Political barn dance in Rotorua

Phil Campbell

After a soft start, Rotorua’s election campaign hardened as the issue of homelessness surfaced at a candidates’ meeting last week.

One council candidate, John Rakei-Clark, lit the wick with a view the homeless should be housed in a barn and “let’s get WINZ to pay for it”.

Rakei-Clark is one Rotorua character not afraid of attracting attention. Some years ago he drove a donkey and cart into town to make a point. In 2916, he stood as a fiery mayoral candidate, saying “drug dealers are terrorists”.

At the Mamaku War Memorial Hall two weeks ago, Rakei-Clark ended a dissertation with “that should get them going” comment.

His effective audience then – and for a clutch of other candidates – was in single figures.

The effect of his prognostications therefore is minimal.

But it was a start, a rehearsal for what is likely to become a forceful campaign with two vacancies around the council table. Other council seats are vulnerable.

The problem electors face is replacing retiring councillors Charles Sturt and Karen Hunt with new chums and how they will sit with a new order.

Both councillors leave with cranial archives of institutional knowledge – not easily replicated in such a political minefield that seems to become more complicated by the month with central government devolution.

Uniformly, candidates seem aghast at John Rakei-Clark’s comments the homeless should be stuck in barn. The implications are to say the least odious. We can envisage dawn raids of the past, of roundups of Jews in Nazis Europe, the shrinkage of traditional hunting and living spaces in as early settlers drove wagons across North America.

He is now suggesting in amended his comments they should be placed in a sort of commune.

He offers no other solution, but what he has arranged for himself – for one suspects his hardline view will find some currency in Rotorua – is publicity. Priceless.

Later in the week a front-page story and picture of a “take that” half-smile smugness, a sort of triumph looking out at votes tumbling in appeared.

Politically, John Rakei-Clark is pulling claws from tigers.

A week ago, in a fine gesture, several of Rotorua’s leading lights slept in a car parking building to assimilate homeless conditions. They included mayor Steve Chadwick, deputy mayor Dave Donaldson and MP Tamati Coffey, along with entertainment luminaries.

By Rotorua weather conditions this winter, the night was balmy, yet chilly, because those who slept (if they did!) were lodged between two vast, forbidding concrete floors. They may have been more comfortable on the open deck top floor.

This was only one night, a Friday, and a big deal was made of it because of the heft of the various agencies involved.

While, like John Rakei-Clark, this could be seen as a publicity stunt, a wheeze to underline a major problem in the town, the practical nature of it could only earn a modicum of admiration. Nor is it the first time this has happened.

Between 60 and 80 unfortunates (in the US they are termed hobos) are said to sleep rough in Rotorua.

For a small town (by world standards) the number is high, for a tourist town rich in tourism, mountain biking, tree walks, rolling balls down hillsides it is embarrassing.

This week’s full-blown chamber gathering for councillors was a shakedown for future debates.

The questions were loaded, some said after the meeting, but of course they were, in the chamber’s interests.

For meetings are planned by Grey Power looking after its interests, just as Mamaku interests were the focal point of the meeting two weeks ago at the war memorial hall, in which it was estimated nine locals comprised the audience of 17 (the remainder two under-agers and support crew for various candidates).

Patrons at McDonalds should not expect KFC.

At Mamaku and this week in Rotorua at a Whakarewarewa hotel, candidates were given questions in advance, so they were prepared for their responses (and calculated departures)


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