Invercargill mayoral incumbent Sir Tim Shadbolt remains addicted to political arena

Sir Tim Shadbolt with his son Declan, 7, at Splash Palace, a place they frequent often together.
Robyn Edie/Stuff
Sir Tim Shadbolt with his son Declan, 7, at Splash Palace, a place they frequent often together.

Sir Tim Shadbolt is coming into this year's election slightly on the backfoot having to defend if he is still capable of doing the job.

His current deputy Rebecca Amundsen and former deputy Darren Ludlow, who are standing against him, are loudly saying it is time for a change of leadership.

For all but one term, Shadbolt, 72, has held the Invercargill mayoralty job since 1993.

Sir Tim Shadbolt is standing for another term as mayor for Invercargill city at October's local body elections.
Robyn Edie
Sir Tim Shadbolt is standing for another term as mayor for Invercargill city at October's local body elections.

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No one is saying Shadbolt should go because of his age but rather some of the existing councillors have questioned his ability to run council meetings.

But Shadbolt is having none of it.

Age shouldn't be a discussion point, he says.

His role model is Winston Churchill who remained in parliament into his 80s. 

"Some middle-aged people, not all, do look down on anyone over 70 as being passed it, I don't...."

It's natural for others to cast doubt on whether he should retire because they want his job, he says.

Shadbolt believes he can still continue to lead the city and adds his zest for the political game has not waned.

An office in the middle of town, a car and a job without a job description are the other perks.

Shadbolt used his casting vote to decline a recommendation from WasteNet for a recycling contract to go to a new company. The fall out from that vote has fractured his councillors into two camps. 

Shadbolt has latched on to the WasteNet debate this election as he tries to convince Invercargill to re-elect him.

He believes who voted on the WasteNet decision will be the deciding topic in the election.

"Without being cynical about it, if a group of people who are disabled come to us and present a huge petition, you've got to listen to those people."

It has been a challenging three year term for Shadbolt and the council.

Shadbolt says the defamation case with councillor Karen Arnold was "hellish" and adds transitioning with a new chief executive, and dealing with the Southland Museum and Art Gallery closure added to the difficult term.

"I think council did need to have a few changes. But how many and at what spend is always questionable," he says, in regard to the introduction of new chief executive Clare Hadley.

Shadbolt first started working with the council's former chief executive Richard King in 1993 and at the start he says the clashed.

"I thought, 'man this is going to be such a battle'. At the start, it was the showdown at the ok corral, but after that, we got on like a house on fire."

"With Clare, it has been a more low key coming together. There is a fair bit of trust needed, it takes a good few years of working to build that trust."

Along with the councillors, Shadbolt voted last year to close the museum when Hadley advised them of safety concerns.

When people mention safety you listen intently, although he admits he still ponders if it was the right decision or not.

He's a staunch supporter of indoor venues in Invercargill because of the climate.

It is why he wants the museum redevelopment sorted in the same site ASAP, and also backs the council's continued financial support of ILT Stadium Southland at the tune of $700,000.

He also wants the council to get cracking to get Rugby Park's problems sorted.

"The next council will be taking a fresh look at that issue and look at the different alternatives."

He supports investing in Rugby Park to ensure Invercargill has an outdoor stadium.

Shadbolt points to the start of direct flights from Auckland to Invercargill as something he was most proud of when casting his mind over his latest term.

He says it was satisfactory given his push 20 years ago to extend the runway at Invercargill Airport to cater for jets and a trans-Tasman service.

It was a $4m investment which caused an outcry from some, and when jets from Australia didn't arrive, those doubters felt justified.

Shadbolt later described it as his biggest failure, however, he was glowing with pride in August when Air New Zealand brought jets to Invercargill for the direct flights to Auckland.

The political life

Sir Tim Shadbolt cast his mind back to his days as a primary school kid as to the start of his self described addiction to politics.

It begun by running for the milk monitor job at Blockhouse Primary School in Auckland.

"I then went up a class and ran for bus monitor, so I was in charge of a whole busload of kids, I then stepped up to be class captain," he jokes about his political origins.

During the next 60-plus years, Shadbolt's political life has been well-documented as his comical approach to what otherwise are serious issues has captured attention.

Some of it unwanted, some of it described as promotional gold.

Politics is not just his job but largely his main interest as well.

"It is such a fascinating part of life."

Family does add balance to his life.

He loves spending time with his seven-year-old son Declan and tagging along on his adventures, whether it be at swimming lessons at Splash Palace, rugby games, or at Keas.

"If you want to get out of the political thing and just enjoy life there are opportunities to do that with a young family, especially in Invercargill because you can get to these places easy."