Farmers say council shift will silence community

ALANA DIXON
Last updated 05:00 16/10/2012

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A hearing into a proposal to shake up the Southland District Council became heated yesterday, after Federated Farmers accused the council of disenfranchising the rural community.

The council has been forced to review its representation system because it does not comply with the Local Electoral Act, which requires each elected member to represent the same number of people, plus or minus 10 per cent.

Its proposal would decrease the number of wards from 12 to five, but retain 12 councillors, and cut the number of community boards from 12 to seven, and community development area subcommittees from 16 to 20.

However, at a hearing on the proposal yesterday, Southland Federated Farmers local government representative Doug Fraser told councillors they were failing to provide a fair and effective representation system, and had disenfranchised rural Southlanders.

"One councillor for 400 people [on Stewart Island] is not really fair, I'd have to say," he said.

Federated Farmers wanted to reduce the number of councillors to six, including the mayor.

But Cr Lyall Bailey said the council went through extensive consultation with ratepayers, including public meetings throughout the district, but at the Winton meeting, no-one representing Federated Farmers was present.

"Where is the evidence that backs your proposal here, that you've got the backing of farmers in general for what you're putting forward? If there is support for it, how come in all of our submissions here there isn't one submission in support of your proposal," he asked.

Cr Wally Jack said he feared the role of a councillor acting as a voice between the community and council could be lost under the Federated Farmers' proposal.

However, Mr Fraser said under his proposal each councillor would represent only about 6000 ratepayers - not something he considered a big ask

"Representation can come up through the community board, and if you've got the best councillor there, they can come up with what's best for the community," Mr Fraser said.

David Rose, also from Southland Federated Farmers, said developments in technology also made it easier for the community to contact local government representatives.

"[The Federated Farmers proposal] is about modernising the system," he said.

But mayor Frana Cardno asked where the word "democracy" came into Federated Farmers' proposal, while councillor Diane Ridley asked whether Mr Fraser believed five councillors could handle the workload of the existing 12.

"Would it be fair to say you don't really understand local government? Because, quite frankly, that's what it sounds like," she said.

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Other submitters to the review recommended disbanding the Manapouri community development area and incorporating a Manapouri seat on the Te Anau community board.

District councillors will resume discussions into the representation review today.

- The Southland Times

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