What Gerry’s been up to

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Douglas to Dancing’, a blog I maintained from 2007-9 on the ACT New Zealand political party. The blog was an extension of the thesis I wrote about the Act Party in 2007, From Douglas to Dancing: explaining the lack of success of ACT New Zealand and evaluating its future prospects (PDF).

The ODT reports today that former ACT MP Gerry Eckhoff yesterday voted against the Otago Regional Council funding Dunedin’s new “multipurpose” (read: rugby) stadium to the tune of $37.5 million. This is of course in Eckhoff’s capacity as an ORC councillor.

Cr Eckhoff said he could not support the stadium as it would only be used occasionally, with little chance of a financial return for Otago.

Followers of ACT will recall that Rodney Hide was involved in a much higher profile anti-stadium campaign in late 2006, when he joined forces with Green MP Keith Locke to protest against the proposed waterfront stadium in Auckland. So it is not surprising that Eckhoff has been similarly looking out for ratepayers’ interests and with ACT-like thriftiness has voted against it. Eckhoff farms in Central Otago (in Coal Creek if I remember rightly) and for ratepayers living so far away from Dunedin (about 3-4 hours’ drive) the stadium would generate few benefits.

As I recall, the Auckland Regional Council was given just two weeks to make up its mind over the fate of the stadium – and subsequently rejected it. The Otago Regional Council has been dithering for about two years on the matter and despite Eckhoff’s vote, the stadium has been given an extension of life, with seven councillors voting for the funding and only four against. However, opponents say it is unlikely the stadium will be built, as the funding is conditional on the roofed stadium being built for the already costed $165.4 million, a figure which has already been proven to be unrealistic by several local academics.

Returning to ACT: in his position as a local councillor Eckhoff is standing on his name alone, as is usually the case in New Zealand local politics. But I wonder whether a potential future strategy for ACT could be to stand candidates in local elections under the ACT banner, as part of a “local” strategy which the party seems to be pursuing with the increased focus on electorate contests. Hide has repeatedly emphasised his desire to be the best electorate MP Epsom could have and has spent much time since the 2005 election focusing on Auckland issues, such as the stadium. Of course, whether voters would be prepared to vote in candidates marked with the ACT brand, proven to be unpopular, is questionable – but I think Eckhoff might well have won nevertheless, given his popularity in the Central Otago area and in particular with the farming community.

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