Political bias is claimed over JPs

00:14, Nov 27 2013

Nelson-based Labour list MP Maryan Street is accusing Nelson MP Nick Smith of bias after he turned down two people she nominated as Justices of the Peace.

"I think this is laden with politics," she said today.

Dr Smith today rejected any political bias, saying he was surprised Ms Street had made it a political issue.

Ms Street nominated the head of Nelson's Public Health Organisation, Andrew Swanson-Dobbs, and Service and Food Workers Union assistant national secretary Neville Donaldson.

But a list MP's nomination must be endorsed by the electorate MP and Dr Smith knocked back both men.

He wrote to Ms Street saying he had consulted the Nelson Bays JP Association and in each case had been advised that there were already more than enough JPs in the areas where they live.


In the case of Mr Swanson-Dobbs, there were eight JPs within 500m of his Richmond home.

It was also not desirable as experience was that chief executives and managers were far less accessible to the public.

He had been told that there were several JPs in the part of Stoke where Mr Donaldson lives and the association had indicated it would therefore be unlikely to support his nomination.

He didn't doubt the ability or integrity of either man and would be happy to reconsider their nominations should their circumstances change, Dr Smith wrote.

But Ms Street said where the two men lived wasn't key to the nominations.

They would be good to have as JPs because of the range of people they came into contact with across the community through their work.

"I'm particularly keen to make sure that JPs are working with the communities who are less likely to have JPs - lower socio-economic communities," she said.

"Often Nick and I can agree on things that are good for the community so I don't understand why he would baulk at this - it isn't about where they live, it's about the communities they serve in their everyday occupations."

She had checked and learned that the average across New Zealand was 33 JPs per electorate, with 29 in Nelson.

"Given that we are sitting underneath the national average of JPs, this just seems to be unnecessarily political on Nick's part."

People in poorer communities had just as much need for statutory declarations and other JP support as anybody, and often weren't aware of what was available, Ms Street said.

She was also shocked to discover that she couldn't put through a JP nomination without Dr Smith's endorsement.

"I'm not a second-class MP, I work as hard as any constituency MP does . . . when someone is living and working in the area they should be given credit for knowing who to nominate," Ms Street said.

Nelson Bays JP Association president Cathy Knight said she

wasn't aware of either nomination. Dr Smith hadn't consulted her and was not obliged to.

She understood "geographical need" was the prime focus in the JPs appointment, and believed the rejection of the two men would have been "nothing to do with the individual".

Ms Knight said she wasn't aware of any JP shortage in Nelson. Asked about eight JPs living within 500m of each other, she said: "You can't stop people shifting. There wouldn't have been eight to start with."

Mr Donaldson, who was appointed to the Territorial Forces Employer Support Council last year by the Minister of Defence, said he put himself forward as a JP when it was suggested to him.

The union office was next to the Labour Party office, where people often came seeking the services a JP could provide, and he was constantly visiting big workplaces. Dr Smith's reasons for rejecting him were "questionable".

Dr Smith said today he rejected "any notion of political bias". "I am surprised that Maryan Street has decided to take JP appointments into the political area. Like judical appointments, it is not the way it is done."