A rich year of winners and sinners

TIM SHADBOLT
Last updated 13:12 21/01/2014

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OPINION: As January and the holiday season draws to a close and we prepare for the challenges of 2014, it is important to reflect on the year that was.

The year brought the joys of success and inspiration, the humiliation of failure and defeat, and the downright disturbing, bizarre and paradoxical what-ifs.

At the top of the class in the latter category, I would have to vote for the fake sign-reader at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

Most of the world's political leaders, royalty and celebrities were united by the spirit and humility of this great man.

The speeches were emotionally moving. It seemed as though the entire world expressed a sense of loss. It was a showcase of genuine mourning and grief. And there in the background was some clown waving his arms around with meaningless gibberish that mocked everything the former South African president stood for.

A close second for disturbing international news would have to be the continual revelations of either e-coli or non-botulism scares emanating from our flagship food company, Fonterra. I know the company will argue that its brutal honesty is symbolic of its integrity, but these sensational shock-horror stories will cost our farmers and our nation billions of dollars. I occasionally watch Border Patrol and we persecute with gusto any tourist who tries to smuggle so much as a lettuce leaf or a Marmite sandwich into this country because we want to protect our clean, green image. Yet Fonterra is creating the impression that New Zealand is little more than one huge germ factory.

When it comes to defeat, I believe on an emotional level, this country suffers from mass depression when it comes to losses in sport. All right, so we don't win many international tennis matches, but we don't expect a lot of glory.

However, rugby, netball, yachting, and the Olympics are a completely different story. Public expectations are high.

In 2013 we awoke for a couple of weeks believing this would be our day of victory for the America's Cup. After all, we were eight races to one ahead. How could we lose? New Zealand is a proud seafaring nation.

You could almost hear the collective groan as the cup slipped through our fingers.

The Labour Party had invested $26 million in this prestigious event and now the National Party will probably do the same again.

Was it bad luck? Was it new technology? Was it one crew of Kiwis undermining another crew of Kiwis?

All we know for certain was that we had been defeated and the hangover was absolutely awful.

From a local government perspective, the second great defeat of 2013 was the appalling voter turnout for council elections.

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While our parents and grandparents fought and died for democracy, it seems that the vast majority of our modern-day citizens have just completely lost interest in the electoral process.

What on earth has gone wrong? Are our councils just too boring to be bothered with compared to the latest Xbox gaming console?

Even if it's because we are doing such a wonderful, fantastic job of managing regions that people don't feel the need to get involved, I don't believe this is a healthy state of affairs. We are rapidly losing our mandate. If less than half the people vote then how can we possibly claim to be true representatives of our communities?

My ambition during this term in office is to make Invercargill the most democratic city in New Zealand.

I will try my very best to make local government exciting, dramatic, transparent, inspiring, and stimulating.

And now for the sweet taste of success.

For Invercargill and Southland, top-of-the-pops without question is the saving of the smelter. It would have been a crushing blow for the region if 3000 jobs had been lost. The increase of our population by 2.7 per cent was, in my view, second equal with the triumphant progress and growth of the Southern Institute of Technology.

These two success stories are interrelated, of course, so it is impossible to separate them.

In third place I would put the completion of Stadium Southland's rebuild. I know it has cost more and taken longer to complete than originally hoped, but the small team involved in the rebuild had to overcome huge obstacles.

At the end of the day, they got the job done.

I believe 2014 will be a great year for Invercargill and Southland.

* Tim Shadbolt is the Invercargill mayor.

- The Southland Times

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