A pro-museum interpretation of the 60/40 museum referendum result finds the majority of the 40 per cent in favour of a new museum, want it on Cliff Road.
Sixty per cent of eligible voters who took part in the non-binding referendum voted against the museum.
But City Transformation Committee chairman and museum advocate Larry Baldock is taking encouragement from the fact the ‘no’ vote represents only 18 per cent of eligible voters.
He’s calling it the baby referendum.
“Like a newly arrived baby the turnout was small,” says Larry in his committee chairman’s report on Monday.
“Babies can be easily taken advantage of and manipulated and also become confused easily. Babies are costly and sometimes leave you wondering if you did the right thing.
“Regarding the location of a museum the results are confused because it is clear that 2728 of those who voted no to Council including a museum in the LTP also then voted for either Cliff Rd or Willow St as a location for the Museum they do not want,” says Larry.
“When those No voters are removed from the location issue, the results of Yes voters by Cliff Rd is 55 per cent - and Willow St 46 per cent.
“It also appears that there were some voters who so strongly support a museum they ticked both Cliff Road and Willow Street, perhaps in an attempt to send a clear message, ‘I don’t care where, as long as it’s somewhere’.”
If Council decides to proceed with a museum, the one message they can take from the referendum is that Cliff Rd will be acceptable to the majority of those in favour of a museum.
The referendum has come at a cost with very little benefit, except for some lessons that may be learnt and experience gained concerning on-line voting, says Larry.
There were 4956 online voters which is 16.67 per cent of the total votes cast. Predictions and hopes of this having a great effect on voter turnout in the Council by-election did not eventuate as 2064 or 41.65 per cent of online referendum voters did not also vote in the by-election. (6.9 per cent of total voters)
What they can’t know for certain is how much the electioneering and hype around the by-election actually affected the 18 per cent of eligible voters who voted against the museum to produce the 58 per cent result.
“Amongst them there will undoubtedly be some who have studied the issues and have made their minds up against the museum,” says Larry.
“They are happy for Tauranga to be the only large city not to have a museum. They will have their reasons and they have exercised their democratic right.”
But he says among the 18 per cent of eligible voters that voted no, there will be some who have made their decisions influenced by misinformation and confusion.
“Despite all the negative campaigning, with almost all of the by-election candidates saying no to a museum, and all the misleading information, a brave and dedicated 41 per cent of those who voted in the referendum said they supported Council including a Museum in the LTP,” says Larry.
“We cannot of course know the opinion of the almost 70 per cent of eligible voters who did not take part.
“If this referendum of only 31 per cent of eligible voters is somewhat representative of the whole population of the city, then we must ask ourselves as we continue in the LTP process, is 41 per cent support enough for us to continue to prepare for a museum in this city?”
While a referendum with a clear majority would be helpful, the city council makes decisions all the time that are not necessarily supported by the majority of ratepayer voters or citizens.
“Where would our passionate cyclists be in this city if every time we proposed spending ratepayer money on improving their facilities and infrastructure we had to get a majority vote in a referendum,” says Larry.
“Would we have bought a speedway stadium, built ASB arena, or spent millions on international quality hockey turfs, lights for a cricket oval, or annually grant a million dollars to an art gallery and many other facilities even though these are not always used and supported by everyone,” asks Larry.
“What if we held a referendum on whether to spend money on the proposed improvements to 15th Ave, a community centre in a needy suburb somewhere or even, perish the thought, a supermarket.
“The Council that voted nearly 20 years ago to install water meters despite the indicative referendum that opposed installing them, did the right thing and has preserved our city’s water supply and saved millions of dollars and the past two decades.
“If we are going to demand that to proceed with a museum there must be majority support from the community then we should be consistent on all the decisions we make.
“We are not elected to only serve the wishes of a majority in the city. We are to endeavour to meet the needs and desires of the whole community and it is time we paid attention to aspirations of this patient 40 per cent that have been waiting, in some case for decades for this great city to have a place to tell its history, its story and the so many other stories of the wonderful men and women who have lived here.”
The results of the ‘baby referendum’ will play a part in councillors decision making in the Long term Plan, but it must not dominate the process nor lead councillors to make early conclusions, says Larry.
“We have a lot of information and feedback to work through as we examine all the LTP submissions and listen to oral presentations from 300 submitters. We are required to maintain an open mind until we make our final decision on June 26.”