PM says 'not now' to our invite
Parklands Marina Holiday Park owner Christian Lassueur asked at the public meeting in Picton on Monday night why there had been no comments from the Tourism Minister on the proposal to shift the interisland ferry terminal away from the town.
The whole terminal-moving process seems to have been driven by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee, Mr Lassueur said. But Picton was more about transport and economics. A large part of the town depended on tourism.
"Where is the Tourism Minister's involvement in this process," he asked. "Mr (dramatic pause) what's his name."
The crowd of 250-odd residents and business people applauded. No-one needed to be reminded that the Tourism Minister is John Key. The Prime Minister.
So on Tuesday morning I fired off an email to one of Mr Key's staff in Wellington asking if the PM would care to put pen to paper and produce about 800 words giving his view of the role Marlborough plays in the national tourism market and how this might be considered as part of the ferry terminal proposal.
A response landed in my inbox on Wednesday from press secretary Lesley Hamilton thanking me for the interest in a column, then letting me down gently.
"While I can understand the anxiety and concern in Picton regarding this proposal, particularly from an economic perspective," Ms Hamilton wrote, "there is little the Prime Minister can contribute to the debate at this time."
She added that the tourism impacts on Marlborough had been assessed as part of the business case done last year. Now this is a nut of information that has not been confirmed before, but there was no more.
"Any further work done on the economic and tourism impacts would happen if a decision to proceed with Clifford Bay was taken after the present commercial viability work is concluded."
Ms Hamilton ended with a note that the PM would reconsider writing something for us once the Government had made a decision later in the year.
I don't think Mr Lassueur and the other Picton residents will be impressed with the response, but I also don't think they would expect anything different because the Government has been so secretive all along. They have flat-out refused to hand over any of the reports commissioned on the proposal, and now have people doing the numbers to see whether it will be financially viable to run a terminal at Clifford Bay. When that decision is made they'll start looking at the wider picture such as the social and environmental impacts of the plan.
The people who went to the four meetings organised by the council this week to talk about the plan are not impressed by it all, particularly the ones in Picton, and they have the most to lose. They are worried about their lives and the jobs.
The accents of many of the speakers highlighted that a large number of people in the town are immigrants, many of them relatively recent arrivals. They don't want anyone messing around with the town where they have chosen to live and work.
At least one speaker wanted to be positive, but felt he couldn't do it at that meeting, so went elsewhere. A wise move.
Everyone is frustrated by the lack of information, which builds suspicion. Conspiracy theories are floating around like butterflies.
Our MP Colin King doesn't have any information, either, although he says he is keeping Mr Brownlee briefed each day on what people are telling him. It would be help if that was two-way communication and Mr King was able to pass on some of what the minister is telling his officials to do.
Meantime, the council is have to spend ratepayer money trying to gather up information the Government probably already has, just playing catch-up.
It is a frustrating process.
The Marlborough Express