Be-Knighted Mayors

Be careful what you wish for ...

Well, be careful what you wish for …

The year got off to a worryingly surreal start in Canterbury politics.

Before the year even began, news was released that highly controversial two-term, ex-mayor of Christchurch Bob Parker would from now on officially have to be referred to as ‘Sir Bob’ (or, will it be ‘Sir Robert’?).

Then, on day one of 2014, Canterbury’s mayors (outside of Christchurch) were reported as being unconvinced about the virtues of democracy:

A full return to democracy at Environment Canterbury (ECan) may be delayed if the region’s mayors get their way.

As omens go, these ones seem to suggest that we may be in for a very strange year in politics.

I’m beginning to wonder, though, if most New Zealanders will notice the strangeness, or, if they do, whether or not they’ll even care?

And that may be the strangest aspect of it all.

According to Waimakariri Mayor David Ayers, the lack of democracy in the running of Environment Canterbury is allowing “rural communities” (farmers?) to “feel very engaged and that they are having their say over water planning“.

Quite naturally, he therefore “would hate to see the democratic model back if that slows that progress” and so would prefer a “slow return” to democracy.

Similarly, Kaikoura Mayor Winston Gray thought the current model (with Commissioners) was working “very well” and his “only concern” is “that all of the good work gets undone by going into having fully elected representatives straight away“.

It seems one can never be too sparing or too cautious when it comes to operating your society democratically. All sorts of ‘good work’ can get undone by unleashing such a chaotic process without sufficient guidance and active constraint upon it.

Perhaps mayors Ayers and Gray would also support Gill Simpson’s novel (though not unique) idea that local body election voting forms should have the option of ‘government installed commissioners’, as a check on their own perceived inefficiencies or incompetencies?

Or, perhaps that, too, is rather too much democracy and they would prefer a future Labour-Green government, for instance, to install commissioners in their districts directly, without the involvement of any messy voting – as has happened with ECan?

Sure, some of the constituents in their districts – even a majority – may not wish for that to happen but, for these mayors, that is clearly less important than that ‘good decisions’  get made on behalf of some small fraction of the constituents of those areas.

And who better to decide what counts as a ‘good decision’ for Waimakariri and Kaikoura districts than a future Labour-Green government?

Sarcasm aside, these mayors should know better than to argue against democracy on some ad hoc basis that serves their particular interests. Even worse, that elected representatives are sceptical of democratic governance suggests that democratic ideals, in New Zealand, have extraordinarily shallow and sparse roots.

Speaking of the sparse and shallow roots of democracy brings me to the other surreal announcement – that Bob Parker has been made a Knight in the New Year’s Honours List.

First, a little bit of context.

The particular award system used by New Zealand is based on a five-level New Zealand Order of Merit, introduced after a review in 1996-97. Knighthoods and damehoods ceased to be awarded in 2000, following a decision of the Helen Clark Government. In 2009, they were reintroduced by the John Key Government. Knighthoods and damehoods can be awarded only for the top two levels of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

The Honours are administered by the Honours Unit of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The appointment of Honours are determined by the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee which has terms of reference to “consider appointments to statutory and other government agencies, chief executive appointments, nominations for New Zealand Royal Honours, and associated policy.

It is chaired by John Key as Prime Minister. The current members are:

Membership (Chair in bold):

Rt Hon John Key
Hon Bill English
Hon Gerry Brownlee
Hon Judith Collins
Hon Tony Ryall
Hon Hekia Parata
Hon Christopher Finlayson
Hon Paula Bennett
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman
Hon Murray McCully
Hon Anne Tolley
Hon Jo Goodhew
Hon Tariana Turia

As is clear, this membership is entirely composed of Cabinet members of the current government and support partners. The decisions inevitably reflect that political composition and its associated preferences, as is always the case.

The term ‘knight’ itself came from the Old English ‘cniht’, meaning ‘boy’. In effect, they were the young men who provided nobles and lords with fighting troops, beginning in the 11th century.

This pool of independently equipped fighting men began to evolve into the landed and hereditary ‘knightly’ class over time. Land became necessary to provision the would-be knight and, in turn, that land could be passed from father to son. (Our modern version of knights are the SAS who, it seems, also have to supply their own gear – which appears to be following in the footsteps of a British tradition.)

As the feudal and medieval periods ended, knights came to be displaced by armies comprised of mercenaries (bought soldiers) and standing armies – in the French tradition, the deficiencies of cavalry was a point powerfully hammered home at the battle of Agincourt with the decimation of French Knights:

The development of gunpowder and increasingly more powerful archery meant that the use of massive cavalry charges to break enemy lines and carry swift victory could not be relied upon, and the dominance of cavalry came to an end. If any battle summed up this change, it was the battle of Agincourt in 1415. The charging French knights, compressed by the terrain and the English arrows into a fragmented and ever constricted line of attack, reached the English line without any room to maneuver, and it only took a few fallen horses to prevent all other knights from moving in any direction. Thus, in half-an-hour the battle was decided, and thousands of French knights lay prisoners. The fear of a second attack prompted the English to kill them on the spot, and the French nobility was horribly decimated in a single day. The French learned their lesson; Charles VII, who finally expelled the English, formed the first standing, professional army in Europe.

It’s only speculation, but I imagine knighthoods would not be quite so sought after today if they meant actually becoming a knight and facing such a prospect.

But sought after they are.

And that’s understandable – if not always commendable. Being acutely social animals, humans crave social status. Power, wealth and fame are rarely sufficient on their own for the aspirational amongst us. A gaping hole can remain, only able to be filled by public acclaim and acknowledgment, desires which have very deep roots in our nature.

