By Colin Guyton, President Federated Farmers Rotorua/Taupo
Federated Farmers is appealing the recent Rotorua Lakes Council (RLC) decision on their final representation arrangements for the 2022 and 2025 elections to the Local Government Commission.
The appeal would have been lodged regardless as we continue to seek better representation of rural communities around the council chamber but that resolve has been strengthened by media releases informing us of the lengths RLC are prepared to go to get the outcomes that they want. It has reminded me how strongly they are prepared to fight when it suits them but in the same breath just how pathetic they can be in justifying not changing when it doesn’t.
I’m talking of course about RLC seeking legislative change to enable an increase in the number of Māori wards over and above that which is currently enabled under the Local Electoral Act but dismissing our request for a rural ward because it would require a simple increase from 10 councillors to 11.
An increase in the number of councillors has no direct cost implications for ratepayers, the only thing it affects is the how much the current councillors get paid. RLC acknowledged requests for a rural ward were well reasoned and well argued; there was even a hint that the need for one was accepted. However, introducing a rural ward would be most easily achieved by increasing the total number of councillors by one and this was not recommended because it is inconsistent with RLC’s principle of having 10 councillors.
Not only is the justification a self-serving and dismissive knock back on something that rural people have been asking for since 2010 but it also smacks of predetermined decision making. A representation review is undertaken every six years, and as you would expect from a review, pretty much everything is on the table, including how many councillors are required to ensure fair and equitable representation. RLC doesn’t get to have a ‘principle’ on the number of councillors they want and then determine who gets represented on council (and who doesn’t) from there. It’s called “back solving” and it’s not ok. Federated Farmers was very clear in our submission that we would support an increase in the number of councillors if that was required for the rural ward to be introduced. This was very much a live matter and RLC should have been open to moving from their ‘10’.
Using 2018 census figures RLC has a very high population to councillor ratio, at around 1 for every 7,500 people. The average ratio is around 1 to 4,100 so there is considerable room for movement but I guess having 80% of the population based in Rotorua city makes it easy to service this high number so there is zero political will to make changes which would help rural communities of interest directly.
We are quietly confident that the appeal will be successful, with the Commission seeing this for what it is and using its authority to get a rural ward introduced before the elections next year.