Elsewhere in BayBuzz (“No Time for Local Democracy”), Tom Belford questions whether local government can really handle democracy. He raises a few good points, but here are some additional factors to consider.First is the very human trait of concentrating on the known and mundane, at the expense of the unknown and controversial. Especially marked in NZ, where consensus is god and argument is sinful.A good example of this was in the early ’80’s when the provincial executive of Fed Farmers (all 32 of us) were discussing which chairs to have in the board room of the new farming House in Hastings. The news was brought in that the Whakatu meatworks had closed. “Oh dear,” we said, and continued to discuss the furniture.
A second factor is the Staff, whose job it is to manage the politicians, tend to force feed the elected representatives minutiae ad infinitum. This keeps the politicians out of harms way while the staff manage the business. Staff hate controversy because the NZ government establishment is so small. And when applying for the next job up the ladder, there is nothing more damaging than … “Weren’t you in XXXXXville when the mayor had that unfortunate episode with the monkey, the nun and the XXXXX?” Bang goes the promotion!
However, Tom’s points are valid. I recently spent three weeks away from my important position at HB Regional Council. On my return I had nine large manila envelopes in my mailbox and probably forty-five emails, few of which touched on the long term strategic direction of Hawke’s Bay.
However, in the final analysis, we get the government that reflects our society and our community and that means we get the government we deserve.
In my twelve years as member of Federated Farmers Provincial Executive, and in my now thirteen years of local government, I have dealt with a lot of criticism. Often I have agreed with the critics. Quite often I invited the complainant to stand for office and thereby address and solve the particular problem that they raised. I don’t remember anyone ever taking up the offer.
I don’t think that is particularly a New Zealand problem. In fact it seems universally popular to bitch, to moan, to carp and, having purged the soul of one’s justifiable rage, to go sit on the beach warmed both by the summer sun and an inward glow of self-rightousness.
As we used to say in the good old days of peace, love and rock and roll, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Or words to that effect. Then we’d go to the beach .