OPINION: Labour politician Winnie Laban's announcement that she will force a by- election in her Mana seat after she accepted a new job has focused attention again on Wigram MP Jim Anderton's choice not to do likewise.
Laban presumably believed that she could not do full justice to both her new post at Victoria University and to her duties as an MP. Her decision to quit Parliament will put pressure on Anderton to reverse his initial decision to remain in Parliament until next year's general election if he were to wrest the Christchurch mayoralty from Bob Parker.
When he announced this position at his campaign launch Anderton argued that it was not worth spending about half a million dollars of taxpayers' money on a by- election for what might only be a few months of Parliamentary representation. Yet even if a by- election was deferred until early next year it is now almost certain that the period before the general election would be longer than just a few months.
With New Zealand hosting next year's Pacific Islands Forum in September, followed by the Rugby World Cup, it is highly unlikely that the 2011 general election would be held earlier than November. This would leave Anderton occupying two positions, if he prevailed in Christchurch, for almost one-third of the current political term.
The issue is not one of double-dipping in the usual financial sense, as Anderton would donate his mayoral salary to voluntary groups. Rather it is a question of time, as both the mayoralty of New Zealand's second largest city and the job of an MP are expected to be fulltime jobs.
It is true that Anderton's energy and work ethic are high and his well-organised electorate office could do the bulk of his constituency work. But his Wigram voters would surely expect their MP to be representing their interests in Parliament, playing the role of a vastly experienced politician in opposing the current Government and attending to the other duties of an MP, such as select committee work.
The more time he spent on his central government commitments, the less attention he could devote to Christchurch issues. And if Anderton's stinging criticism of the present council is well- founded and his analysis of the city's problems is correct then the mayoralty must certainly be a fulltime position.
There are precedents for an MP also being a metropolitan city mayor. Most recently Christine Fletcher served out her term as an MP after having gained the top job in Auckland City. But, in retrospect, the interests of her ratepayers and parliamentary constituents would have been better served had she forced a by-election.
As for the cost of a Wigram by-election, many Christchurch residents would put up with the expense if it meant their mayor had their undivided attention. And Labour might welcome a by-election shortly after the unpopular October rise in GST.
Anderton is at present the frontrunner in the mayoral race and incumbent council members, including Parker, could now be tarnished by Cr Gail Sheriff's use of ratepayer funding for her sandcastle trip to California. But the issue of double-dipping in terms of time could prove Anderton's Achilles heel. He would be well advised to change his present position and announce that if he won the mayoralty he would immediately step down as Wigram MP.
- © Fairfax NZ News