I won’t get into the debate over the Honours system itself, such as it’s pre-democratic origins and its utility in the British imperial project. Irrespective of those overtones, many argue that a system of national honours is important for acknowledging outstanding contributions.

‘Outstanding contributions’, though, are obviously in the eye of the beholder.

The award of a knighthood to Bob Parker has many interesting – even puzzling – aspects and implications.

The knighthood was awarded for “services to local body affairs and the community“, which is an interesting wording. Other local body politicians who received awards in the 2014 New Years Honours List – and there were a lot of them – gained it simply for “services to local government“.

The last ex-Christchurch Mayor to receive a knighthood (or damehood) was Sir Hamish Hay, Christchurch’s longest serving mayor (five terms, after five terms as a councillor). His philanthropist father, James Hay, was also knighted and his identical twin, David Hay, also received a knighthood for his work in cardiology and establishing the National Heart Foundation.

Interestingly, Vicki Buck, the highly popular three term mayor who succeeded Hamish Hay apparently refused damehoods (if I recall correctly). Garry Moore, another three term mayor, did not receive a knighthood and, so far as I’m aware, was never offered one. He was, however, made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit,

Bob Parker’s road to a knighthood was far less predictable than that of Sir Hamish Hay. In fact, six months ago when Bob Parker announced that he would not be seeking re-election he acknowledged that he did so partly as a result of the unprecedented loss of accreditation for the council to approve building consents. As I’ve detailed in previous posts (and here, and here), the loss of accreditation was hardly the first dysfunctional symptom of his Mayoralty.

The list of widespread criticisms and failings has to be unparalleled in such a relatively short stint in the Mayoralty – The Dave Henderson ‘bailout’ (that alienated almost everyone across the political spectrum), the accusations of a lack of transparency over decision making, the review of ‘communication’, the appointment of a Government ‘counsellor’ to oversee the operation of the Council, the incredibly toxic divisions in the Council, the Tony Marryatt pay rise (and Parker’s support for it, and for Marryatt), being called a ‘clown’ by Gerry Brownlee, the constant criticisms from The Press of the Mayor’s judgment.

The Press reported a poll in the same week that Parker announced he was quitting, showing that he trailed Lianne Dalziel by 40%. In a related part of the same poll (in an article cited by Curiablog July, 2013 – I couldn’t locate the original article), it was found that

The Press Research First poll has found widespread disillusionment with councillors and the mayor over their leadership since 2010. The main complaint was dysfunction and lack of unity.

The poll asked Christchurch residents to rate the performance of council leadership on a scale from zero to 10, with zero being very poor. About 60 per cent of people gave council leadership a score lower than five.

His tenure had become untenable and he, probably wisely, salvaged what was left of his reputation by pulling out of the mayoral race.

What he salvaged was apparently sufficient to persuade the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee that he was deserving of a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. And this is where the choice of the unusual phrasing of the award – “services to local body affairs [not ‘local government’] and the community” – starts to become clearer.

The blunt truth is that Parker’s mayoralty was not a shining example of local ‘government’, by any stretch of the imagination. As I’ve detailed in other posts, there were even calls by a group in Christchurch to have the Council replaced by Commissioners (in the Press poll mentioned above, some 28% were in favour of that option).

Hugh Pavletich – a once was developer and long-time critic of the Christchurch City Council – may have been at the more extreme, ‘franker’ end of those criticisms when he said in and NBR opinion piece titled ‘Christchurch: The political shambles‘, that:

It is not particularly well understood that Bob Parker’s abilities begin and end in front of a television camera.

Understandably, Mr Parker saw his role in the public offices he held as simply a public relations exercise.

Even when it was blindingly obvious to others that things were seriously wrong or out of control, he was oblivious to the significance of these issues. Much of it was beyond his comprehension.

Even supporters of Bob Parker such as right wing conservative, John Stringer in trying to defend Parker’s mayoralty still had to acknowledge the unprecedented divisions, crises and difficulties that were part and parcel of those six years.

It seems that the basis for the award of Bob Parker’s knighthood therefore amounts to his role in fronting the media during the aftermath of the two earthquakes.

In the minds of the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee members, it also must have sufficiently outweighed the significant failings of Parker’s mayoralty and oversight of the Council and his Chief Executive to have propelled him into the top tier of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

There is no doubt that many people felt reassured by those media appearances – it is by far the most often cited praise for Bob Parker while Mayor and is reiterated by people quoted in the articles linked to above – both in relation to the aftermath of his announcement that he would not contest the mayoralty and in reaction to the announcement of his knighthood.

And there is also no doubt that it took a good deal of energy to continually front the cameras. Certainly his time on television – prior to his political career – would have prepared him for those challenges but it still amounted to a real effort.

It is also probably true that his media appearances after the earthquakes count heavily in the minds of people beyond Christchurch who may be unfamiliar with the sorry series of sagas that hounded Parker’s mayoralty almost on a weekly basis.

But sufficient for a knighthood?

We live today in a world with an unprecedented emphasis on images and words. And it may well be true that we look to our political leaders not for good governance or policies to make our world better but for the projection of an image, a message and a tone that makes us feel better about our lives.

The rather sad implication is that we want our new ‘knights’ (and ‘dames’) to be those who help us wage battle against our own anxieties about who we are; those who help us slay the dragons of uncertainty about the directions our lives now take; those who soothe our concerns.

And maybe that’s why, now, all we really want is the relaxed ‘ordinary kiwiness’ of a John Key and the wide-smiling, velvety-voice of a Bob Parker.

What our leaders actually do may now finally matter less than how they make us feel?

