Protesters crash Christchurch City Council meeting on Commonwealth Games bid

3:18 pm on 24 January 2024
A member of the public wears a Phil Mauger mask

A member of the public wears a Phil Mauger mask at a meeting of the Christchurch City Council, January 2024. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

* This story has been updated to reflect the change in the recommendation the council voted on, from considering hosting the 2030 Games to hosting a future Games.

The Christchurch City Council has voted to consider a bid for a future Commonwealth Games, to the dismay of protesters who had earlier showered councillors in fake money.

A recommendation by mayor Phil Mauger for council staff to provide advice on the viability of hosting the 2030 Games passed at a meeting on Wednesday morning - 10 votes to seven following a tense hour of debating and an amendment to make it a "future" Games.

Restore Passenger Rail spokesperson Aurora Garner-Randolph said hosting the Games would be irresponsible given the council's declaration of a climate emergency.

"If successful, a Commonwealth Games bid would not only bankrupt the city, it would also invite long-haul flights - one of the world's most significant sources of emissions - from all over the world to Christchurch on a scale as yet unseen.

"This would blow Ōtautahi Christchurch's responsibility for the climate crisis beyond all proportion while simultaneously draining all the money that we could use to respond to the damage of the climate crisis."

A group of about 20 protesters, some from Canterbury University's Climate Action Club, cheered her on from the public gallery.

Protestors attend Christchurch city council meetings

Protesters at the Christchurch City Council meeting on Wednesday. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Following her deputation to councillors, a fellow protester - wearing a cutout of Mayor Mauger's face - ran into the chamber and began throwing paper bank notes at councillors.

As he threw the fake money, he shouted, "I'm Phil Mauger and I love spending public money," to laughter and applause.

Councillor Andrei Moore opposed the recommendation, saying the timing was not right.

"Yesterday we had a public briefing that talked about rate rises of potentially around 15 percent. If the public see the headlines that we're staring down the barrel of a 15 percent rates rise, and then the next day they see that we're exploring a bid for the Commonwealth Games, that will do harm to the people who see that, who are struggling to pay their bills," he said.

"We're also looking at deferring funding to literally bid for events to come to Christchurch, so I was extremely surprised to see this item come on the agenda."

Restore Passenger Rail spokesperson Aurora Garner-Randolph

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

For councillor Tyla Harrison-Hunt, the environmental concerns were too great.

"With all due respect to the mayor… I know that it's something that you're really passionate about and I am happy to support that in other ways, but in this way I cannot support it. The reason being is there are potential climate impacts which I don't want to be a part of."

Councillor Tim Scandrett voted in favour of the recommendation, but was concerned the council was making unnecessary work for itself.

"I think we're looking at this the wrong way. To say New Zealand Commonwealth Games via Christchurch City Council… seems odd. Going through the NZ Olympic Committee, I believe, would be the proper way to go forward with this."

But Mauger said he was simply asking for council advice, not a formal business case.

"This could be a great opportunity for our city, so we need independent advice to consider it properly. That advice might say it's a fizzer, but at least we've looked at it, and have the information in front of us. If we don't ask, we don't know."

Christchurch already had a number of venues that could be used to host the Games, Mauger said.

Protestors attend Christchurch city council meeting

Protesters attend a Christchurch City Council meeting, 24 January, 2024. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Former Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson had told him to look at a countrywide bid, and current Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters had also expressed support for a Commonwealth Games bid, he told his fellow councillors on Wednesday.

The NZ Olympic Committee (NZOC) had previously said New Zealand was not interested in bidding to host the Games in 2030, but was looking toward a bid for 2034.

It said on Wednesday it welcomed interest in a Commonwealth Games bid from cities across the country.

In a statement, NZOC chief executive Nicki Nicols said it had "entered a formal dialogue with the Commonwealth Games Federation regarding a 2034 nationwide bid".

"This timeframe provides sufficient runway to engage government and other relevant agencies to develop an innovative and bold proposal for a potential 2034 bid, including undertaking a formal feasibility study," she said.

"We welcome interest from different cities and regions throughout New Zealand. It shows just how much the Commonwealth Games means to Aotearoa. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Christchurch 1974 Commonwealth Games this week, we look back at the transformational and positive impact it had."

Christchurch City Council staff will now prepare the relevant report for councillors.

It was anticipated they would investigate potential costings and speak to the NZ Olympic Committee and central government to form the report.

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