Here are two examples of how Councillors can either face up to a controversial issue, or avoid taking a public stand.
Example #1 is from a recent radio commentary by Regional Councillor Kevin Rose. He was talking about confronting NZ’s drinking problem, and there was no particular obligation on his part to tackle this hot topic. But he chose to do so, and I quote in part:
“In an attempt to cure the multimillion dollar ills caused by alcohol abuse
Geoffrey Palmer, the President of the Law Commission, indicated the commission would recommend restricting the opening hours for liquor outlets, regulating advertising and raising the drinking age. He was quoted as saying ‘he could not see why bars needed to be open to 6am on a Sunday morning’.
Amen I say to that.
The politicians messed it up back in the late nineties and it is now abundantly clear that we over liberalised the age for legal consumption of liquor and the availability of outlets. The booze genie is well and truly out of its box and it will be a tough job getting it back in.”
For that stand (here is his full commentary), Councillor Rose will win no friends among many in the booze biz, nor among those parents (and others) who just think the government should butt out when it comes to matters like dictating when their kids can drink.
Example #2 comes from the Hastings District Council. Councillors were recently discussing liquor sales regulation in the context of updating the District’s by-laws on the matter, and also with reference to a submission HDC staff proposed to make to Parliament on pending bills dealing with the drinking issues Councillor Rose was addressing.
A number of Councillors emphasized and bemoaned the specific problem of youth drinking. Awful problem, they said.
But the sticking point became whether or not the Council should go on record and include in its submission any advice to Parliament on the issue of the drinking age. As these procedures go, Councillors were to vote first on whether to give any guidance at all on the drinking age issue; then, if the majority said “Yes”, the debate would move on to the sticky matter of precisely what position to take.
Mayor Yule advised from the Chair that no one in Wellington would pay attention to the HDC anyway, signaling that Councillors might take into the account the probable futility of going out on a dangerous limb. [Gee, when the local councils rallied to oppose the firing of our elected Health Board, I seem to recall that the Bay’s National MPs took note!]
When the voice vote on “whether to advise” was taken, to my ears the result was too close to call. But the Mayor ruled that opponents of taking a position had prevailed. And then — by now I shouldn’t be surprised — no one asked for a show of hands!
Sadly, one must conclude that not a single Hastings Councillor wanted to go on record on the drinking age issue. No Councillor was willing to force the issue, the first step being to make those opposed to giving age limit advice take public responsibility for their position. Instead, the issue was swept under the carpet and avoided.
What courage! What leadership!
Which approach do you prefer … Councillor Rose’s or the Hastings Councillors’?
P.S. BTW, the HDC staff briefing memo recommended that the Council should give guidance on the drinking age it considered appropriate.