In that case, perhaps the surreal is all we have left.

‘Arise, Sir Robert …’

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59 Responses to Be-Knighted Mayors

  1. bruce says:

    I wonder if Mayors Ayers and Gray would have been so bold as to profess their dislike for democracy prior to the recent local-body elections, rather than now that they have installed themselves for another 3 years?

    Let’s hope others apart from myself as Waimak voters remember this, next election-time

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi bruce,

      (That’s becoming quite a popular pseudonym :)). I don’t know what those mayors were saying prior to the last election about the arrangements at ECan but they (or their predecessors?) were clearly in favour of an intervention (as was Bob Parker) back before the government made its move in 2010. The Mayoral Forum has got what it wanted, which raises an interesting point.

      The letter from the Mayoral Forum to the government was definitely used as ammunition by central government to justify its intervention in ECan. Will this continuing reluctance from Canterbury mayors to return to democratic elections for ECan be sufficient ‘ammunition’ for the government to extend out into the never-never the dreaded day when democracy finally returns?

      How long can mayors provide ‘bullets’ for the government’s magazine on this issue?


  2. Nicky Arts says:

    Hi Puddleglum, My thoughts exactly. One thought I have is that if Sir Bob deserves a knighthood, what are they going to give Gerry Brownlee. Could one consider that Mr Brownlee’s presence on this Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee could be considered a conflict of interest. As he is bound to be lining himself up for something similar. Is this committee capable of issuing Sainthood’s perhaps? Or may be he has in his sights an overseas High Commission post. Shall we take bets on Washington or London??

    • John Kelly says:

      I would like him to go to London. Apart from it being as far away as possible, the UK comedians would have a field day. Happy New Year.

      • Puddleglum says:

        Hi John,

        Thanks for the comment and, yes, so far I’m having a good year – same to you.

        I’ve often thought that we need a lot more satire of our political leaders – but I haven’t watched TV for quite a while so there might be some satire back on now. Somebody mentioned ‘Seven Days’ is ok …


      • Puddleglum says:

        Oopps, sorry! You were replying to Nicky – I should have kept out of it.


    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Nicky,

      Well, I’m not sure Gerry would end up in the Order of New Zealand (the one that’s only meant to have 20 or so people in it at any one time), so a knighthood it would have to be :-).

      Washington and/or London could be icing on the cake, I guess.

      Interesting point about a potential conflict of interest, though. If the largely politically impotent Mayor of Christchurch (impotent because of the removal of so many functions from the Council) can be knighted then surely the supreme overseer of the earthquake recovery would have to be acknowledged. The higher the award for Parker, the higher still the award for Brownlee – or so the logic would suggest. Perhaps the simplified but still arcane gradings of knighthoods might provide some ‘ceiling space’ above Parker’s knighthood for Brownlee to be squeezed into.

      ‘Sir Gerry’? ‘Sir John’? Dame Hekia? – who knows where the roll-call of the great and the good might end.


  3. BrucetheMoose says:

    Key right from earlier on, seemed rather enthusiastic to place Parker up on a grand podium - . Parker was essentially was the face and public speaker for what was going on behind the scenes, which he fulfilled this role well, but there were many others not in the public eye, that worked tirelessly and were key to managing the emergency situation that probably deserved such accolades. Call me cynical, but is it possible that the government awarding of the knighthood is largely to placate Parker, consequently to muzzle him from revealing anything controversial in regards to the numerous back room deals and decision making processes that went on between himself, the council, and the government in the early stages. In particular the whole red zoning mess, the TC3 category and the resulting consequences, and the whole saga that is the central city plan, from the hijacking of the Share an Idea concept to the real government’s agenda as far as the centre was concerned, including the controversial acquisition of commercial properties. Due to the severe lack of transparency and withholding of even some of the most basic of information relating to these matters, obviously there are undesirable facts for the general public not to know. Not just in Canterbury, but also the entire country. Due to this secrecy, obviously there are skeletons in the closet between Parker and the government that have accumulated over this time together, and since Key is a compulsive deal maker, especially where it concerns himself, perhaps a knighthood might be just another deal. A deal just enough to seal those skeletons up for good.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Brucethemoose,

      I’m sure there are many things that aren’t publicly known about the processes you mention. I see it as inevitable simply because the publicly presented face of most processes that I’ve been familiar with over the years has always been quite different from the reality of what was actually happening – and the reasons given as to why it was happening.

      I don’t think that’s being particularly cynical, just observant. The secrecy can often start because someone is coy about revealing relatively minor things but once it is established as normal practice it just leads to the temptation to try to get away with more an more significant corruptions of the process. That to me is the real problem with secrecy – it creates the environment in which more or less corrupt practice can germinate.

      I know of no evidence that the knighthood was, in effect, ‘hush money’ so would not make that claim. Formal, institutionalised processes – like the Honours award process – is, of course, administered by people and it’s well known that informal or ‘shadow’ networks very often are the real ‘administrators’ of such processes. Explicit deal-making may sometimes occur with such processes. But I think that, more frequently, any ‘deals’ are likely to be implicit and pretty much unspoken yet still understood.

      All I can say is that this particular award seems hard to explain simply as the result of a careful, considered and objective decision making process that aimed to apportion honours to recipients in proportion to the contribution made to the community.

      I would not have been surprised, for example, if Bob Parker had received a lower award simply because he was the Mayor during the earthquakes and it is clear that – at least after the September, 2010 earthquake – he did receive an endorsement from the people of Christchurch in the local body elections that year. To be honest, I could not understand why the people of Christchurch found his role after the September earthquake to be so significant, but they did (as a generalisation) so I can accept some acknowledgment of that.

