Charging at windmills

Phil Campbell

Tinkering with the established order in politics can lead to isolation and much publicity about nothing.

Today, May 13, a lucky day for one, Rotorua council aspirant and recent journalist Matthew Martin has found himself the centre of valued publicity – a bonus for a new chum in a world of concerns over costs of infrastructure costs, vanity projects and rising debt.

Martin, who has twiddled his thumbs for a year in the community, was a competent, hard working journalist for the Daily Post and left after a spell of ill-health. On his return, he worked on more assignments than James Bond.

He chucked in his calling of more than a decade. Martin had a hand in editing a very good book for local consumption, a collection of essays on locals connected with major wars.

For his opening gambit, Matthew has called for limited terms on the local council. We’re not sure the limits of those terms, but it has drawn interesting responses especially from those who agree but by the same token are confident that such terms will never be introduced.

The challenge has much wider implications, especially at central government level where it is unlikely the notion will remain just that.

Rather then the Wall of Jericho falling around him, Matthew Martin has touched a nerve. One can sense a ‘harrumph’ behind the public façade of several councillors, comments to at least humour him rather than abject acceptance or refusal.

The Mayor Steve Chadwick thinks each term should last four years – a la the United States system. This lament has been raised over many decades; the argument is that it needs four years for new legislation takes effect, denying bragging rights to an incoming government – a look at me argument which has been met with cynicism in the electorate.

In Alabama, USA, for example, term limits are not invoked. The governor serves of limit of two terms at a time, steps down, then can stand for office following the one term hiatus.

The one not insignificant point about local body politics is that many view success at the ballot box as a kick-start to a lifestyle. Trevor Maxwell, for example, at several times deputy Mayor in Rotorua, is looking at an NZ record of 14 terms as councillor.

When he started his political career, election to councils around the country was predicated on the noble thoughts of serving the community. Under Michael Cullen the 1980’s Lange government, that changed.

Cullen recognised the loss of income by councillors who served, that they should be compensated financially for serving the community as a gesture for loss of income in their private lives, not to say loss of privacy.

Over the years, with almost unanimous reluctance (adapting the face of Macbeth while playing Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army) the councillors have been forced to accept increases which today may support the ‘lifestyle’ view.

Aspiration to public office comes at some cost to an individual or sponsor.

To confirm nomination, $200 is required. Attendant costs of up to $20,000 are expected for advertising in newspapers, on radio and sometimes television (the best medium if you can strike a good deal) and hoardings.

Matthew Martin’s push already conveys a fresh voice. For the moment, he has the moral high ground (with affirmation of influential local businessman Ray Cook).

In end, the bait he has on his political hook has attracted barracouda – an unpalatable catch – it does have that feel of a charge at ephemeral windmills.  



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