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Local ElectionsSeptember 24, 2019

Race briefing: Christchurch, where misconduct allegations are derailing the election race


In our latest local elections 2019 race briefing (read the rest here), Hayden Donnell and Josie Adams delve deep into Christchurch, home to the Crusaders, Hagley Park, and iconic election veteran Tubby Hansen.

The Spinoff local election coverage is entirely funded by The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism, click here.


Christchurch, the Auckland of the South Island.

What are the issues?

In recent days, one issue has taken precedence: the misconduct allegations directed at councillor Deon Swiggs. The Central Ward representative has been accused of sending sexually explicit and inappropriate messages to three young people, including one who is only 13 years old. Those allegations were first brought to the council in May, and incumbent mayor Lianne Dalziel has been criticised over the speed of her response. It’s understood Dalziel barred Swiggs from attending events where children might be present after meeting with the complainants on June 10, but she waited until this week to order an independent investigation. Dalziel says she wasn’t aware of the seriousness of the allegations until recently. However mayoral candidate John Minto has told Morning Report the handling of the complaints was “completely unacceptable” and a “spectacular failure of leadership”. He says an investigation should have been ordered immediately. Meanwhile, Swiggs remains on the ballot. The deadline for withdrawing from the race has passed.

As surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so rates rises will be a point of contention in local elections. This time round, mayoral candidate Darryll Park has pulled a John Tamihere and promised to freeze rates. As with Tamihere’s proposal, it’s alluring for the city’s property-owning set, but fuzzily costed and potentially unworkable. A lot of the savings are predicated on a “blank page exercise” aimed at cutting as-yet-unidentified waste – though he’s certain he’ll cut community barbecues, which cost the council a vitally important few thousand bucks a year. Nevertheless, Dalziel’s council is forecasting a 52% rates rise over 10 years, and lots of people hate that kind of thing. They might vote for change, even if there are questions over whether it’s really feasible.

Water is a major issue. Christchurch’s water has been chlorinated by order of the government since 5000 people were poisoned by contaminated water in Havelock North in 2016. Council has repeatedly missed its deadlines to remove the chlorination, which has upset some residents, especially given the city’s history of supplying pristine water, unadorned by chemicals or any foul contaminants. Chlorine is probably less of a concern than nitrate though. Dalziel and Minto believe a 44,000 hectare farm north of the Waimakariri River could send that chemical spewing into the city’s water supply. That would cause diseases rather than prevent them. 

The potential for a Crusaders name change has also come up in debates. In the aftermath of the 15 March terror attacks, should the Super Rugby team rejig its moniker to one that doesn’t hark back to the military slaughter of Muslims? In something I’m sure doesn’t reflect horribly on us as a nation, it’s still a live argument! Lianne Dalziel says she’s “personally” in favour of a change. So is Minto. Park is a Crusaders board member and says he can’t comment.

On a related note, Christchurch’s stadium is being rebuilt. The project is popular, but also extremely expensive. Minto says council should take the $253 million it has committed to the construction and build social housing instead. As a policy focused on helping poor people, it’s unlikely to fly with the average local election voter. Both the other leading mayoral candidates are pro-stadium, though Park may face questions on how he’ll pay for it during a rates freeze.

At a recent debate, Park called for the Christ Church Cathedral rebuild to be scrapped in favour of creating the “next wonder of the world”. He wanted the new structure to end up on “every credit card, along with the Eiffel Tower”, which is a strange barometer of success. This isn’t actually one of the major issues of the campaign, but it is quite funny.

Who are the mayoral candidates?

John Minto ran for mayor of Auckland in 2013, and Christchurch in 2016. He’s back again, un-cowable as ever, full of hot takes and determined to get that social housing built. Minto is used to a fight. Former cop and current conspiracy theorist Ross Meurant’s Red Squad police baton once went up for auction as a ‘Minto Bar’, and Minto was briefly on the SIS’s list of “subversives”. He wants freedom campers back in the city, nitrate out of the water, and the stadium construction to be put on hold so the council can build people houses instead.

Lianne Dalziel is the current mayor, and was likely to be re-elected until it was revealed she knew about Swiggs’ alleged inappropriate behaviour towards three youths as far back as May, and met with complainants in June. She has proposed restorative justice for the young victims, and is now basically leaving things to the independent investigator. She can still come back from this black mark, and recently got some whoops and hollers for declaring the council, much like a noble samurai, is “honour-bound” to complete its stadium construction quickly. 

Darryll Park wants to scrap the Christ Church Cathedral rebuild and build a wonder of the world. He wants to freeze rates. He wants line-by-line reviews and sensible spending. He’s a businessman through-and-through, and in a recent debate threatened to make the council more like a board of directors.

Tubby Hansen has stood in every election since 1971. He keeps standing because, still, no one is doing anything about the use of masers against third-party candidates.

What’s the voting system?

The worst one – first past the post. 

The Spinoff local election coverage is entirely funded by The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism, click here.

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