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Opinion: Should party politics be involved in local government ?

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Ray Wallace, Mayor of Hutt Cuty

As Mayor of Hutt City, I feel compelled to speak out about the consequences of political party involvement in local government.

We live in a democracy and people have the right to join a political party. However, I am fundamentally against councillors deciding issues under instructions from a party.

We can look to what has happened recently in Wellington City Council as covered by this publication, where councillors both on and off the record claimed that they were told by a Labour-endorsed colleague that the Green Party confidence and supply agreement would be jeopardised ‘if a watered down Let's Get Wellington Moving wasn't accepted’.

What’s behind this is a misappropriation of duty.

You see, before an MP is sworn in, they take the Oath of Allegiance. This is a promise to bear allegiance to the Queen according to the law. They may also be a member of a political party, and a member for a geographic region. If you are part of a party, you must vote in line with that party’s policies unless your leader deems certain issues are conscience votes.

You are able to speak out in favour of your region, and try to persuade others of your views, but you must vote according to your party requirements.

Not so in local government. The oath taken for a seat at the Hutt City Council or Wellington City Council is that you will perform your duties faithfully and impartially, to the best of your own skills and judgement in the best interests of the city or region.

There is no place in the local obligations to do what a leader in Thorndon tells you to do.

However, people may not be aware that under, for example, the Labour Party Constitution, any person accepting nomination as a Party candidate contesting a Local Body election must individually sign a pledge to abide by the Party Rules and Principles.

So my opponent Councillor Campbell Barry, who has been chosen to represent a political party in local government, has no way of influencing nationwide policy like an MP but is essentially the puppet of an organisation that will expect them to toe the line on countrywide party policy. Now this may be set annually but is subject to change at cabinet, in discussion with coalition parties and at the Leader’s will via a Captain’s Call.

How is it in the best interests of our residents when a political party candidate has no option other than to abide by its parties rules?

From what we have seen in other councils around the country, a number of local projects have been met with bumps in the road due to party politics. This is concerning, especially as we are seeing new party-endorsed candidates pop up in the local body elections around the regions every week.

Ratepayers are looking for individuals who are willing to work with people across the political divide to achieve the best outcomes for the residents and the city, not be influenced by a political party machine, which likely has a broader agenda then the specific needs of that region.

Being politically aligned also makes it harder to deal with politicians at other levels of government, something you have to do regularly as Mayor and if you look to my political record, something I have been able to achieve.

While I generally work well with our Government and respect the Prime Minister, it is without question that my opposition to Central Government’s decision to delay Melling Interchange on State Highway 2 has nothing to do with political party game playing. I have been speaking out because the project is crucial to the region.

The delay will slow the Wellington region’s economic growth, decrease its ability to recover from an emergency and leave a significant part of the regional economy at risk of flood.

Unfortunately things get difficult when a Mayoral challenger is backed by a political party that is the instigator behind such a delay, which is evidenced by my opponent’s silence on the matter.

It is widely known that I have always run on the independent ticket. I’m not backed by a big political party machine with big dollars and an agenda, nor a union or a big corporate. My focus is putting people first, the residents of Lower Hutt and what’s best for the region.

I believe a Mayor should be politically independent because the Mayor of a council fronts all of the political members in their city. Ultimately, the Mayor is the voice of the council.

My independence enabled me to lead the biggest rejuvenation programme in Hutt City’s history because I haven’t been distracted, controlled, influenced or prevented from getting things done by having allegiance to a political party.

I’m not interested in political games and smear campaigns. I just want to continue to walk the talk and get things done that will benefit our residents and the city.

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