Questions over Council’s Dunedin Hospital SOS campaign

Received from Diane Yeldon
Fri, 7 April 2017 at 4:06 p.m.


What’s wrong with the DCC Dunedin Hospital SOS Campaign?

If you clear away all the smoke from the party-political bluster, bickering and name–calling arising over this campaign, has the Dunedin City Council really done anything out of order? Or were some councillors, in fact, a majority, just trying to do their best for the people of Dunedin?

Unfortunately, the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. A council communication cannot be a political advertisement.

The Electoral Act more or less defines a political advertisement as anything which persuades or encourages voters to vote in a particular way. But our democratic rights to participate in government decision-making are not limited to voting once every three years. Citizens also have the right to petition Government, make submissions to select committees and other public authorities and deliberative bodies, and lobby MPs and Government Ministers.

If local councillors had been presented with a motion which proposed the following : that the Council encourages and persuades voters to choose candidate A, they would have rightly been horrified and would have rejected it.

In comparison, a single, short and final paragraph in a council motion which proposes that the Council should ask for public support for ONLY its own preferred position on a central government decision, and that people make such views known to central government, looks harmless and is quite likely to pass unnoticed – and, in fact, did. But it is just as political. It encourages people to use their democratic rights in a particular way.

The council staff should have alerted councillors that this was the case and that such political activism was beyond the proper scope of any local body. The difference in wording may be subtle but the democratic principles involved are significant and far-reaching.

Monday, 3 April 2017


Dunedin City Council’s Dunedin Hospital SOS petition states:
“I demand that central government redevelops Dunedin Hospital in the centre of the city. The government must also make a clear commitment to retain a top flight teaching hospital for Dunedin and the wider Otago/Southland region.
Save Our Site. Save Our Services.”

Petition at the DCC-managed SOS website [framed screenshot]

At the bottom of the webpage, DCC says:
“Dunedin Hospital SOS
The Dunedin City Council (“DCC”, “we”, “us”, or “our”) operates, hosts, or manages a number of websites, including This site was created and funded following a Council resolution (21 February 2017) to communicate to Government its complete opposition to a rebuild of Dunedin Hospital outside the central city. It is not a permanent website.”

How the petition got off the ground by Council vote (21 February 2017) on the Notice of Motion:

[screenshots – click to enlarge]

DCC Council 21.2.17 Agenda – 15 Notice of Motion Dunedin Hospital Rebuild

DCC Council 21.2.17 Minutes – 15 Notice of Motion Dunedin Hospital Rebuild


The DCC Dunedin Hospital SOS flyer and Facebook campaign cost Ratepayers $7,102 (excl GST). Ratepayers also find themselves footing the bill for a DCC-led SOS media campaign:

ODT Online 8.4.17 [screenshot]

Related Posts and Comments:
● 6.4.17 ODT editor comments strongly #tick —Dunedin Hospital rebuild
● 27.3.17 Site Notice #DunedinHospital
● 26.2.17 Dunedin Hospital Redevelopment
● 6.2.17 Let the Ombudsman recommend for democracy at SDHB
● 24.1.17 SDHB/Govt : Physio Pool GRIEF
● 9.1.17 Audit NZ admonishes commissioner Grant and SDHB #Health
● 18.12.16 DCC set to take away CBD car parks without Economic Impact research
20.11.16 Delta at Dunedin Hospital #worseluck
7.11.16 SDHB #FAILS with Healthcare Communication and Governance

█ For more, enter the terms *hospital*, *sdhb* and *swann* in the search box at right.

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

This post is offered in the public interest.



Filed under Business, DCC, Democracy, Dunedin, Education, Finance, Health, Hospital, Hot air, Infrastructure, Media, Name, New Zealand, OAG, Ombudsman, People, Pet projects, Pics, Politics, Project management, Property, Public interest, Resource management, SDHB, Site, Town planning, Transportation, Travesty, University of Otago, Urban design, What stadium

35 responses to “Questions over Council’s Dunedin Hospital SOS campaign

  1. Hype O'Thermia

    The petition’s weight depends not on who organised it but on who signs it. Unlike rates demands and charges for rubbish disposal, each of us has a choice of whether to be for it or not. (Some objectors to rubbish disposal charges dump their crap illegally, but that’s by the bye.)
    It strikes me as unnecessarily picky to condemn this because of who organised, who fronted it. Every councillor is also many other things – tennis player, poet, cook, tramper, patient, family member of sometime hospital patients. Councillors were elected because they purported to wish to further our interests and those of the city as a whole. If they have been alert they must have noticed the scarcity of local voices saying “Forget about rebuilding/repairing our hospital. Why not downsize it, we don’t need it that big. And it’ll be a good thing if the medical school goes north.”