      If there had been no earthquakes, however, I would not have expected him to receive any award.


  4. Tom Schwede says:

    My theory is that Parker will run for the National Party at the next general election. If so, it is clearly preferable to write “Sir Bob” over “Bob Parker” on the ballot paper; many people will ‘feel better’ voting for somebody who has a knighthood.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for commenting. New commenters are always very welcome!

      I’ve always thought of knighthoods as ‘end of career’ markers (or capstones). Then again, we have the recent example of Sir Roger Douglas returning to politics, so your hunch is certainly not out of the question.

      Makes me wonder how many of our MPs (historically) have been elected after becoming knighted?

      If Parker stood for, let’s say, Christchurch Central (or Wigram? or Port Hills?) how would he do? Would National take the risk of associating with him too closely? Or, as you say, is the knighthood part of the grooming?

      Speculation can be enjoyable – and it is the time of year for predictions 🙂

      They also make the year ahead even more interesting than it undoubtedly will be.

      Thanks again for the comment. Much appreciated.


      • Tom Schwede says:

        I have thought about it further and the most logical electorate for Parker is Port Hills. David Carter has contested this for National since it was formed for the 2008 election. Carter has announced that he will not stand in an electorate at the next election, but will go onto National’s list only, which of course is appropriate for a Speaker. So, I’ll put my money on the Port Hills electorate.

        That said, Christchurch Central is another possibility. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nicky Wagner throws in the towel. She’s not very highly regarded within National, and she has a very shaky list position. And she’s committed the Politics 101 mistake of declaring that she won’t be able to win the next election if the boundary changes go ahead as per the draft. She’s also financially rather comfortable and surely does not need her parliamentary salary to have a very cosy lifestyle for the rest of her days. Parker, of course, lives within this particular electorate. So if Wagner indeed will not stand again, I’ll put my money onto the Christchurch Central electorate instead.

        • Tom Schwede says:

          Is Glenn Conway reading this blog? Is he getting his inspirations to articles from here?

          • Puddleglum says:

            An interesting story, Tom, if only for the insight into how the desire to be a ‘winner’ involves, for Wagner at least, avoiding challenges. There’s a bit more there than keeping her options open, I think. I’m not sure what her list position will be. Maybe she’s waiting to see?

            I’m also not sure if Glenn Conway reads this blog, but obviously I’m happy for him to do so. Same for anyone. I’m less interested in persuading people to my point of view than I am in getting people thinking and ‘talking’ about issues, hopefully in new or even unfamiliar/uncomfortable ways.

            A kind of well-intentioned – as opposed to malicious – stirring of the pot. 🙂


      • Tom Schwede says:

        Regarding “end of career markers”, I think I have figured out how to produce a list of New Zealand knights who have also been members of parliament:

        It looks like we’ve had 72 of those. Replace the word “knights” with “dames” in that URL and you’ll get 3 more. If anybody is keen enough, they can open those 75 Wikipedia pages and see at what point in their career a person was knighted. I can’t say that I’m motivated enough to do so, but I can certainly think of a few historic politicians who were knighted during their parliamentary career and not after.

  5. Chrys H says:

    Thanks again for a great post Puddleglum. When I heard in the middle of my summer holiday I was aghast that BP got a knighthood given all the issues etc that have developed and caused major problems during his er ‘reign’. I was trying to explain it all to the folks I was with (who are from the deep south) but will send them this link to explain it much better!
    Re your comments on democracy in Canterbury:
    I want to see democracy back in ECAN but I am also sure that to go back to a fully elected council at the next election might not be such a great idea – just as a complete turnover of any council is not a good idea because of the loss of a lot of “institutional’ learning and memory.

    The commissioners recommended to the govt that the council should be half elected in the last election so that new councillors could learn the ropes with the guidance of poeple who have been working with the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (something that has really changed the workings of the regional council (I believe for the better!) The Govt. went against that advice leaving the commissioners in for another term and setting Canterbury up for an even bigger problem when they return us to a fully democratically elected council.

    It also seems that the mayors have conveniently forgotten that the CWMS and the systems for implementing it were developed when there was an elected council, so we can’t credit the commissioners for the level of engagement that the CWMS has helped to foster.

    Arguably the commissioners have on occasions lost their way (eg by overriding the decisions of local zone committees and they have had to acknowledge this and I”d be surprised if they ever do that again in the same undermining way. Commissioners can make mistakes just as well as councillors!

    I would like to think that the engagement fostered by the CWMS may mean that canterbury people will do a better job of electing councillors than they might have done pre CWMS. It may also encourage a lot more better informed and better known candidates. I hope so anyway! \

    Roll on 2014 – it should be an interesting election year …..!

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi ChrysH,

      Thanks very much for taking the time to comment.

      It’s good to hear that the CWMS is following a good process of engagement. These are important issues, globally, and it’s reassuring that we’re doing OK here in Canterbury, in process terms at least.

      I’m a bit of a ‘radical democrat’, though, so my main concern is less about the outcomes (e.g., a successful CWMS and implementation) than it is about the way we get there. Put bluntly, I’d prefer a less than optimal CWMS that was democratically responsive and debatable than a successful CWMS that was governed non-democratically. Of course, the best of all worlds is a successful, democratically controlled process – no argument there.

