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Q&A with retiring TCDC Mayor Sandra Goudie

After 36 years in public service, Mayor Sandra Goudie is retiring.

“If someone needs help or advice, you don’t ask them what party they vote for, you simply work to get the best outcome.”

She has been Mayor of Thames-Coromandel District Council since 2016.

Before that, from 2002 to 2011, Sandra served as an MP for the Coromandel electorate as a member of the National Party. There were many years in local government for Mayor Sandra before her election as a Member of Parliament.

It is no small event to retire after all these years. Sandra does not give the slightest sense of being tired or lacking in zeal. But The Informer was keen to have her share some of her recollections and thinking about political life and serving in public office.

Q: What was one of the personal challenges you remember, that impacted on your work?

A: It was really the challenge of daily politics that impacted on my personal life. I remember having to stay in Wellington as they needed the numbers in the House. I could not leave Wellington and so could not care for my father as I wanted to. He was living with us at that time. I look back and that was one of my most challenging times. In public service, every challenge is both political and personal. I think public office often demands compromising family responsibilities.

Q: What do you feel has been your greatest personal achievement?

A: A clear conscience. You can never, and I say never, please everyone. There is a cost to being honest and transparent, particularly if you make a mistake. I intended to be forthright, truthful and absolutely clear about my stand on anything. For instance, my stance on “no vaccine” was not meant to be one as a politician. I was exercising my right as a citizen, the same right as every citizen and every voter that I have served. The swipes in the media turned out to be an advantage in that it challenged people to think about the why. I became the poster girl for a cause that I did not intend to, but it was a cause that did exist in a very real way. People would call me to share their own journey with isolation, unemployment and health issues.

Q: What does the future in public leadership look like from your viewpoint?

A: We don’t have a pool of people in political life with the knowledge, experience and skills needed. I say skills because, if one is to stay in public office, then it is necessary to have understanding of financial matters, how things operate and organisational ability to lead change.

Those who have the skills and ability in leadership often don’t want to go into public service. The bureaucracy that goes with local and central government is too great, and the processes to effect change or get something done are too laborious to bear for most personalities. Just about anybody can stand for election, but, from my understanding, the depth of the pool of candidates just isn’t there. People are busy enough in the private sector and trying to make the private sector work. Those who are really needed, don’t put their hands up to do the job. So, I have a sense of disappointment about that in terms of leadership.

For example, one particular project I have been enthusiastic about and worked on for two to three years has gone from the Ministry of Education to the Department of Land Information, then to the Department of Conservation, then back to Ministry of Education and again to DOC. For each one of those departments, we have to do what is required to go to the next level. The “Yes Minister” television series is very close to reality. There is little room for using your discretion with political leaders and those in public office bound by the myriad of boxes one is required to tick.

Q: What have you loved the most in 36 years of politics at local and central government level?

A: The people. I have loved the people I have worked for, they remind me of why I am there. If someone needs help or advice, you don’t ask them what party they vote for, you simply work to get the best outcome.

Q: Did you make good friends in your work?

A: There isn’t time to make good friends. There are too many requests and issues, and friendship has to be put aside to respond to what is at hand so that everyone can benefit. Friendship can happen along the way, but good friends are few and far between. From my experience, there are a lot of egos to stroke in Wellington, where there can be that atmosphere of “born to rule”. In local government, you are surrounded by people with totally different ideologies. Sometimes a constituent’s passion about a particular issue can alienate them from others. My role is to enable all views to be heard. Recently, the passion is around emissions and climate change.

Q: Can you identify with their passion?

A: Yes and that has to be the case. It doesn’t have to be my passion, nor do I need to agree, but I need to understand where their passion is coming from.

Q: What are your passions in terms of current matters in your work?

A: Well, it has been housing and the other is incineration. The reason for that is I believe solid waste to be one of our single biggest global issues with our oceans suffering from the neglect in not finding a solution. Hence my belief in the need for incineration, especially in the countries where the most polluted rivers carry plastic and solid waste into our oceans. China has been identified as a major one.

Q: Can you explain the housing issue?

