Home About the Association Become a Member Register for Newsletters/Updates Contact Us
Tell a Neighbour/Friend
Community Links
Association Rules
Privacy Policy - Terms & Conditions
Only days left to win over public
Saturday November 18, 2006

When the Minister of Sport brought his stadium plans to the Herald he was very clear about one thing: he wanted Auckland's approval and he would not proceed without it.

Asked how he would gauge the public response he said he was looking to the Herald to help do that. The final say, though, would rest with two representative bodies, Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council, and they both had to agree either on his preferred waterfront site or Eden Park, or he would send his cash to Christchurch, he said.

Now he has shifted at least one of his goalposts. After meeting the two councils this week he wants them to give him an order of preference. Thus, he says, if one of them prefers Eden Park but would consider the waterfront and the other says no to Eden Park, "then you would go to the waterfront".

That is an odd but interesting example. Many would think it more likely that one council, if not both, would say no to the waterfront and that both would settle for Eden Park.

Perhaps he has had an assurance that neither would absolutely rule out the waterfront and all he needs, therefore, is for one of them, probably the city council, to oppose Eden Park. The council seems divided now between the waterfront and Carlaw Park, with Eden Park a distant third.

At least in lowering his threshold for the councils' approval, Trevor Mallard can do away with his unseemly threat to send the Rugby World Cup to Jade Stadium. Unless one Auckland council is implacably opposed to enlarging Eden Park and the other is just as determined against the waterfront proposal, the Cup venue will be here.

Chances are neither council will be that definite, and Mr Mallard has given himself room to interpret their positions to suit his preference. If we are unduly suspicious, the minister has himself to blame. He should not be shifting his own goalposts at this stage; he should be putting all his effort into convincing the people of Auckland of the waterfront stadium's merits.

We have, after all, gone to some trouble to gauge the public view as he challenged us to. We have provided unprecedented space for people to publicly declare themselves for or against his waterfront proposition. Radio and television channels have also invited a public response. In all cases the counts are running heavily against a waterfront stadium. The Auckland councils will be looking at those numbers carefully.

They will note that the response, overwhelming as it has been, represents no more than a fraction of Auckland's population. Polls that sample a demographic cross-section of the population might produce a different result, and the Herald will publish just such a poll next week.

But self-selecting surveys have their own validity. They enable people sufficiently interested in a subject to have a say in a decision about it.

When sufficient numbers register a view, as they have on this issue, it cannot simply be ignored. It is the view of people who will be talking about the subject to everyone they meet and they are probably persuading those who are not as interested. Like the most earnest members of an audience at a public meeting, their collective viewpoint can easily carry the crowd.

To listen to the voice of the people is not an obligation to obey it. Responsible leadership sometimes means acting on a conviction that the majority of those speaking out cannot see the benefits that will follow. Democratic accountability ensures that leaders who defy public opinion must be sure those benefits will become more evident before they face an election.

The minister and the councils will be reading the Herald's headcount and other surveys. They have less than a week to turn public opinion around.