      I’d actually even be a bit worried if people started to think that good processes were possible through non-democratic means (trains running on time, so to speak), leading them to conclude that, sometimes, democracy should be avoided. I know you are for democratic control of ECan but the ‘transitional’ approach back to democracy is a bit of a concern for me. My hunch is that such transitions are too tempting – for those who get to establish the pre-transition structure – to use as a means for ‘gaming’ the final, post-transition direction (think of the Transitional Authority put in place in Iraq by the ‘coalition’ – with a combination of facts on the ground and unrepealable directives, it established one of the most ‘open’ economies on the planet (allowed 100% overseas investment in everything and 100% repatriation of all profits, etc.)).

      Nevertheless, I think your point about ‘institutional’ memory is a good one. Continuity of experience is important in most bureaucratic processes – I wonder, though, how much that depends on the staff rather than councillors/commissioners.

      Once again, thanks for the comment – always makes me think more carefully!


  6. Raf says:

    Happy New Year PG.

    The ECAN issue is interesting as it’s a microcosm of the main issue you raise, namely, does mature stable democracy induce a type of torpor amongst the citizenry, where they become ambivalent as to who is in charge, elected or appointed? Often, professional bureaucrats do a better job of things but this disguises the underlying premise of democracy, which is the ability of the citizens to choose who represents them. Whilst at times it may seem like a choice between tweedle dum and tweedle dee, democracy remains the only barrier between some concept of freedom and a slow descent into some form of central control.

    I see no reason why the return to at least partial elections is being ruled out 🙂

    • Puddleglum says:

      Happy New Year to you, too, Raf. It’s going to be an interesting one locally and nationally. All the best with your own efforts in that mix 🙂

      Agree completely about the main issue being how we can stop being vigilant about democracy if relative (social and economic, rather than ‘democratic’??) stability has become the norm. I suppose you could argue that people only become ‘political’ when their day to day lives seem to be affected by what’s happening beyond their own ‘power horizon’.

      But I think there are two aspects to that: First, if circumstances just get too difficult for many, or most, (i.e., people’s lives become unstable) a kind of grassroots concern for collective decision making starts to arise; second is the point you make. When the electoral process doesn’t seem to deliver any predictable difference in outcome the most adaptive strategy for most – so long as circumstances don’t get really difficult – may seem to be falling back on their individual, rather than collective, resources in order to ‘tough it out’.

      That ‘Man Alone’ approach may be particularly resonant for many New Zealanders, given the pioneer aspect of national identity that is part of our country’s mythology.

      I wonder if the ‘torpor’ is produced more by a very basic social and economic stability rather than the stability (or ‘maturity’) of democratic processes, per se? Tyranny 101 has always had as Rule Number 1 the need to make sure enough bread is available for the populace (e.g., Ancient Rome with its subsidised bread). I would have thought that a truly ‘mature’ democracy would be one in which citizens are quite lively in exercising their democratic powers, rather than the opposite.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment! Always interesting.


      • Armchair Critic says:

        Hi PG
        I’m keen to know if you ever read Man Alone. It’s my favourite NZ story ever and has had a huge influence on my life. I understood it as a debunking of the myth that is now summarised into the two words “Man Alone”. Johnson is, as I understand it, a kind of anti-hero who tries to be detached from society, but finds he can’t be and needs to participate. Anyway, I got the idea that Mulgan would have recoiled in horror at the ideas underlying books like “The Power of One”, which is a poorly written update based on the commonly (mis?)understood concept of “Man Alone”.
        As for Bob Parker’s knighthood – yuck. It smacks of “marks for effort”, which is fine at primary school, but in the real world and especially for the leaders of society, (rightly or not) it’s achievement that is recognised. Bob Parker did his best, but he was way out of his depth and thus his best was not very good.

        • Puddleglum says:

          Hi Armchair Critic,

          I remember ‘Man Alone’ being an assigned text early in my time at high school. It’s probably time I re-read it with a bit more attention than a 13 year old might give to it!

          I was aware that the phrase ‘Man Alone’ is about the myth and that was what I was alluding to – though the book was in my mind when I wrote that bit.

          One of my fundamental assumptions is that people are deeply social – to the point that both our individuality and our ability to be autonomous (‘self-governing’) persons is almost entirely down to the social processes that we have been exposed to during our long development. I don’t think anyone who thinks seriously about what it is to be a human being (and to be a human person) would deny how basic our sociality is to us. Even libertarians on the political right who think subtly about the issues acknowledge it as fundamental.

          Sadly, it’s too easy in our day to day lives to act as if it might be possible to forge our lives ‘alone’ in that kind of basic way. The problem with pretending to be what you fundamentally aren’t, of course, is that you rack up a huge ‘debt’ against your actual humanity that has to be repaid somehow – by you, those around you, or some combination of the two. To claim to yourself or to others that you don’t need other people is a particularly ugly – and completely unnecessary – form of hubris, in my opinion.

          Thanks for the comment once again – always enjoy them.


          • Armchair Critic says:

            I’m all inspired to find my copy and read it again. As I’ve been sent(enced) to Auckland for a little while, I can wander down Queen Street while reading the chapter about the riot. Not much has changed since then.

          • Puddleglum says:

            Tell you what, I’ll get a copy and read it too and maybe have a bit of a chat about it?

            I think I’ve spent less than a week in Auckland in the past 46 years. Not deliberate, just never had the need.


  7. I have a comment on Interest Co NZ Monday Briefing thread

    • Tom Schwede says:

      And you expect us to go search for your comment on that website, rather than give us the URL, because … ?

      • Puddleglum says:

        Yes, it’s always a bit frustrating when direct links aren’t provided but, as the ‘admin’, I’m happy to do a bit of searching if commenters provide a few clues.

        I’m just happy that people take the time to comment at all and, having set the blog up, I’ll take some responsibility for optimising the flow of information through it.

