Bennett response stuns White

By Doug Laing

26 comments
Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett

Napier deputy mayor Faye White is "stunned" by what she believes was a put-down by Local Government minister Paula Bennett after warning National could lose Napier's seat in Parliament over local body amalgamation issues.

Mrs White lobbed the warning in question time after Ms Bennett and acting Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Bill English spoke in Napier at a meeting billed as public, but attended mainly by party faithful.

She said she had been a strong supporter of campaigns by the party's retiring MP Chris Tremain, but amalgamation was "an elephant in the room" which was affecting the way she and others were thinking about voting. While saying the Government won't force any more communities to amalgamate, Ms Bennett replied Napier people needed to think who they were as a region and "where do you want to be going".

"You are letting anger stop you from being where you want to be," she said, adding she hoped there would be "a level of maturity" for Napier people "reflecting on who you are and who you want to be".

Mrs White said it would be underestimating the voter for National to ignore amalgamation as an election issue. She later told Hawke's Bay Today: "I was trying to say, look, I've been on your side, but there is an issue over which you could well lose the seat. "

"I think it (the response) was rather reactive. She (Ms Bennett) literally tried to shoot me down."

Reiterating what she had said at the meeting, Mrs White said: "It's not so much the matter of amalgamation but the matter of democracy."

Napier's concern is with the National Government's 2012 changes to the Local Government Act which mean amalgamation will be decided by a region-wide majority, rather than individual communities.

Ms Bennett, at the meeting at which she and Mr English focused on party National achievements, particularly in welfare areas, said while the Government had legislated for a merger in Auckland, it won't "force" any other communities to amalgamate, and in any event, nothing would happen at least before next April.

With Ms Bennett having left to catch a plane, Mr English later commented on the anti-amalgamation campaign of Labour candidate Stuart Nash by saying he didn't know what else Mr Nash and Labour would do, and he doubted Mr Nash knew either.

Last night, Mr Nash said he and Labour were clear they would restore legislation enabling existing communities to determine their own futures, and protect them against being out-voted by larger communities.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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