A timely u-turn

01:35, Jan 13 2012

When I heard that the Christchurch City Council was demanding $350 from families of those killed in the February 2011 earthquake, as the plot fee to be buried in a memorial cemetery, it gave me a flashback to 1998.

In 1998 the National Government was refusing to keep funding Plunket Line. Its reason for doing so was quite sound - it had never funded Plunket Line, and had never agreed to. Plunket had set the line up itself, paid for it, promoted the service and then demanded that the Government fund it in future.

However explaining is losing in politics, and the public just saw this as a case of the mean Shipley Government cutting funding to a cherished and beloved organisation - Plunket.

In the full day caucus meeting held at the beginning of 1999, Saatchi's Kevin Roberts gave a talk to the caucus (and a few of us staff were there also) and basically told the caucus they were bonkers taking on Plunket, regardless of whom was in the right. He said he figured it had pushed National down around 5% in the polls, and pointed out the cost was $500,000, which represents around 0.01% of total government spending.

One moment of hilarity came when he asked if there was a single MP in the room who really cared about $500,000 of government spending in the context of $50 billion of total spending. The caucus dissolved into hysterics when Treasurer Bill Birch slowly lifted his hand up.

This brings us back to Christchurch City Council. Even worse for them is that they had originally promised to waive the fees. They claim it was the interment fee only, not the plot fee - but really who cares.

Someone at the very beginning should have said, wait how much money are we talking about here? $350 x 22 people is around $7,000. In the context of total Council expenditure that is petty cash. How could anyone - whether they be staff or elected, think that for $7,000 you should risk offending the families of those who died in the earthquake.

Sanity eventually prevailed, and Mayor Bob Parker announced the fees will be waived, as promised. It is better late than never, but some damage has been done. This should have been elevated to the Mayor when it first emerged - not after it hits the media.

It is a timely u-turn, but as the Press editorial says, should never have been necessary. The Shipley Government also did a u-turn on Plunket Line also - but again the damage had already been done.