        But help is always appreciated.


    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Hugh,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Is this the link to your comments on

      There are plenty of good links within those comments. The McCrone article linked there (and here) is also well worth a read.

      Thanks again,


      • Puddleglum … nice to hear from you … and Tom too.

        Your comments regarding my views on “democracy” were disappointing.

        Indeed Im a strong supporter of it. Go to my archival website … and you will note there is screeds of stuff on this matter … in particular, the article “Christchurch: The Way Forward” and the interview with Jo Kane at CTV .

        If you send me through your emails (and other readers too) I will happily forward the broadside I gave the Brownlee people on the “democracy front” back late 2011.

        Things sure were very heated then … after doing all we could to get rid of Marryatt mid 2011.

        It was the Peoples Protest 1 Feb 2012 I was heavily involved (with the Lynches) that set the foundation for THE GREAT FLUSHING where 9 of 13 changed at the last Local Government election.

        We all must keep new Mayor Lianne and the team up to the mark though. There is a massive job ahead sorting out the seriously dysfunctional Christchurch Council.

        This City is going nowhere until that happens.

        Best regards to you all,

        • Puddleglum says:

          Thanks for commenting again Hugh.

          My email is in the top right of the website ( More than happy to receive any information or comment on this topic.

          I apologise for any comment I made on your views of democracy that was incorrect (not in this post?) – I tend to make comments based on what I read in the newspapers or online so may have read something attributed to you that I took out of context. Anyway, unreserved apologies.

          I agree with you entirely that the new Council needs to be actively encouraged to be transparent and responsive. Given that members of the new Council are either relatively new to local body politics or were critics of the previous lack of transparency I’m inclined to accept their aim to be open in good faith. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it is no longer necessary to observe closely what happens :-).

          Once again, thanks for taking the time to comment.

          All the best,

    • Andrew says:

      Its been driven by a growth agenda as far as I can tell.

      Canterbury Regional Council issues and supervises the most resource consents under the Resource Management Act 1991 of any of the 16 regional councils in New Zealand. In the year ended 30 June 2006, Environment Canterbury processed 3,381 applications, more than double the number processed by any other consent authority (Environment Waikato had the next highest number; 1,384 applications in 2006).[23] By January 2005, Canterbury Regional Council had issued over 14,000 resource consents.[24] The conditions of individual consents can be viewed on line by using the six-digit “CRC” number.[25]
      In October 2004, Canterbury Regional Council had a ‘backlog’ of unprocessed applications due largely to the notification of applications to take groundwater in highly allocated groundwater zones.[26]
      The ‘backlog’ or number of applications for consents being processed, is recorded daily on the Environment Canterbury web site. An upward trend appears to have ended in the middle of 2008, with numbers unprocessed slowly declining into 2009.[27] The sharp increase in applications in June 2007 was due to the review of 400 existing resource consents in the Rakaia-Selwyn groundwater allocation zone.[28]

      • Puddleglum says:

        Thanks once again Andrew.

        Those figures have classic ‘gold rush’ characteristics.

        At this link, it can be seen that the Rakaia-Selwyn ‘Effective Allocation’ went from 222 million cubic metres at the end of 2006 to 311 million cubic metres at the end of 2011. That effective allocation is 96 million cubic metres over the ‘Allocation Limit’ of 215 million cubic metres. That’s why that zone is ‘red zoned’.


  8. Andrew says:

    On the last page you will find the problem with Ecan. The commissioners have done the job but at what cost?

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks so much for that link. The map speaks pretty loudly, doesn’t it?

      Around ‘Greater Christchurch’ there’s a lot of ‘red’ (water quality standards not met). That puts into high relief how the removal of democratic governance of the process might influence discussions over water allocations.

      It also highlights the comment by the Mayors that rural communities are now feeling ‘engaged’- perhaps because urban communities have been disengaged (at the level of ordinary citizens rather than interest groups, perhaps).

      I’m a novice in these matters, but I have to say that what I read in that link wasn’t hugely reassuring about either the process of improving water quality overall, the deliberate drafting of the objectives to have a “long term and non time bound focus“, the various nitrogen leaching allocations in different zones, the substitution of any regulations by provisions of the ‘deed'(?) involved when a property is part of an irrigation scheme, or that Christchurch’s drinking water quality regulations only seem to apply to water directly beneath Christchurch. But, like I say, I don’t know a lot about the technicalities of this process so my concerns may be misplaced.

      It would be good if someone could reassure me about what’s going on with this planned process.

      Once again, thanks for the comment and link!


  9. Puddlegum … thank you for your kind comments.

    I was a bit peeved because I took a lot of flak personally from biz people and polies for taking on the Parker Marryatt regime mid 2011 and onwards, supporting and financing the 1 Feb 2012 Peoples Protest and running the Cantabrians Unite website for 18 months thereafter.

    I paid for the lot (the local business guys were absolutely useless) to the tune of about $15,000 … and I have no commercial interests in this City. Got out about 1993 (could see the amalgamated Council was going off the rails) … when as Bob Jones said … all the competent property guys did … leaving the place to the “hobbyists and sentimentalists”.

    It sure was heavy weather in the lead-up to the protest. The day I was releasing the Demographia Survey ( ) with extensive international media inquiry, my wife had to be readmitted by ambulance in to the neuro ward at the CP hospital (cerebral vascilitis) and some biz goons were causing all sorts of probs in the lead-up to the Peoples Protest. That was a 36 hour stretch handling all that lot!

    I will flick you through a copy of the broadside I gave the Brownlee crowd late 2011 … following an abusive phone call from one of his goons. If anyone else wants a copy, just email me on .

