By Tony Stickley
Former TCDC deputy mayor Murray McLean’s decision to quit politics at the recent local body elections was motivated by a desire to spend more time with his wife Arlene, do a bit of reading and do a bit of fishing. It will also allow the 74-year-old the opportunity to research the curious case of his great-great grandfather, Alexander McLean, one of the first white people to be hanged in New Zealand, but more on that in the next issue.
Murray was also the National MP for Coromandel from 1996 to 1999 until he was unseated by Jeanette Fitzsimons, leader of the Green Party, by 146 votes. When looking back at the ledger after 35 years in and out of politics, locally and nationally, he acknowledges one or two regrets among the successes.
Murray said he first went into politics as a way of giving something back to his local community. Like a number of National MPs, including Bill Birch, Murray had been a member of the Jaycees, an organization for men, aged 18-40, to hone their debating and speaking skills. His first foray into politics was as a member of the Ngatea town council from 1986-1989. Then, after exiting local government for a few years, Murray was elected to the Ngatea Community Board for the Hauraki District Council in 1995.
His break into national politics came in the 1996 elections, when serving MP, Robert Anderson, the National Party candidate for the Coromandel electorate, pulled out due to a terminal cancer diagnosis. Murray threw his hat into the ring and won the seat, which he held for three years until beaten by the Greens. It was then that Murray, who had a construction business and previously ran a hardware store, decided to move to Whitianga to build houses. “This is where my family roots are, my grandmother was born here and my father’s parents were born here,” said Murray. “I have got family history here going back to 1876 and it is a place we have always identified with. At that time, I had decided that my political days were over.”
Despite his best intentions to put politics behind him, Murray was enticed to stand for the Mercury Bay Community Board in 2004, following a public outcry over a move to dump 60,000 cubic metres of sand on Brophy’s Beach, something that did not eventuate. He became community board chairman until 2010, when he was elected to the TCDC as councillor, serving a total of 12 years on the council, the last three as deputy to Mayor Sandra Goudie.
Murray has both positive and negative views on his time in Parliament and in local politics. He said that during his time with TCDC, there had been ‘vast’ changes in Whitianga with the growth of the Waterways Development, the changes in demographics of the population, the different requirements that visitors have in terms of facilities, and the transition of Mercury Bay from being an annual holiday spot to becoming a destination for people to live year-round.
“I used to describe Whitianga as an adolescent town,” Murray said. “By that, I meant it was going through growth pains, which I think it is now emerging from. In terms of the limited funding available, as we only have 4500 ratepayers to service 35,000 people at peaks, I think we, as a council, have done very well.”
With so few rate payers, Murray said that external revenue was vital to provide facilities. As an example, he cited the car parking fees for visitors to Hot Water Beach and Hahei that paid for public facilities. “We have been able to provide better facilities through fees. By charging fees, locals are better off because they are not paying for everything. Council is not a bottomless pit of money and we always had to balance our budget, the same as a household.” Budgets were always a challenge, especially with the topography of our district with such a long coastline. That means lots of unforeseen costs, exacerbated by storm events and climate change.
Of regrets, he had a few. “One of the things I am disappointed in leaving council is that we have not got the Esplanade development cemented in place, which would have led to increased boat launching and recreational facilities, but hopefully that will come in due time,” Murray said. On the other hand, he was pleased that the council had got a refuse transfer station coming on stream. “Hopefully, we can reduce waste coming off the peninsula by better handling of it. It really is a sad reflection on our community that every single day, there are two truck and trailer-loads of waste going to a landfill. I think that is a disgrace,” he said.
As far as the new crop of TCDC councillors and community board members were concerned, he said that a bit of financial acumen was a prerequisite. His word of warning for the newly installed incumbents on TCDC who may think of life as a Councilor as being something of a breeze; “You really need a bit of financial nous to keep up with what is going on or else you will struggle. Anyone without some sort of financial training will find it very hard in local government to understand what is required. It is all very well having social aspects and aspirations, but those need to be balanced with income and expenditure and needs and wants.” Murray said.
He described his time in the Beehive as the ‘biggest learning curve of his life as well as the hardest work he had ever done in his life’. However, it was dealing with people’s problems on a human level at his constituency office surgery that suited him more than some of the ‘antics’ in Parliament.
“One of the things that I found; having been in business myself, I was always short of time and money; in Parliament, time and money don’t seem to matter,” he said.
Murray spent 36 years as manager of Masonic Villages for the elderly. “It was just another way of putting something into society. I think if we all give a little, we all gain a little, but that mantra seems to be diminishing, and I think that is unfortunate for society.”
Now in retirement, he says he has more time to spend with Arlene, read more books, go for coffee with friends, generally enjoying the freedom of not being in politics and being liberated from constant meeting dates in his diary. He potters with his sublime 2007 Jaguar XK which he keeps garaged at his and Arlene’s home, situated on the original Brophy’s homestead site at the end of Brophy’s Beach, and intends to spend more time trout fishing at their holiday home in Taupo.
He is also going to devote some time to researching the circumstances surrounding his great-great grandfather’s prison execution for shooting dead his wife, Anne. (Next issue of the Informer – Alexander McLean, one the first white men to hang in New Zealand.)