Those who claim the race for the Dunedin mayoralty lacks a
big issue should look no further than the dole queue.
Or, to quote former United States President Bill Clinton:
''It's the economy, stupid.''
The state of the city's economy is emerging as a major fault
line as the nine candidates vying for Dunedin's top job
prepare to face the voters.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is facing challenges from eight
contenders, most of whom have identified the economy as a key
priority to be addressed in the next term.
And well they might, as the city, its council already
hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, stares down the
barrel of job losses and rising unemployment.
Throughout Otago, unemployment is up from 4.6% to 6.3% in the
year to June, giving the province the dubious honour of the
highest unemployment rate in the South Island.
And Dunedin, a city already reeling from job losses at the
Hillside workshops, faces the loss of 73 more when New
Zealand Post's Dunedin mail sorting centre closes next year,
and fears of another 85 if Invermay's scientists are asked to
While the Hillside job losses have been put down by some to
the harsh realities of change faced by older industries, the
same cannot be said of Invermay.
It is a big part of the city's high-tech and research-driven
economy of the future, as envisaged by the city's new
economic development strategy.
The impact of so many leading-edge jobs would ripple through
the rest of the city, even more than Hillside's closure did
for businesses depending on it, and raises some important
Just how much can, or should, Dunedin's next mayor do to
encourage economic development and job creation in the
city?Are the candidates promising to do enough, and can they
deliver on their promises?
Mr Cull hopes his record will stand up to scrutiny, pointing
to the development of the city's economic development
strategy, burgeoning links with China and the potential for
growth within the renewable energy sector.
His rivals accuse Mr Cull of sitting on his hands, but are
split on exactly what it is they would do differently.
Cr Lee Vandervis wants the council to do more to
''facilitate'' job creation by the private sector, but also
wants a unitary council - presumably meaning more job losses
- by merging the DCC and Otago Regional Council.
Former Act New Zealand MP Hilary Calvert thinks the council
should do more to find out from businesses what they need to
take on extra staff, as well as a permanent lobbyist in
Andrew Whiley has called for more red carpet, not red tape,
while welcoming all comers to Dunedin.
Green Party candidate Aaron Hawkins wants more focus on
renewables and a Dunedin shop to promote the city in Brazil,
while Kevin Dwyer wants Dunedin airport's runway extended.
Former United Future candidate Pete George wants more
engagement with the Otago Chamber of Commerce and more
campaigning by the council, while Olivier Lequeux has
suggested more council support to lure businesses to the
The ninth candidate, Steve McGregor, wants to develop the
city's tourism potential to tap greater financial returns.
The true test will be whether any of Mr Cull's rivals, if
elected as mayor or a councillor, can attract enough support
from their colleagues around the council table to implement
They can also expected to have some surprises to grapple
with, including the yet-to-be-revealed cost of repairs to the
damaged St Clair sea wall and what influence - if any - they
can have on the debate over oil and gas exploration off the
But perhaps the first challenge to be faced after the
election, either by Mr Cull or whoever unseats him as mayor,
will be the make-up of the council itself.
An exodus of experienced councillors is guaranteed next
month, as four - Crs Bill Acklin, Syd Brown, Neil Collins and
Colin Weatherall - quit local politics and a fifth, Cr Fliss
Butcher, seeks the Waitaki mayoralty. That means an influx of
fresh blood after the election, raising questions about the
composition of the next council and who will hold the balance
For the past three years, Mr Cull's Greater Dunedin grouping
- also comprising deputy mayor Chris Staynes and Crs Jinty
MacTavish, Richard Thomson and Kate Wilson - have exerted a
strong, but not overwhelming, influence on decision-making.
It remains to be seen whether voters' preferences will
strengthen Greater Dunedin's hand this time around - and
through them Mr Cull's - or whether incoming councillors will
resist the group's efforts and opt for another path.
Whatever the outcome, the council will still face tough
decisions from the outset, beginning with what to spend and
cut to stay within the self-imposed 3% rates increase limit
set for next year's budget round.
And councillors will have to hold the course for the rest of
the three-year term, faced with the demands of continued
austerity until the council's finances began to recover from
Core council debt - excluding that of its companies and the
stadium - is now expected to peak at $272 million in 2015-16,
before beginning a slow decline from then on.
The council aims to get the figure down to $200 million by
2021-22, but that will depend on the discipline of future
councils - beginning with those elected on October 12.
The Forsyth Barr Stadium may not be the ideological fault
line through the city that it was at the last election, but
there is plenty at stake for voters to care about.