Good on Hawke's Bay's Regional Council chairman Rex Graham for leading with his chin in his Talking Point on the future of Napier Port, published in Wednesday's Hawke's Bay Today (September 5).

He's right, when it comes to Napier Port, everyone in Hawke's Bay must be given the opportunity to be heard. He's promised us a robust, open and transparent process. He's told us to keep him to his word.

As the ultimate owners of our Port, the people of Hawke's Bay deserve nothing less.

It's critical that at every step of the way the public has full confidence in the process that could lead to partially privatising Napier Port, along with the governance and the management of that process.

Advertisement

I also agree with him, that when it comes to our port, doing nothing is not an option. This is one of the biggest decisions facing our region and it will impact on all ratepayers.

Napier Port belongs to all of us, and as ratepayers we should all be given an equal opportunity to have our say.

The only fair way to guarantee this is by holding a public referendum. To deny us this right would be undemocratic.

The opportunity to test the public's appetite for a public referendum is during the consultation process.

Do you think the final call should be made by the council alone? Or do you think this decision is bigger than nine councillors?

Do you, along with all voters in Hawke's Bay, including over 27,000 people in jobs indirectly associated with Napier Port, want your democratic right to exercise your vote on the biggest decision facing our region's future?

According to Mr Graham, Hawke's Bay has already given his council the mandate to "take" these big decisions on our behalf - because "this is what it is elected for."

But this is where I disagree with him. Napier Port is an exception.

We're not talking about normal day-to-day council business, this is about changing the ownership structure of one of the region's most important public-owned assets.
This decision should be for all the people of Hawke's Bay to make - not for the regional council to "take".

Perhaps, if any of the sitting councillors had campaigned on Napier Port's future during the last election then, and only then, they might potentially have some basis to this position, but it was never on the table.

There is no moral standing in claiming some sort of political high ground, by telling voters to hold you to account, after the decision's already been made.

Napier Port should not be about councillors' political futures - politicians will come and go, and elections always roll around. But Hawke's Bay only has one chance to get it right for Napier Port.

There is a reason why we hold public referendums and Napier Port is one of them.

While it is the council's job to come up with a recommendation and tell us why, that's where it should stop. Instead of being judge and jury, the regional council needs to back the people of Hawke's Bay to make the right decision.

Timing is everything, and while there seems to be an almighty rush to get this decision through well before the next year's elections, what difference will a couple more months make?

Instead, why not hold a public referendum at the same time as the elections?

And, while no one can put a price on democracy, according to the Electoral Commission a public referendum as part of the election process would cost about $50,000, compared to $250,000 if it was held outside the election cycle.

Then, the newly elected council, regardless of who makes it back, would be given the mandate it needs. Once and for all, the people of Hawke's Bay will have spoken.

Better still, having a big local issue as important as the future of our Port will mobilise voters and greatly improve turnout - and that's got to be good for Hawke's Bay.

But, the best thing about a referendum is that everyone is treated equally. We all get one vote, we are all the same, regardless of where we live in the region.

It's time to stand together, for democracy and Hawke's Bay - for our port and our say.

*Anna Lorck is a Hawke's Bay Regional Council ratepayer and business owner of Attn! marketing PR.