Marlborough MP wants law change to avoid post-election by-elections

5:40 pm on 15 November 2023
Cyril Dawson, a former Marlborough council candidate, thinks Jamie Arbuckle should resign from the council after entering Parliament. SUPPLIED: ANTHONY PHELPS/STUFF - SINGLE USE ONLY

Cyril Dawson came second in the Blenheim ward seat election last year. Photo: ANTHONY PHELPS/STUFF

A former council candidate in Marlborough thinks new MP Jamie Arbuckle should be able to resign from the council without a by-election.

Cyril Dawson said Arbuckle's Blenheim ward seat should be able to go to the next highest polling council candidate from 2022 - him.

And Arbuckle agrees.

Arbuckle has decided not to resign from the Marlborough District Council despite becoming a list MP for New Zealand First.

Arbuckle said he does not want to burden Marlborough ratepayers with the cost of a "$70,000 by-election".

If he can hold off until a year out from the next local body elections in 2025 - so until October 2024 - he can resign without triggering a by-election. Arbuckle has said he will not collect his council pay after Christmas.

New Zealand First MP and Marlborough councillor Jamie Arbuckle with wife Sally, also a councillor, at the Treasury building in Wellington on November 9. SUPPLIED: ROBERT KITCHIN/THE POST - SINGLE USE ONLY

New Zealand First MP and Marlborough councillor Jamie Arbuckle with wife Sally, also a councillor, in Wellington on 9 November. Photo: ROBERT KITCHIN/THE POST

In the meantime, a month into Parliament and Arbuckle is planning a law change - to allow new parliamentarians to resign from elected council positions without a by-election.

"Hopefully I can get a member's bill together to make [stepping down] clean-cut," Arbuckle said.

That member's bill would allow the next highest polling candidate to step into council, Arbuckle said.

While that would suit Dawson, and he wanted the same thing, he added by-elections were also the "price of democracy".

Dawson questioned why Arbuckle, the highest-polling Blenheim ward councillor from 2022, had not stood down from his council role.

In Wellington, 26-year-old councillor Tamatha Paul had stepped down after being elected as a Green MP for Wellington Central.

The Wellington by-election was expected to cost $120,000.

"If the Wellington City Council has to hold a by-election ... then why can't we?" Dawson said.

Dawson missed out on a Blenheim ward seat by 13 votes. He was originally told he had got onto the council at the third time of trying, but the final count swung it in someone else's favour.

The delivery worker said people he had spoken to did not think it was good idea for Arbuckle to do both jobs.

"He's in Parliament, he's going to have a big workload over there, and he should concentrate on that, and get out of council," he said.

"There's got to be accountability; a by-election is democracy.

Arbuckle said he was keeping up with his council work at the moment.

"Into early next year is where it will get difficult and as next year rolls on, it will get harder, but by then the long-term plan will be done, which is a lot of the work for the term."

Arbuckle said it was good to see Dawson was still interested in the council.

Marlborough mayor Nadine Taylor said the decision to stay on as a councillor is up to Arbuckle. SUPPLIED: ANTHONY PHELPS/STUFF - SINGLE USE ONLY

Marlborough District Council Mayor Nadine Taylor. Photo: ANTHONY PHELPS/STUFF

Mayor Nadine Taylor said the decision to do both jobs was up to Arbuckle.

"A by-election can't be held unless a councillor resigns, and in this case, the councillor has reflected and chosen not to resign," Taylor said.

"It is what it is. I'm not going to comment on a councillor's choice there."

The council last week approved changes to its committee structure, with deputy mayor David Croad taking over as chairperson of the economic, finance and community committee in place of Arbuckle.

Blenheim ward councillor Brian Dawson would chair the assets and services committee, previously run by Croad.

Arbuckle stepped down from most of his council roles, which included multiple sub-committees, but he would stay on as a member of the economic, finance and community committee.

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