi-decent idea he came up with ended up being hijacked and credited to someone else.

Is it just me, or do others find it a little trite that the only issue in this whole by-election has been an argument over access to polling booths?

Actually I'll add in a little more about Peter Wakeman as he's one of those eccentric types that constantly stands for election without any hope of ever being elected. His affiliations appear to be with the Labour Party but he's probably not stable enough for them. I suspect even the Greens would run a mile from him as he's probably even too off the wall for that bunch of yoghurt knitters. I guess the nastier types would call him a political loon but I think that's a little unfair. His ideas are often vague, his arguments disjointed, and policies non-existent but at least he has the conviction in his beliefs (and I haven't figured them out yet) to have a go. Peter's well known in Christchurch circles as a regular political candidate (he got 904 votes last time he ran for mayor in 1998 finishing about 36,400 behind the winner Garry Moore). He's also been a bugbear in the past to Air New Zealand accusing them of all sorts of shenanigans. This latter predilection may have something to do with his past career as an airline pilot. Peter seems to have had all sorts of fun with this by-election and much of it at the expense of TVNZ. From what I've heard he's taken several Broadcasting Standard Authority complaints against them. One involved Te Karere running the Maori Party's phone details in its items, and I think another was against One News for not giving the independent candidates the same sort of air time as what they were allowing Tariana Turia. And you know the funny thing is I think he actually may have got to them as he made it onto One News at least twice this week!

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