For many politicians, either at national or local level, there are always issues that cause some difficulty.
Generally these can fall into one category, with some variations, which is simply this: Should I do the right thing, and get caned for it; or should I do the popular thing?
Nothing better than to walk down the street and have someone slap you on the back and say 'good on ya mate, you showed those guys."
But in the white-hot cauldron of the New Plymouth debating chamber that reaction can seem remote. And so it proved at Tuesday night's policy committee meeting. There were several issues worthy of debate, namely the elected members' remuneration, the establishment of a Len Lye Trust, six trees being added to the council's schedule of notable trees and the proposal to develop an off-road cycling park at Marfell Park.
Some generated a little debate, but they were insignificant compared with the big three items. All concerned Maori issues and, by definition, just how much influence and acknowledgement should the council allow them.
The three items were:
* Flying the national Maori flag at the civic centre and inside the council chambers.
* Establishment of Maori wards in the district.
* Maori representation on standing committees.
All were part B items on the agenda, meaning the policy committee could only make recommendations to the council, but as the first airing of these topics, the stage was well and truly set for some significant debate.
First waka off the rank was the indefatigable Peter Moeahu. He can be a divisive figure, but for the last decade or two he has been a persistent and eloquent advocate for iwi. On Tuesday he made a powerful plea to councillors in his deputation. A clue to the thinking of some councillors always comes with the questions to the person making the deputation.
Well-known Cambodian food lover Councillor Sherril George was quick to give an inkling of her line of thought when she asked Mr Moeahu, whom she called Peter, before being pulled up by committee chairwoman Heather Dodunski. "Pardon me?"
Cr George corrected herself. "Sorry, Mr Moeahu." After all, standing orders are standing orders, so no first names are to be used and Mrs Dodunski, AKA the Head Monitor, is the one to ensure rules are observed.
Cr George continued: "Wouldn't it (Maori wards, or appointed representatives) be a case of double dipping?" She was referring to Maori being able to be elected by standing for the general seats, with Howie Tamati the obvious example.
A reasonable question perhaps, but one Mr Moeahu was able to deflect.
"Double dipping? We haven't dipped at all," he said before describing the question as "erroneous and misplaced".
"We have Komiti Maori," Mrs George countered, "and you make some very good representations to us. Is that not an effective voice?"
No, it wasn't actually, was the general tone of the response. "Being able to engage at committee level is the crucial point."
Hmm, question time or not, the debate had begun in earnest. Rather than engagement, it's fair to say Cr George was probably more interested in divorce on this one.
When it came to the debate proper, the first of the big three issues was the Maori flag. A 17-page report was prepared by the corporate strategy and policy team - who else? - for councillors' consideration.
It came down to two points: A) Should the flag be flown outside on the flagpole all the time? And B) Should the New Zealand and Maori flags be flown inside the chamber "on appropriate occasions"?
Former deputy mayor Lynn Bublitz is one of the more liberal thinkers on the council and he gave us one of his Great Uncle Bulgaria speeches, which was sprinkled with profundity.
"I think the time has come," he said. "The flag is accepted by Parliament and it is important we understand what the flying of their flag means, not only to Maori, but to ALL New Zealanders." There were more references to building a nation and other warm fuzzies and he was successful in getting the first part through - the flag will be flown outside the centre. One small step for Bublitz, one giant step for council kind.
Not before some had their doubts though. Cr 'Shorn' Biesiek prefers to ask questions rather than offer opinion in the early stages of a debate.
"I have a question: Just what is an appropriate occasion? Who decides?"
Generally the mayor decides that and he cited the example of the citizenship ceremonies as an appropriate occasion.
Mayor Harry, with a twinkle in his eye, did point out that there would be some difficulty in "flying any flag inside the chamber". He suggested it would be better to display the flag "as there is not a lot of wind in here," he said to much laughter. Many would disagree with that one.
So flags are OK for outside, but not for inside, at least for now, although the South Taranaki District Council, that outpost of forward-thinking liberalism, recently amended its policies to allow just that.
That left the other big two issues. And although on paper the policy committee recommended the establishment of two Maori wards it came with a telling caveat. Once councillors were advised that a ratepayer-triggered poll of just five per cent of electors could overturn it during the consultation period, they seemed far more relaxed.
Again it was Great Uncle Bulgaria who led the crusade, but tellingly, several councillors said they would support it so it could advance to the real debate at full council. As a result the third biggie of the night, council- appointed iwi representatives on standing committees, didn't stand a chance and lost.
Mr Moeahu and his band of 120 supporters quickly picked up on the likelihood of any poll result and certainly weren't counting their moa before they were hatched.
Already Grey Power has come out against the idea, with others likely to follow suit. So it may well be that a fluttering flag outside the civic centre is their lot.
But as Mr Moeahu observed, "we can wait. We're used to it".
- © Fairfax NZ News