(From the August issue of Workers Charter newspaper)
For years, local body politics in Lower Hutt has been under the sway of the Right.
Hutt City Council is one of the last bastions of the ACT Party, who work closely with Christian conservatives and local business people.
Nearly two thirds of residents didn't bother to vote at the last election – one of the lowest turnouts in the country.
But now a new force has emerged to drive out the Right in this October's elections: VAN – Valley Action Network.
"VAN started from discussions among Workers Charter readers in the Hutt Valley", says organiser Grant Brookes, "though our support network is now much broader than that.
"Everyone agreed that the Council is completely out of step with the people. And we all wanted to do something about it."
"We were also inspired by other grassroots election campaigns, like WECAN in Canterbury and RAM (Residents Action Movement) in Auckland."
Environmental issues are prominent in VAN's campaign. There's widespread feeling that the Council's been lenient towards repeated environmental breaches by the Exide battery plant. They've also rejected calls to take action on climate change.
"Many Hutt City residents live on low-lying land beside a major river. So for us, climate change is a special concern", says Brookes.
"Three quarters of New Zealanders now have councils committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a scheme called Communities for Climate Change Protection – New Zealand (CCP-NZ).
"In our region, Wellington City Council, Kapiti Coast District Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council have all signed up. Yet Hutt City Council has ignored calls to join with CCP-NZ and start curbing greenhouse gases.
"Hutt City has the most polluted urban waterways in the country. The clean-up is urgent, but the Council is dragging its feet."
Rates refunds have been given to big corporations, while the council threatens to close libraries and swimming pools.
Hutt South is a safe Labour parliamentary seat for Trevor Mallard. But the Labour-backed local body ticket, Hutt 2020, has flopped at the last four elections.
Hutt 2020 lets people from all political persuasions into its ranks, including some ACT Party members. So not surprisingly, they can't take a strong, united stand on principles and end up campaigning on personalities. The local branch of the Green Party is formally under Hutt 2020's umbrella, but no Greens will stand for them this time.
"VAN's campaign is about issues, not personalities", insists Grant. "We're not looking for high-flier candidates." Instead, VAN is standing on six policy points:
• A Human City – Putting people before business interests.
• A Green City – Action on climate change, zero tolerance for polluters.
• Grassroots Democracy – Community Boards for all, with extra powers.
• Rates Justice – Reductions based on need. Low-income families before greedy corporations.
• Free Council Services – Not just protected but extended.
• Free and Frequent Public Transport – It makes climate sense and serves the people."
VAN's vision statement also declares, "If elected, we will use our positions on council to give voice to community campaigns for social justice and environmental sanity. We will encourage residents to come together to discuss solutions and take action with us."
Brookes says, "If a community organisation or campaign group has something they want reflected in our policies, we'd like to hear from them. We're also after volunteers and donations – these can come from outside the area as well, obviously – and more candidates."
VAN's campaign has drawn attention from the local media, with the Petone Herald featuring an article on the campaign alongside statements from the five mayoral candidates. "This shows that VAN is perceived on a par with local council tickets", said Brookes.
Nominations for candidates close on 24 August and postal voting takes place from 21 September to 13 October.
For more information, phone Grant Brookes on (021) 053 2973, email organiser (at) huttvan.org.nz or go to www.huttvan.org.nz.
Donations can be sent to Valley Action Network, Kiwibank acct no. 38-9006-0684109-00.