When can politicians say no

There are times when, as a politician, you have to say no. I have had that reinforced on the campaign trail this week. Everybody wants something; most of the things wanted have some merit. There is never enough money to say yes to everyone and everything.

It is hard to say no clearly, firmly and finally. This was nowhere better illustrated than by a question about light rail at the Tuesday night meeting of Mt Victoria and Mt Cook residents. 

Personally I am not sold on light rail, but I am dead against it either. I want to see the feasibility study to see how the cost stacks up relative to buses, what routes it would be suitable for, how it might be paid for, and by whom.

Would we commit to advocating for light rail was the question. Well no, maybe, perhaps, and there was a bit of shuffling and qualification. But then came the moment of truth. Would we commit if central government paid for it?  Suddenly an immediate slow of hands from the line up of candidates. No problem whatsoever with giving that undertaking.

Hang on a mo'. Such an easy yes avoids all the issues that might qualify one's judgment about whether it is a good thing or not. Voters feel that they have got some kind of policy assurance when in fact they have no such thing. Even the Greens who are passionate advocates of light rail can't be completely credible because they can't guarantee funding either.

According to one view about light rail, it wasn't going through Mt Vic. It was going through Newtown and up Constable Street to Kilbirnie and the airport.  This view conveniently shifts all the issues to someone else's suburb.

What if it were shown that the best route was through a second Mt Victoria tunnel, which removed some houses in Austin Street and brought in more cars as a result.

Councillor Pannett was dead keen to see that Mt Vic didn't become a through route for people coming into town from the eastern suburbs. I understand her concern and I share it. But that view leaves open the question of how the residents of the eastern suburbs are to get into town. Presumably they will be obliged to travel the longer distance through Newtown.

Might I just gently say that we all live in this city, that all of us have a concern about getting around with as easily as possible, and that a one suburb view of the world only encourages a selfish perspective.

Light rail may be a wonderful system, and I have an open mind on that. But if it comes with a mindset that says inner city first and foremost, and the outer suburbs can go suck their thumbs, then forget it.

There will never be light rail in Highbury or other hill suburbs, and if Councillor Pannett had her way there would not be diesel buses either - a move that would end bus services in my suburb forever. No thank you.