Divide and conquer, that’s the traditional formula.
Or, slightly tweaked, “divide and ignore”.
Our communities may enjoy a friendly rivalry, but by contrast with the rest of New Zealand, there’s far more that unites than divides us.
Yet every three years, we’re set up to be ignored, artificially divided by an electorate boundary.
The communities of and neighbouring our district share critical common concerns.
How do we do tourism sustainably and thrive under its pressures?
How do we deal with continuing explosive population growth?
How do we fund infrastructure for 100,000?
All with only 24,000 ratepayers.
It’s not a list we can address using only local resources. We need active support and dedicated engagement from Wellington, yet that’s been extraordinarily hard to get.
The need for a visitor levy, or similar, has been obvious on the merits for over a decade.
But it’s taken an extraordinary amount of work to get Wellington to concede the obvious.
Our town centre plans are stalled, awaiting Wellington to let the NZ Transport Agency unlock them. We underpin NZ’s largest industry, sending an awful lot of cash to Wellington as a consequence.
We simply can’t carry that weight without government support and attention.
We can’t afford to let ourselves be divided and ignored.
Yet the best mechanism to ensure Wellington’s attention is denied us: we don’t have an electorate, and we don’t have an MP.
Instead, a bunch of us get lumped into Clutha-Southland, the rest into Waitaki.
Both those MPs have to handle the “weird, international, touristy bit” of their otherwise exclusively rural, agricultural, and archetypically Kiwi electorates.
A primary consideration in deciding electorates is to identify and keep together ‘communities of interest’.
Who could doubt that the communities of Queenstown’s council – alongside some of our neighbours – represent a single community of interest?
One wildly out of synch with the agricultural communities that have to suffer our electoral attachment?
What if we redraw the boundaries of both Clutha-Southland and Waitaki to truly reflect the communities of interest within?
One electorate based around Queenstown Lakes, perhaps stretching from Te Anau and Fiordland through to Cromwell, or maybe Alexandra.
The remainder of Clutha-Southland and Waitaki combined would become another electorate, coherently reflecting its agricultural focus and communities.
Right now, closing on December 20, the Representation Commission is taking submissions on new electorate boundaries.
The draft proposal doesn’t address our issue at all. Seemingly without any great degree of consideration, it perpetuates our peculiar bifurcation, presumably on the basis that anything we did badly in the past, we should keep doing badly into the future.
They’re asking for feedback; let’s give it to them: our community of interest needs its own electorate.
We need our own MP.
AJ Mason is an erstwhile astrophysicist, geek-in-residence and usual suspect