By Rhea Dasent, Senior Policy Advisor, Federated Farmers
Farmers and other rural people value local democracy, so Federated Farmers has commented on the early stages of the Hastings District Council Representation Review.
Farmers collectively contribute a huge portion of rates towards council revenues, and are also subject to most of the council regulation for use of land and other resources that occur in rural areas (e.g. biodiversity). They deserve good representation.
Federated Farmers supports a ward system as the basis of election for Hastings District Council. We do not support a change to an entirely “at large” voting system.
We need rural councillors to provide a rural voice for policy setting, regulatory decisions, fiscal matters and performance accountability.
In terms of rural representation, the increase in councillor numbers from 9 in 2014 to 14 in 2019 had some good aspects, and some not so good. Total urban Hastings and Havelock North councillors went from four councillors out of a total of nine, to eight councillors out of a total of 12, massively increasing the influence of urban towns from 44% then to 66% now.
However, we did agree with the separation of the Mohaka and Kahuranaki wards.
These two rural wards provide representation for a massive geographical area with a diverse and dispersed population. Two councillors are definitely needed.
Federated Farmers Hawke’s Bay considers that more democracy is better than less, so we do not oppose the establishment of Maori wards on the condition that there is no decrease in rural representation.
We want to keep the rural community board, however we do not want an RCB to become a proxy for rural ward councillors.
In other words, we do not support the removal of rural electoral wards, with rural community boards being offered as an alternative form of rural representation. Both are important and both are needed, to ensure that country people are representing country people in the Hastings District.
Citizens often feel more comfortable accessing their board member than they do a councillor.
Election of board members is important, to ensure there is accountability and an opportunity for voters to change their board member if they are dissatisfied.