  2. Hello again, Hype O”Thermia, this situation reminds of the delightful saying “Gambling’s only a problem if you lose.” You may be okay with this particular local body campaign and so might 99% of Dunedin residents. But if a council can LEGALLY use this process for this particular issue, then they can use it for whatever they like. And that mightn’t be something you or anyone one else in the city is in favour of. Yet they would be spending ratepayers’ money on it. That’s why local bodies have to be ‘politically neutral’.
    No problem whatsoever with the councillors, like any other citizens, setting up and funding any campaign as individuals. Or the DCC making submissions to anyone or any agency.

  3. Gurglars

    Diane, gambling is only a problem if you lose.

    A city council, in fact all city councils in New Zealand with a green agenda are a major problem for entrepreneurs and business people.

    Public servants receive their overpaid incomes whether the local business people are successful or not – until the majority of businesses fail and taxation and rates are uncollectable.

    Public servants’ self interest should keep a balance, but unfortunately they believe their own bullshit and believe there are profits in flax weaving and planet saving.

  4. I think there should be much clearer rules about which organisations local bodies can be members of and pay subscriptions to.
    This situation is pretty bad:
    I know why councils like to have membership of all these organisations – because their people get to go to meetings and conferences and have dinners and so on. To say nothing of ‘little chats’.
    Is it in accordance with the purposes of local government as required in the Local Government Act? Something the Auditor-General might make a ruling on. But there’s no other agency I know of to police it or scrutinise it.

  5. Sam

    Quite right, Diane. There is an email being circulated to selected people in Mosgiel about a free pissup the Business Association is running with another substantial grant it has received from the Community Board. Some on the Board are too close to the Association. Especially when other Board grants to the Association resulted in monies being spent on things other than what was applied for to the Board.

  6. Elizabeth


    From: Sandy Graham [DCC General Manager Strategy and Governance]
    Sent: Monday, 10 April 2017 4:56 p.m.
    To: Elizabeth Kerr
    Subject: RE: Local Government Official Information request – 583596

    Dear Elizabeth

    I refer to your questions below and provide the following responses.

    We had previously advised (28 March 2017) that the Dunedin Hospital SOS Campaign had cost $7102 (excl GST).

    I have provided updated figures in response to your questions as follows:

    1. What is the cost of the DCC Dunedin Hospital SOS campaign at ODT Online ?
    ● $50

    2. Where else (through which other commercial media) is the campaign featured, and at what cost ? Please itemise.
    ● Through Facebook

    3. What is the DCC’s total marketing budget for the campaign ?
    ● No specific budget has been determined at this point

    4. From which council budgets is the campaign cost being met ?
    ● Council Communications and Marketing

    5. What are the other costs to DCC for this campaign not already publicly declared through LGOIMA ?
    ● $42 – for printing posters (300)
    ● $50 – ODT online advertisements (from Communications and Marketing budget)
    ● $70 – printing hardcopy feedback forms
    ● $540 – Facebook videos
    ● $685 – reprint of SOS flier
    ● $1890 – temp staff to backfill COMS team who have been assisting with written material for the campaign
    ⏹ $3277 Total (excl GST)

    This brings total costs as of 10 April to $10,379 (excl GST).

    I trust this provides the information you were seeking.



    From: Elizabeth Kerr
    Sent: Sunday, 9 April 2017 11:37 p.m.
    To: Official Information
    Subject: Local Government Official Information request – 583596


    Request details:

    1. What is the cost of the DCC Dunedin Hospital SOS campaign at ODT Online ?
    2. Where else (through which other commercial media) is the campaign featured, and at what cost ? Please itemise.
    3. What is the DCC’s total marketing budget for the campaign ?
    4. From which council budgets is the campaign cost being met ?
    5. What are the other costs to DCC for this campaign not already publicly declared through LGOIMA ?

    Please respond by email within 20 working days. Thanks.

