Esther Whitehead's win is a seismic shift for Qtown
Queenstown has been subject to the winds of change in recent times and not just from Covid. In many ways it has been like a slow-motion earthquake as the New World collides with the Old.
Today Esther Whitehead scored a significant by-election victory for the New Queenstown.
The friction between old and new has been building for years – and something had to give.
A clue as to the direction of that shift was to be found in the national metaphorical shrug and raising of eyebrows as Mayor Jim Boult pleaded time and time again for taxpayer cash in the wake of the pandemic. Kiwis from North Cape to Bluff knew that Queenstown has been rolling in cash for the past 30 years – and not doing a very good job of sharing that cash with the low paid migrant workers who made it all possible.
That's not to mention all of the roads and infrastructure strain from tourism that was funded by local ratepayers - something our new Tourism Minister says he will not allow to happen again.
The negative national reaction to Boult's call for help was clearly unfair to many of the small and medium businesses in the district who had worked hard and paid their staff well - but everyone got tarred with the same brush.
There was national scorn when A J Hackett was given a mix of Government grants and loans totalling $10 million in spite of being owned by three of the richest men in town. The Auditor General is now taking a look at that situation.
A judicial review this year found that both the QLDC and Queenstown Airport Corporation had failed in their duty to properly inform the local community when engineering a 100-year lease over Wanaka Airport for the expansion of mass tourism. That lease is now unlawful – with ratepayers having to pick up the very large legal and regulatory bill.
And in our own investigation, Crux has uncovered millions of dollars paid to former council staff as external consultants in contravention of the council’s own financial rules. Rules that CEO Mike Theelen told us for 12 months were being 100% complied with. That turned out to be incorrect.
So, when Phil Wilson told by-election campaign meetings that the council is doing a great job and Queenstown is in great shape – the reception was frosty. People are not buying that any more.
Today’s result is of even greater significance when Phil Wilson lost the vote in spite of having the powerful patronage of Sir Eion Edgar who nominated him and fronted a spirited email campaign in Phil’s support. Esther Whitehead was nominated and supported by former Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard.
Esther Whitehead, along with current councillor Niki Gladding, will be a thorn in the council’s side. Polite, intelligent and respectful, but still painful a thorn in their side.
And next year, when we come to full local body elections, Crux predicts more of the same.
More democracy, more transparency, more fairness.
Change can be tough – but ultimately it can’t be stopped when it is the will of the people.