Marlborough by-election still possible when MP Jamie Arbuckle resigns

1:42 pm on 9 May 2024
List MP Jamie Arbuckle - LDR use

Jamie Arbuckle entered Parliament as a list MP for NZ First in October. Photo: The Post / Robert Kitchin

A by-election could still be held in Marlborough when councillor-turned-MP Jamie Arbuckle officially resigns, despite his attempts to avoid one, the mayor says.

When he joined Parliament as an NZ First List MP, Arbuckle said he intended to stay on as a councillor until October 2024, so that Marlborough ratepayers weren't lumped with a "costly $130k+ local by-election".

Councillors' seats vacated less than 12 months before the next local body election did not have to be filled.

However, Marlborough mayor Nadine Taylor said on Wednesday the council would still need to vote on whether to hold a by-election after receiving Arbuckle's resignation.

"A paper will be framed up, and I'll bring that to council, and then councillors will decide whether we continue to run with a vacancy or whether we go to a by-election," Taylor said.

"So it actually comes down to a vote of councillors to which way we go.

"I understand what councillor Arbuckle was trying to achieve in saving the cost of a by-election, and I'm sure other councillors will understand that, but there is a matter of democracy here, and the councillors will have to debate that."

Marlborough mayor Nadine Taylor - LDR use

Marlborough mayor Nadine Taylor says the council still needs to decide on whether to hold a by-election. Photo: LDR / Marlborough Express

Arbuckle has been working two jobs since he was elected as an NZ First MP last year.

At the time, he said he believed juggling the two roles would be easy enough until Christmas 2023, and said he would hand his council remuneration back after that, should he feel he could not give the job his all.

In an interview this month, he said he was keeping up and had decided to keep both roles and both salaries.

But Labour leader Chris Hipkins claimed Arbuckle was "double-dipping", and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said he would not allow a National MP to continue working a second job.

On Tuesday, Arbuckle said "in light of feedback and upon reflection" he would stand down as a councillor in October.

In a statement, he said he would start donating his council salary to charity in the meantime, and would wait to stand down so he did not cause a by-election.

Taylor said she was glad to hear some certainty around Arbuckle's intention to resign in October.

"This decision had to be Jamie's," Taylor said.

"There is no mayoral power to order a councillor to resign, so I'm really pleased that he's taken this decision and given some clarity to it."

27102022 News Photo: Anthony Phelps/STUFF.  The first full meeting of the new 2022 Marlborough council in Blenheim. Mayor Nadine Taylor swore in councillors and her new deputy David Croad.

The council will need to decide on a by-election or coping with one less member. Photo: Stuff / Anthony Phelps

Should Arbuckle's position become vacant for a year, she said the other Blenheim ward councillors would be able to fill any gaps.

"I don't think the dynamic of council will change. We're a very unified council and there are already some really hardworking Blenheim councillors on the team.

"So I'm sure that Blenheim would continue to have good, strong representation.

"Certainly councillor Arbuckle is one of my most experienced councillors, that's why he'd previously been given the chairmanship, but remembering that councillor Arbuckle has already stepped back from the chairmanship and the leadership of his subcommittees and his portfolios.

"So we've been operating without him in those particular roles already ... and other councillors have stepped up and are fulfilling all of those roles and doing an excellent job."

Arbuckle was the chairman of the Marlborough District Council's economic, finance and community committee until he was elected as an MP.

In November, Taylor reshuffled the council's committees amid Arbuckle's entry to Parliament.

Taylor said she and Arbuckle had a conversation about his workload following the election, and the pair agreed he would step back from chairing any committees.

He had stayed on as a member of the economic, finance and community committee but stepped down from a number of other council committees including chairing a long-term plan working group.

He had also been scratched from seven subcommittees: audit and risk, CBD and parking, commercial events fund, housing for seniors, MDC Holdings and Marlborough Airport Ltd, climate change and the hearings committee.

His two reassigned portfolios included resource consents and financial reporting.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ on Air.

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