Mayor accused of contradicting council in Wellington

"Our submission was silent on coal mining and oil wells, so when asked a question about both, I...
"Our submission was silent on coal mining and oil wells, so when asked a question about both, I replied with an opinion which is consistent with council’s position" — Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich. Photo: Gregor Richardson/file
Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich has been accused of contradicting the city council’s stance about mining and climate change while representing the organisation for a parliamentary committee.

Cr Christine Garey raised the issue at a Dunedin City Council (DCC) workshop yesterday, saying the mayor had made comments contrary to the council’s submission about the government’s Fast-track Approvals Bill.

Video footage of the mayor’s presentation to the environment select committee on May 27 shows he looked to stick to the council’s script but when asked questions he seemed to offer mostly personal viewpoints about the importance of balance while achieving environmental goals.

Yesterday’s workshop was about a proposed government strategy for minerals, including coal, and Cr Garey indicated she was unsure the mayor would be the best person to represent the council on this.

Mr Radich was at another engagement yesterday and said afterwards he was comfortable with what he told the select committee.

"The submission I presented to the select committee on behalf of the DCC was very clear in highlighting concerns about a loss of local decision-making, environmental sustainability, and the impact of fast-track projects on carbon emissions and climate change, as well as other issues," Mr Radich said.

"Our submission was silent on coal mining and oil wells, so when asked a question about both, I replied with an opinion which is consistent with council’s position.

"We need a balanced approach, erring on the side of the environment and working to achieve required outcomes, which is exactly what I told the select committee.

"Council’s desired outcomes from any project were also very clear in my submission."

Cr Bill Acklin said Cr Garey criticised the mayor for answering a question but did not elaborate at the workshop on what he said.

"I asked a couple of times what she was complaining about, and she couldn’t give an answer," Cr Acklin said.

"This is yet another example of certain councillors taking pot shots at the mayor when he was busy conducting other council business — totally inappropriate and unacceptable."

The mayor’s communication is a sensitive issue for the council, as he was found last year to have breached its code of conduct when he minimised an incident of racial abuse.

Part of the issue then was Mr Radich undermined a clear stance taken by the council.

At the select committee, Mr Radich was asked by Green MP Celia Wade-Brown whether the council’s position about climate change would rule out certain classes of project altogether, such as new coal mines or oil wells.

"Well, not necessarily," Mr Radich said, and he added he thought a balanced approach was needed.

Green MP Scott Willis, from Dunedin, referred Mr Radich to the council’s written comments.

This included a recommendation applications should be declined for referral to the fast-track process if a project was likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions or was inconsistent with the Zero Carbon Act, meeting carbon budgets and 2030 or 2050 targets, or the project was likely to increase climate change risks.

Mr Willis asked: "Is that your recommendation or are you seeking some other thing when you mention balance?"

"Yes. Ah, no — that’s what we’ve written," Mr Radich said.

"I think in all things there needs to be a balance . . . There’s a balance to achieve the required outcome and sometimes it takes time."

Mr Willis said afterwards the mayor’s responses were bizarre.

"The DCC had sent in an excellent written submission and it was extremely clear in stating that any projects that would increase emissions and prevent us from meeting our climate targets should be made ineligible for the fast-track legislation," he said.

"The mayor then completely contradicted this by talking about the need for coal.

"How on earth can promoting coal align with the DCC’s climate emergency declaration which committed Dunedin to becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2030?"

Cr Sophie Barker said she was disappointed personal views were expressed during the council’s submission slot.

The mayor’s role, when representing the council, was to present the council’s agreed positions, she said.

Cr David Benson-Pope said he "found the whole performance embarrassing for both council and our city".