• People Power at Awaroa

    Most people will feel a warm glow of pleasure that a campaign to save a beautiful beach for public use and access has been successful. That sense that “people power” has prevailed will be felt well beyond the 39,000 who pledged their contributions.

    The great majority of those contributors will probably, along with the rest of the population, never get to walk or swim or sail at Awaroa beach. What is inspiring, however, about what has been achieved is that, for once, personal aggrandisement has taken a back seat. The pleasure that people feel is because the community has spoken and a public good has bee­­­­n secured.

    We are, sadly, all too well used to seeing private property rights taking precedence over community interests. The organisers of the campaign deserve great credit, not only for their organisational and campaigning abilities, but for their understanding that this was an issue that wasn’t to be decided by a handful of wealthy landowners but was one where ordinary people felt that they could make a difference and could preserve something of the New Zealand we all love.

    It is for these reasons that the offer of financial support from Gareth Morgan aroused such controversy. At first sight, his offer was a generous one and seemed designed to guarantee that the target of $2 million dollars would be met. But, whether he understood the implications or otherwise, he could not resist attaching to his offer a requirement that he should derive a personal and exclusive benefit in terms of the use of the property.

    There can be no clearer demonstration of the prevailing mentality of those with substantial financial resources – that, in the midst of a crowd-funded community enterprise, the ability and willingness to contribute more than anybody else should not be treated simply as a generous gesture, but should legitimately be accompanied by a requirement that a preferential and exclusive advantage for the donor should be gained.

    There was the authentic voice of those who had come to believe that money, in the form of personal wealth, would always trump all other considerations.

    We understand from Gareth Morgan, after the event, that his intention had been all along to arouse such indignation at this requirement as to encourage more people to donate and therefore to frustrate the personal and exclusive benefit that he appeared to seek.

    Whatever the truth of that, there can be no starker example of how the public good and the private interest can collide.

    The episode will no doubt pass quickly from the public memory. That would be a pity. That generous impulse, focused on delivering a public good rather than a private property right, is very much worth holding on to.

    It is surely a salutary and encouraging lesson to learn – that the community interest can be brought to bear and can prevail over the conviction that money will buy you anything. That lesson can be applied well beyond the sands of Awaroa. Our society will be stronger and healthier, as well as more agreeable for everyone to live in, if we see more of that community spirit expressed and applied in other parts of our national life as well.

    Bryan Gould

    24 February 2016


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