'Greater' Auckland

The knife has long been pointed at the South's throat, and if we are not used to it by now then we ought to be.

One of the most telling effects has been in the gradual disenfranchising in the political numbers game, with successive realignments of electoral boundaries which reflect population imbalance, meaning that over the next 50 years or so we could find the South Island represented in Parliament by half a dozen or so electorate seats along with perhaps a handful or two from the noncombatant list.

Auckland's population growth and economic power has for so long been touted as "good for the country", especially by Aucklanders, that few have commented upon let alone argued the case for objection on the grounds of the top-heavy strain the nation has to shoulder to maintain Auckland's population concentration.

The spirit of independent regionalism has intermittently appeared in southern provincial politics, more frequently of late as the South's share of the state's resources have been spread ever more thinly, but there is as yet no serious hint of a revival of South Island political and economic independence.

The creation of Greater Auckland and its impact may well foment such a revival over time, for the dream of sovereignty needs a strong motive and Auckland may provide it.

It will require geographical unity and a continuing belief in the South's remoteness from the capital and its obsessive concern with expanding the northern megalopolis.

MMP has delivered to small political parties an opportunity to exert leverage quite out of proportion to their numerical strength, and the creation of a political movement, perhaps like the Scottish precedent, has a better chance of life today than it ever has had in the past.

Unity and co-ordination, however, have never co-existed in comfort in the South Island, for which we may blame provincialism and the historical memory of independent regional foundation.

The English founders of Christchurch sneered at the Scots digging in at Dunedin, and vice versa, and the flavour of that contempt remains to this day manifesting itself not just in sporting clashes, but also in comparisons as ridiculous as the daily maximum temperatures.

So the urgent prospects of political unity are probably remote, but that does not contradict the matter of whether the South Island can find a community of political interest, even if initially it is a matter of the regions having continually to speak up for themselves against the ever-growing weight and influence of the so-called "super city".

It is a familiar story - examples exist all over the globe.

London and Paris surged ahead of their rivals, turned themselves into big cities and metropolises, and took on such economic or governmental power that their way of life became divorced from that of the country as a whole.

One needs only to view - however contemptuously - the domination of Auckland parish pump "news" on our television broadcasts.

The disappearance of any national attempt to provide regional news was as marked an acknowledgement of Auckland's economic power as it was of its disdain for the rest of the country.

But make no mistake, the creation of a unified Greater Auckland is the most significant governance event since the centralisation of political control in Wellington.

The efforts by South Island mayors to unite to challenge the presumed new power of the Tamaki isthmus is to be commended as an essential reaction, but also one which needs a carefully worked out agenda.

It will be a futile gesture if it merely becomes a matter of the mouse squeaking whenever the elephant trumpets.

So far, there has been an almost complete absence of details about what the mayoral forum hopes to achieve, let alone its structure, funding and organisation.

From Christchurch, Bob Parker has floated the idea of combining South Island tourism agencies and their budgets to jointly promote the island's attractions, rather than individual regions - an idea well worth exploring.

But why stop with tourism? A whole range of services in which government funding is required could well be advocated in unified form, from roading to health services, tertiary education to air services.

It may well be that quite soon South Islanders recognise that the broader political lesson to best counter the troublesome effects of big-city dominance does not lie in such examples as Scottish devolution or a South Island party, but in the creation of a broader and more permanent political movement which speaks for all regional and provincial city interests throughout the island.

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