    Your decency and courtesy is much appreciated Puddleglum.

    Best regards,

    • Puddleglum says:

      Thanks for those details, Hugh. It sounds like you really went through the wringer.

      It’s a worry that someone simply speaking their mind and doing some on the ground organising should have to go through that kind of experience.

      I look forward to reading the ‘broadside’.

      All the best,

      • Puddleglum … to be clear the “some” on this project of local government / housing reform, since the release of the 1st Demographia Survey has been about 9 years and 23,000 hours of voluntary time.

        The expanded 10th Edition of the Demographia Survey is on track for international release Monday 20th January.

        So far as I’m concerned, the honeymoon period for Lianne Dalziel finishes mid February. Regrettably … it appears she is really struggling.

  10. Andrew says:

    I can give you an example of the amount of water dairy farmers use. Gisborne uses as much water in a day as a 700, acre dairy farm with one bore. Canterbury has thousands and of bores, each taking as much as a medium sized city.

    Its like the Dinosaur on meet the Robinsons,” I’ve got a big head and only little arms,I’m just not sure how well this paln was thought through.”

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Andrew,

      That puts the draw on the water in Canterbury in perspective! I remember hearing 7 or 8 years ago that, in Canterbury, close to 95% of water use was outside of Christchurch.

      (We watched ‘Meet the Robinsons’ a few months ago – those ‘family’ movies are getting pretty clever these days. Some of them have great writing and brilliant animation.)


  11. Andrew says:

    Safe hands

    Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy has announced that experienced director Alison Paterson will oversee the establishment of a new Crown company to invest in irrigation.

    This is the second time she has been included on the honours list for services to business – she was made a companion of the order in 2010.

    Retiring Christchurch High Court Judge Lester Chisholm is now a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his service to the judiciary.

    About the Board

    The Minister for the Environment, Hon Amy Adams, and the Minister of Conservation, Hon Dr Nick Smith, have appointed a Board of Inquiry for the Tukituki Catchment Proposal.

    The members of the Board of Inquiry are:

    The Honourable Lester Chisholm
    Environment Commissioner Russell Howie
    Loretta Lovell
    Alec Neill
    Matthew Lawson.

    • Puddleglum says:

      From your first link, Nathan Guy is reported to have said:

      Well-designed storage and irrigation infrastructure has the potential to deliver a major boost to our primary industries and support new jobs, which will have a flow-on effect for all New Zealanders. If current proposals are advanced there could be another 420,000 hectares of irrigated land available over time.

      “It will also be better for the environment, as these schemes will lead to more efficient water use, and can provide for the replenishment of aquifers and the restoration of stream and river flows.

      Once again, I’m not an expert but how does removing water – which naturally replenishes aquifers and contributes to stream and river flow – to put into storage then “provide for the replenishment of aquifers and the restoration of stream and river flows”?

      I suppose the logic is that it is saving water for a non-rainy day? So, if we were going through a drought would the water which was stored, presumably, to irrigate farms in non-rainy periods then actually get used to replenish aquifers and restore river flows? But then they wouldn’t be ‘irrigation schemes’ and storage facilities but ‘aquifer and flow replenishment schemes’?? Would they hold enough water to do both??


      • Andrew says:

        The end justifies the means. Its appears to be about growth at all costs. Something is going wrong in NZ and someone thinks the answer is more cows, to get more cows the team at MPI tell us we need more irrigation.

        The existing aquifers are looking decidedly sick and they could deliver some pretty ugly outcomes in the near future as it is without even more consents being granted

        To get more cows we need dams. All the best sites have gone, these schemes are uneconomic without a transfer of wealth from the ratepayers to the financiers of the schemes and the farmers. It will increase GDP though.

        Ive never heard of this guy, looks interesting.

        Crafar farms

    • Puddleglum says:

      Interesting link, Raf.

      US politics is getting very strange in just about everyone’s analysis.

      Hugh sent me a link suggesting that shale oil is about to usher in a new era of prosperity for the US, including the rejuvenation of manufacturing. The alternative view, I guess, is that shale oil will pour more fuel on these political, social and economic fires.

      Often the last thing that countries with dysfunctional governance need is a ‘gold rush’.


      • Andrew says:

        From what I’ve read and been told by people in the know, shale oil will be a short term solution. Hence the money being spent in Alberta at present.

  12. James Howard Kunstler could be described as the current “in vogue” Luddite Malthusian … in the mold of Paul Ehrlich of a few decades back. Julian Simon dealt with Ehrlich of course.

    Possibly this is because his mother and father divorced when he was 8 years of ago … and he has never been a happy chappie ever since. The Wikipedia entry on him makes an interesting read.

    Alas, the Luddite Mathusians have a very poor track record indeed.

    America has been “written off” many times through its history. Again, alas, the doomsayers on this front do not have a very good track-record either.

    The real concerns today are Europe and China. Google search my latest article “China: Big Bubble Trouble”.

    And on the Christchurch front … another real problem … “Christchurch: The Way Forward”. John McCrone of The Press did a cracker job a couple of Saturdays ago, on the idiotic Central Blueprint … something I have described publicly as The Suburban Rapid Growth Plan”.

  13. May I suggest “China: Big Bubble Trouble” be read closely … particularly between the lines …

    This was deliberately written in a moderate tone. The more I study China, the more concerned I become.

    What are the consequences for Australia and New Zealand when the Chinese bubble deflates?

  14. Joe Wylie says:

    “I was a bit peeved because I took a lot of flak personally from biz people and polies for taking on the Parker Marryatt regime mid 2011 and onwards, supporting and financing the 1 Feb 2012 Peoples Protest and running the Cantabrians Unite website for 18 months thereafter.

