Parker lets rip at officials

LOCAL POWER: Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker.
LOCAL POWER: Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker.

Wellington's vice-like grip on decision-making in Christchurch has left the quake-hit city's local government representatives "politically impotent", Mayor Bob Parker says in his tell-all book.

The book, Ripped Apart: A City in Chaos, hit the book shelves yesterday and reveals for the first time the extent of Parker's frustration with Wellington's interference in Christchurch's affairs.

"From the moment the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act was implemented the Christchurch City Council was, in essence, relegated to a subservient role. It was hard to see strangers from the Wellington bureaucracy take over the roles that we were elected to do," Parker admits.

Further on in the book he says he is in no doubt that much of the "so-called dysfunction" in his council is a result of the overwhelming sense of powerlessness that elected members feel: "In that sense we were like every other citizen in Christchurch: powerless in the face of a massive natural disaster; powerless in the face of large bureaucracies running insurance and repairs; and unable to feel that we were being heard."

Parker has until recently largely maintained a diplomatic silence on the Government's sidelining of the council but he is beginning to speak more openly of the need to wrestle power back into local hands. He has publicly said he wants to take control of the city centre back from Government "sooner rather than later".

Behind the scenes Parker has been clashing with Wellington decision-makers almost since day one, his book shows.

He claims Wellington bureaucrats were unhappy at his dominance of the press conferences during the state of emergency that was put in place in Christchurch immediately after the February 22 quake and wanted to sideline him.

"Conflicts developed between Wellington bureaucrats and me over who would make which announcements. The whole situation reached a crisis when they tried to sideline me and hand me trivia to deliver to the media," Parker reveals.

"The bureaucrats obviously wanted to promote their man. This was how it worked in central government. They lacked sensitivity to the situation we faced in Christchurch. It was our community which had been brought to its knees. People did not want to hear Wellington bureaucrats; they needed a familiar face and voice with which they could identify." Parker says the final straw came when, five minutes before a press conference Civil Defence national controller John Hamilton criticised him to one of his staff. That exchange led to Parker threatening to run parallel press conferences.

It was only then that Wellington backed down.

"What they failed to understand was that the people of Christchurch had elected me to be their representative," Parker says. "Wellington bureaucrats would eventually return to the capital. We would not. We would stay here and endure together, whatever lay ahead. They could not expect to win people's confidence in one or two press conferences. We Cantabrians were all in this together for the long haul; they were only visiting."

Sunday Star Times