A week, as the cliché so accurately runs, can be an eternity in politics. As I penned my last missive for these pages, Simon Bridges was flexing his new media strategy (Key’s Blame The Liberal Media by way of Joyce’s Schoolyard Bully) by shouting long-distance at John Campbell’s furrowed brow about the benefits of Big Oil. In the days that followed, John Banks resigned as a Minister as he awaits trial for signing dodgy electoral returns. Conservation Minister Nick Smith faced intense scrutiny over whether or not he was involved in the gagging of his own department, whose initial concerns over the Ruataniwha Dam project mysteriously dissipated come formal submission time. Hot on the heels of the High Court overturning the decision to merge Phillipstown School (the second such judicial ruling), embattled Education Minister Hekia Parata was dealing with the alleged misspending of public funds by the commercial arm of Kohanga Reo. A serious week for a Government who are starting to wane in the polls, and surely just coincidence that Speaker David Carter, back to his grumpy self, booted Metiria Turei out of Question Time for seeking his clarification. By sheer volume of media coverage alone, all of these rather serious matters were dwarfed by the sallacious reportage of The Len Brown Affair. The Herald can fire Stephen Cook, it seems, but they can’t keep him out of their pages.
A week can also be an eternity in political limbo. The results of our local body elections are now final, and while I managed to rise triumphantly to third-runner-up in the Mayoral race, and remained sixth of eleven successful candidates for the Central Ward, the make-up of our incoming Council was never in danger of being adjusted from the provisional announcement. It is an odd feeling being not quite a constituent and not quite a representative, treading more diplomatic lines than your humble narrator is used to while the incoming Council (new and returning) wait to get their feet under the desk. After spending more than a year successfully working on a job interview with the entire city, pinpointing problems and suggesting solutions from the very broad to the very specific, it is the minutiae and the mundane that is suddenly overwhelming. As a man in possession of not a single suit, I will stop suddenly in the middle of breakfast and panic over whether or not there is a dress code. Given that I resigned my job to dedicate my life to the city, it matters a great deal that the tax rate is a flat rate (33%), that I’m now self employed and as such have ACC levies to take care of. After months of telling people there aren’t any, it turns out there is an office for Councillors, behind an unmarked door. We currently have no Mayor, and won’t until next Tuesday. All of these things would have been easily discoverable had I asked, it’s just that the questions had never occurred to me. Now there are moments where it feels like this is all that occurs to me.
Now that the shock of getting the job has subsided, I’m starting to get genuinely excited not just about doing the job, but about what that requires of my brain. I’m happy to admit that this will be a steep and ongoing learning curve, the likes of which I haven’t been fortunate to tackle since I graduated. With the support of colleagues and the community, I’m confident I can do this justice. From my current vantage point, one week from being sworn in, there are two strong similarities between where I am now, entering public office, and where I was when I moved to Dunedin to study in 2002; I can’t predict the path it will take, and I certainly hope it takes longer than three years.