    I paid for the lot (the local business guys were absolutely useless) to the tune of about $15,000 …”

    What self-serving rubbish. Donations were sought via Cantabrians Unite’s Facebook page, with the understanding that Peter Lynch was the frontperson. Like others I donated in good faith. It was only once the single successful rally was over that it became apparent that Cantabrians Unite was your own top-down vanity project, cynically attempting to exploit the genuine resentment against Marryatt’s extortionist antics.

    Once the original Cantabrians Unite website was established, with photographs provided for free by yet another naively well-intentioned supporter, no further changes were made. Contributors to the original short-lived Cantabrians Unite Facebook page were arbitrarily abused, including a woman who’d done sterling work in Christchurch East in the wake of the quakes. Her request to remove her photograph from your website was ignored. The resurrected Facebook page never attracted more than 200 supporters, and served as a venue for your self-serving musings for around 18 months before dying of embarrassment.

    • Joe … you certainly have a vivid imagination!

      The primary purpose of Cantabrians Unite was to get the Protest Committees letter up on the web … and with the facebook page … provide a place where people could discuss the issues.

      i think it did a good job for 18 months or so … encouraging healthy and constructive public discussion.

      I suggest you and other readers google search “Christchurch: The Way Forward” … and note how it was all based on the five key demands that came out of the protest. Again … read the Protest Committee letter closely … and draw your own conclusions.

      Believe me … I had plenty of other things to do (refer Demographia Survey and my archival website Performance Urban Planning ) without having to get involved with Christchurch political matters … as I made clear in earlier postings.

      Particularly, when one considers how bureaucratically brutalized the central business people had been. One would have reasonably thought they would have done what I had to do. Bear in mind too, I have had no commercial interests in Christchurch for 20 years … although of course I had been a former President of the South Island Division of the Property Council.Indeed set it up in the early 1990’s It was very much a case of simply having to “get in” under severe time constraints, to support Peter Lynch and the team at the time.

      The problem you have always had Joe, in sniping from the sidelines with your cartoon c..p, is that you have taken an ideological approach to Local Government … something I see as unnecessary and counter-productive.

      Sadly, it is becoming increasingly apparent new Mayor Lianne Dalziel is doing the same thing. She needs to wake up very quickly.

      • Joe Wylie says:

        The problem you have always had Joe, in sniping from the sidelines with your cartoon c..p, is that you have taken an ideological approach to Local Government … something I see as unnecessary and counter-productive.

        Talk about being patronised from ankle height. You, or should I say your talent-free Facebook offsider, were more than happy to appropriate my material when you felt it served your purposes. A fat lot of good it did you both.

        Your Cantabrians Unite hiding to nowhere is history now. Unfortunately for your attempt to recast yourself as the prime motivator, some of us take serious the idea that a citizen’s duty is to record and remember. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. No-one, bar a possible crackpot or two from the NBR letters page, was ever motivated to attend a rally because you happened to be droning on about your pet conspiracy theories.

        If you’re out of pocket over contributing for sound hire and posters , suck it up. You’re not, despite your claims, the only one in that position. Nor were you ever involved in “running” a website. You have neither the wit nor the necessary skills.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Joe and Hugh

      An interesting exchange but keep on the right side of the line that differentiates robust discussion from personal abuse.

      I think you’ve both made your points and positions clear. Unless there’s further evidence and argument to contribute on this exchange, I suggest you both now leave it for readers to come to their own conclusions.

      I don’t like to intervene like this but there was just a bit too much personally targetted commentary in this particular thread for me to stay silent.


      • Joe Wylie says:

        Puddleglum, I appreciate that I’m effectively your guest here, but please consider that you’ve effectively provided a platform for some highly dodgy propaganda to be presented unchallenged in this comments thread. Given your impeccably informed track record to date I’m frankly surprised at what appears to be your tacit endorsement of this kind of insidious nonsense.

        • Puddleglum says:

          Hi Joe,

          Let me clarify. I have absolutely no problems with Hugh Pavletich’s versions of events or position on housing affordability being challenged and please feel free to do so.

          my main concern involved the use of phrases like “cartoon c..p” and the like, on both sides.

          As for providing a platform I hope it’s a platform for all views on an issue so that those reading and contributing can think as much as possible about the issues raised.

          I certainly don’t endorse any comments that Hugh has made (or anyone else here). When he mentioned his experience I sympathised with the circumstances he described. I had no evidence that those circumstances were anything else than he described. But I’m happy for people, like yourself, who were part of those circumstances to challenge that version.

          On the issue of land supply as the answer to housing affordability, I personally find that view too simplistic. Demand has its causes too and I think there are plenty of ways to affect that.

          My ‘intervention’ was not meant to stifle debate but just to change the style in which it looked like it was starting to be carried out. As I said in it, if there are further arguments or points of fact (evidence) that can be raised that’s ok.

          Thanks for making this comment. It made me think about my own reasons for making my comment. It’s the first time I’ve done anything like that and I probably need to find my feet with it. Thanks.


  15. Joe … and for good measure, I suggest you contact me or Puddleglum for a copy of the blast I gave the Brownlee crowd just prior to Christmas 2011.

    It needs to be noted current Mayor Lianne Dalziel with the Councillors had no part to play in pressuring Parker and Marryatt through that period … other than Cls Glenn and Yani.

    Bob and the old A Team (other than young Cl Tracy Gough) are history.

    The BIG question … is Mayor Lianne and the current Council getting in to do what needs to be done ?

    We are all tired of failure.

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