Keep local courts: Winston Peters

By Annette Lambly

Opposition groups say the Government could face a growing backlash from small communities like Dargaville if it continues with plans to downgrade or close local courts.

The Minister of Justice, Chester Borrows, is this week expected to announce the final outcome of a major restructuring of court services, which would see job losses as four courts are closed and nine others are downsized.

Dargaville has campaigned strongly against the proposal to see its court become a "hearings only" facility and, on Monday, after a protest demonstration, handed over a 1200-strong petition which was presented to parliament yesterday by Green MP David Clendon and NZ First leader Winston Peters.

"This is a clear demonstration the public wants and values public services in their own local communities,"says PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff.

"Over the past two years, many government departments have moved offices and services out of provincial New Zealand. What we're seeing in Dargaville is a reflection of the depth of feeling among these smaller communities against the continued withdrawal of vital face-to-face public services.

"On top of this, communities will also be hit by the forced redundancies ... good jobs are increasingly hard to find." Speaking at the Dargaville protest, Mr Peters said: "Politicians cannot make decisions like businessmen where they only have to consider a financial bottom line ... it's imperative to consider social, ethical, and environmental bottom lines and treating society as a whole.

"Rather than you letting them close down services to you why don't you close down your electoral support for them?"

Opotiki Mayor John Forbes has pledged his support for the Kaipara groups. Opotiki District Court is also earmarked as a "hearing only court".

"Rural communities need access to certain service providers. These things make up the fabric of a rural community, as soon as you start picking off these services ...the fabric begins to fray.

"It's all good and well to tell someone to go online and fill out a form, but districts like Opotiki and Kaipara faces challenges that make this impossible for many ...issues that some of the decision-makers in Parliament have neglected to consider.

"It's high time the ministers started looking at ways to build rural communities, rather than continually breaking them down."

- Northern Advocate

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