‘Party line’ sniping by councillors

Photo: ODT files
Accusations of toeing the party line and cheap shots have emerged among Dunedin city councillors, as debate heats up about political party endorsements and team tickets.

Six of 15 elected members of the Dunedin City Council are members of national political parties and only three were formally endorsed by those parties, but that has not stopped councillors from getting fired up about the issue.

"If you can’t get on the council on your own merits, then it’s poor form to get a party endorsement to get on," Cr Jim O’Malley said.

"We often need to challenge central government and if a member of our council is a member of the party in government, or has a career path aimed at central government, then they will inevitably be compromised."

Both he and Cr Sophie Barker took aim at the Labour Party-endorsed Cr Steve Walker for remaining silent during a debate about the Government’s reform of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

"Toeing a party line" did the city a disservice, Cr Barker said.

"This was evident recently when most councillors gave speeches about central government’s forceful and difficult behaviour around water reform except, notably, the Government’s party representative on council."

Cr Walker said this was a "tremendously cheap and sad shot from two councillors I’d expect more from".

Cr Walker, the only Labour-sanctioned city council candidate, said the party had no influence over any of his decisions at the council.

He had a speech prepared for the water debate last month, but "I decided not to waste time simply repeating what had been said numerous times before".

Cr Walker pointed out he voted to support the council’s strongly worded feedback to the Government.

He paid his Labour membership subscription and helped with fundraising events for the local electorate committee.

Labour was looking for council candidates to go through a selection process with a view to announcing in the new year who had been selected, he said.

Cr David Benson-Pope was a minister in Helen Clark’s government, is a member of the Labour Party and has donated to Labour and the Greens.

"My personal political and social philosophy and the information available to councillors determine how I carry out my elected role," he said.

Mayor Aaron Hawkins and Cr Marie Laufiso were endorsed by the Green Party in the 2019 election and remain members.

"If I stood for election as an independent candidate it wouldn’t make any difference, because you can’t turn your values off when you walk into the council chamber," Mr Hawkins said.

Cr Laufiso could not be reached for comment.

Crs Mike Lord and Andrew Whiley are National Party members and have taken part in fundraisers.

Cr Lord noted they were on opposite sides of the debate on whether Dunedin’s main street should be made one-way.

Cr Whiley is also part of the new Team Dunedin ticket co-ordinated by Cr Jules Radich.

"I am an independent councillor focused solely on what is best for Dunedin," Cr Radich said.

Cr O’Malley said he was against groups such as Team Dunedin.

The Greater Dunedin group and allies had been "a particularly negative influence" in the past.

Cr Chris Staynes, who was part of the Greater Dunedin ticket, said this comment was disturbing.

"We would always vote for what we individually felt was right," he said.

Most councillors stressed their independence, including Carmen Houlahan, Doug Hall and Rachel Elder.

Cr Lee Vandervis said he had voted for most parties in general elections and he had not made donations to them.

Dunedin’s deputy mayor, Christine Garey, did not consider she had party affiliations.