Nicola Patrick: From both sides now

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The Living Wage group make their submission to Whanganui District Council this week.

By Nicola Patrick

"Democracy is not a spectator sport." So says Marian Wright Edelman, an American children's campaigner.

In the past two weeks, I've been on both sides of submissions to annual plans - first off, receiving verbal presentations as a Horizons regional councillor in Palmy, and then supporting local submissions to Whanganui District Council.

It's been an awesome experience being part of democracy in action and a shout-out to those who make the effort, year in year out, as well as those who spoke up for the first time this year. There certainly hasn't been any sleeping on the job from councillors, that I've noticed - always a relief.

Making a personal submission really does have influence, whether it's the heartfelt submission of a woman picking up environmental advocacy from her late husband, the articulate and passionate voices of the Whanganui Youth Committee or the barefoot advocate standing up for those on fixed incomes.

My fave was the Plastic Bag-Free Whanganui group challenging the council to take a leadership role in banning single-use plastic bags from our community. This group has researched what's involved and how other communities around the world are achieving this goal.

And they've also been sewing up a storm, creating re-useable fabric bags to give away.

I was also impressed by the Living Wage group, which had 20 people present in support.

The benefit of paying all council staff at least a living wage is about giving families more time with their children and living in dignity - stepping away from a constant struggle to make ends meet.

They pointed out - and I've read the research that confirms it - extra money available to those on low incomes stimulates significantly more economic growth than the same money made available, via tax cuts for example, to those on high incomes.

You don't need to be an economist to work it out - extra money in the hands of those on low incomes gets spent in our local community because it is needed here and now.

It's not going on second homes, overseas holidays, a late model car or in the bank - it's going on fees for school sports, shoes for growing feet, better quality food in the weekly groceries, and it's a backstop to cover unexpected expenses like a broken-down washing machine, instead of pushing people into debt.

Before I was elected, I'd been a submitter to both councils, so I know it can feel a little nerve-wracking, sitting at the front, advocating your views.

But it's worth it - we may have a declining voter turnout at the polls at local government elections, but there are a good number of people in our community having their say in personally-delivered submissions.

I wonder if the recent shift to live-streaming the Whanganui District Council meetings via Facebook is helping get more people involved?

It's a wonderful improvement and provides a way for people to keep track of discussions they're interested in without having to attend the meeting in person, managing the extra arrangements and time involved if you don't have flexible employment, or a car, or need to arrange childcare.

My biggest disappointment in democracy this week, however, has been learning that the West Coast Regional Council has renewed permission for a company to build a pipeline to take water from alpine lakes to offshore tankers to export.

This was done without public notification. And the volume? Up to 800 litres per second.

At a time when New Zealand's freshwater is under the spotlight, I have no idea how a council could approve a long-term permit for this scale of take without a transparent process allowing for public views to be considered.

Please speak up and keep the pressure on us, the decision-makers, so we do the best job we can in juggling these priorities.

*Nicola Patrick is a Horizons regional councillor, a Sustainable Whanganui trustee and works for Te Kaahui o Rauru. A mother of two boys, she has a science degree and is a Green Party member.

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