Paula Bennett offends Napier

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 16:10 17/07/2014
Local Government Minister Paula Bennett
Fairfax NZ
'OVER-REACTED': Local Government Minister Paula Bennett.

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Napier's deputy mayor says Local Government Minister Paula Bennett has angrily rejected local concerns over council amalgamations - an issue she says could cost National its Napier seat.

Faye White raised the concerns at a meeting of party faithful in Napier yesterday, attended by Bennett and Finance Minister Bill English, prompting what she described as a "superior" reaction from Bennett.

"I was trying to send a signal to the minister... that you shouldn't ignore the fact that amalgamation is an issue in Napier [and] that the Labour candidate Stuart Nash is doing a very strong campaign on that issue, amongst other issues."

A 2012 change to the Local Government Act means amalgamation is decided by regions as opposed to individual communities - something Labour has promised to reverse and that White thinks has even National voters in Napier considering an alternative.

"What I was trying to highlight was that it is an issue that National Party people in Napier who are anti-amalgamation are having a conflict with their vote [about] and I'm signalling it's bigger than what she realises."

Bennett responded "very angrily", and was "probably a bit putting down really, being a bit superior".

"She made the comment [that] you're letting your anger stop you from being who you want to be."

She told the meeting she hoped there would be a "level of maturity" about what they wanted from the region.

White, who said she was a National Party supporter and had worked on Chris Tremain's campaign team in the past two elections, said Bennett had "over-reacted".

She conceded some in the audience applauded Bennett's response, however.

"It was the party faithful that were there so it was hard to gauge whether they were shocked or surprised by the responded with a clap."

Napier councillor Michelle Pyke spoke after Whyte, who she said looked rocked by the response, to echo her concerns.

"It is something that we as councillors, as representatives of the city we hear it every single day."

She said National voters were considering splitting their vote, backing Nash in the seat and National with their party vote as a result.

Bennett denied her response was offensive, saying she merely pointed out the decision would be made by the community and that they should be looking at the bigger picture.

The Local Government Commission's was making "good progress" on its proposals for amalgamation but there was still work to be done and those proposals would not be presented until after the election.

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"I'm satisfied that is the right thing to do."

This would "avoid any risk of potential confusion with a general election and any local government reorganisation poll being held close together".

"It is important that the Commission takes the time it believes is necessary to make the right decisions on reorganisation."

The public would be consulted on any changes.

Nash said that as Minister for Local Government Bennett needed to ensure she had the respect of local officials and her comments to White had undermined that.

"It did smack of a big city politician coming down to provincial New Zealand and acting in an incredibly condescending way in light of the views expressed by a highly respected elected official," he said.

"She could've handled it in a much more diplomatic way than she did."

- Stuff

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