A: I have tried to drive housing. The current situation is that Thames is in the top five in the country in terms of the need for housing. It is in the top three for deprivation levels. This can be hidden. People see the fabulous coastline, the beauty of the beaches, the boats in the marinas and the villas on the hills with grand views. But they forget what situations and lives are behind this impression of abundance.

The housing issue requires the patience of Job. The process of getting through the rezoning of land is a nightmare. It takes years and a lot of money. Even then, you have only achieved re-zoning, you haven’t even built one house. Private companies who also want to develop housing, some with very altruistic motives, are also hamstrung. The role of Government, when it comes to these matters, can be seen as putting obstacles in the way of private ventures. At its worse, Government is geared to disable good outcomes rather than enable them. Things take too much time and money. I’ll give you an example - in the late 1990s, the biggest issue for the community of Tairua was that they wanted a skatepark. Now in 2022, there is a decision on the preferred site for the skatepark, for construction to finally get underway. For Tairua, from the 1990s to 2022, and while a decision has been made, it has yet to be built!

Q: What is your view on incineration in this area?

A: Firstly, the biggest polluter of the Hauraki Gulf is Auckland, but there is not space to deal with that matter here. Incineration is a big issue and very much connected to our gulf and waterways. I am passionate about getting the rubbish and plastics out of our seas. There is a modicum of recycling, and the incineration can produce energy enough to power a production facility or the equivalent.

In addition, there is a by-product from incineration and that by-product can be used potentially for roading. With the technology we have now, incineration is far more environmentally friendly than digging bigger holes in the ground.

We cannot control the weather and to think we can, is the epitome of delusion and distracts us from doing what can be done. We can control where our waste goes and it’s time we use our waste to make energy while taking on plastics and the mountains of clothing which do not break down, and which are major polluters. We are getting container loads of our bottles back from overseas to be buried in our own waste disposal areas. Microplastics, which don’t break down, particularly those in our clothing, can be incinerated. The by-product can be used in road construction as well as the advantageous process of making energy.

Q: What kind of political support do you have?

A: Well, the Waikato mayors supported it in principal but one notable voice from central government commented, “It will interfere with our recycling programme.” So my thinking is when will we ever choose the right alternative? We get stuck on a policy and even when it doesn’t work, we keep on trying to make it work. The single biggest way to protect our oceans is to destroy the rivers of plastic going into the sea. We can’t control what other countries do, but if we use the technology to destroy what is contaminating the oceans and inlets of our region and, at the same time, create a source of energy production, then we are doing something positive and progressive for this region. In addition, we can use that same incineration to clean up the abandoned landfills.

Q: Have voters changed?

A: People haven’t changed but their trust in government has. They are less trusting and their expectations of government are lower. There would be many reasons for that. Firefighters, doctors, nurses, coastguard and cleaners are all regarded as more essential and valued than a politician. It’s not all Government’s fault. I do notice that there is not the same level of critical thinking and critical analysis when it comes to issues. Personal attacks on people often substitute for a critical discussion of the issues at hand. Emotion often clouds thinking, objectivity and judgement. It is really important that people look closely at who they are voting for in terms of, does that person understand critical analysis? We still need to respect the other person who holds a different or opposing point of view. I am very proud of Thames-Coromandel District Council in this regard. We have all taken individual responsibility for upholding respect for each other’s point of view and a collective responsibility for ensuring there is acceptance of differences.

Democracy may not be so great or efficient sometimes until you compare it with all the others (to paraphrase Winston Churchill). Democracy values people, it is the basis of human freedom and freedom of choice. That alone is enough to be 36 years in public office. After 36 years you tend to forget all the bad stuff you went through. You remember the good times. Sure you learn from the tough journeys, but then you move on and just do it better.

Q: What will you miss after 36 years?

A: I’ll miss the people. That’s what I have loved most. I am not looking to do anything else just now, but I am still a constituent. We have a democracy. So you will be hearing from me.

Pictured is retiring TCDC Mayor Sandra Goudie who says a clear conscience has been her greatest achievement in 36 years of public service.


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