  7. So expenditure so far close enough to $12,000 including GST. And I note the cost of temporary staff to get this done in the desired time frame. This is expenditure as of April 10. So maybe more is yet to be spent.
    Interesting information because the total number of forms received by the DCC seems to me to also be public information. So get that and with a bit of division and you can find out the cost to the DCC per form. A kind of campaign cost/success rate. It was reported in The Star, page 7, April 6 that over 1300 email forms have been received so far. So a cost of about $1 each at the moment. But, in addition, there are all the hard copy forms at the libraries (I don’t know where else) but I suppose they will cost staff time to collate etc. One good thing is that you don’t have to pay postage when you send a letter to an MP.
    I wonder if campaign expenses are capped because, otherwise, if the organisers aren’t happy with the results, they might be tempted to keep spending until the numbers look suitably impressive. How fortunate citizens are to have access to public information.
    Council staff must be very busy. I asked to talk to someone about whether this was legal over a week ago but no response yet.
    I wonder if people are clear that this is not a petition to Parliament – which is a formal process. It’s not a petition of any kind. This is just lobbying elected reps. In not very moderate language, either. (“I demand …”)
    Notice that the form says, “Save our services.” But the resolution makes no mention of services. So there’s no way that this bit can be said to have been authorised. Don’t know if this bit about services is justified or accurate either. Maybe neither and rather alarmist and might encourage people to sign even when they weren’t much bothered by site selection. SOS is pretty alarmist too but I suppose that’s the nature of campaigning.
    Council expenditure on this kind of thing would certainly be a horrible precedent to set.
    The DCC must have a very low opinion of the intelligence and gumption of the people of Dunedin who they seem to believe are not capable of conveying their views to MPs etc without the DCC spoon-feeding them. Or perhaps kicking them up the a*** and shaming them if they are seen to be letting the side down. “Have you sent your SOS ?” chides ODT in another political ad without attribution of who placed and paid for it.
    ODT might claim in their editorial that they accept minority views. They certainly didn’t accept mine on this issue.
    Oh, I also note this strange public comment from Cr Hawkins, the seconder of the motion:
    Cr Aaron Hawkins said it was not a council campaign, but needed the momentum of residents to power it.
    “This isn’t a council campaign, this is a city campaign.”

    {For obvious reasons, What if? Dunedin made the editorial decision not to run The Star article (April 6). -Eds}

    • Elizabeth

      That’s a few dollars the people of South Dunedin didn’t receive for their infrastructure.

      • I am tempted to do a bit of campaigning myself, Elizabeth, like going to the next council meeting with a big sign saying:
        The purpose of local government is –
        (a) to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and

        (b) to meet the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses. (ends)

        But, sadly, I doubt that the councillors would get the point ….

        • Elizabeth

          A magnificent visual campaign, Diane. They might not get it – but followers of Ch39 News, Facebook and Twitter would.

    • Oops, silly me. $12,000 divided by 1,300 is 9.23.
      So not a very good return on investment yet.

  8. Elizabeth

    Sainted aunt!

    At Facebook:

  9. Chairman Andrew Blair told RNZ News earlier this week that he had heard the council’s message loud and clear and it did not need to launch a campaign. ….
    A spokesperson Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he was well aware of the council’s desire to keep the new hospital as close to the current one as possible.

    Well, I suppose Dunedin can be grateful for at least three non-stampeding city councillors.

  10. Just for the record, the three councillors who voted against the motion to conduct the Dunedin Hospital SOS campaign were Crs Hall, Vandervis and Lord. All well proven in the past to have the ability to think for themselves and, when necessary, the intestinal fortitude to stand against the majority.

  11. Elizabeth

    We have a better chance of success with the Dunedin Hospital rebuild if we stop harassing the Government, writes Hilary Calvert.

    Wed, 12 Apr 2017
    ODT: Hospital rebuild: back off but don’t back down
    By Hilary Calvert
    OPINION If we asked Otago people what they most want from health services it would likely be health service delivery in the province at least as good as the rest of New Zealand. For example, whatever qualifies for an operation here should be the same that qualifies those up north. The Dunedin School of Medicine is vital to us as well. […] we can get together and let this Government know, each and every day, that we want equitable services and the Dunedin School of Medicine. Instead we bang on about all manner of disparate issues, leaving room for the government of the day to just pick up whichever is convenient during election years. Cont/

  12. “Harassing of the Government in an imagined party political fashion.” Well said by Hilary Calvert. Spot on!

    Here’s the meeting video for 21 Feb. Starting from 1.58.24 into the video, you can watch the discussion on the resolution which authorised the campaign. This was the Notice of Motion put forward by Cr Benson-Pope and seconded by Cr Hawkins. When speaking, Cr Benson-Pope seems to me to do a lot of mind-reading about the views of the people of Dunedin on the subject.

    There was no information in the agenda about how much the ‘asking for support’ would cost or how the ‘asking for support’ would be carried out. Nor did any councillors ask questions about this. Their attention was focused solely on discussing the rights and wrongs of the hospital siting (with only a couple of councillors saying they didn’t think it was any of their business.)

    I can’t help wondering if many of the councillors did not understood that this ‘asking for support’ would result in unleashing a full-blown advertising campaign with leaflet drop, website and newspaper ads costing so far $12,000! I wonder if the motion had been taken in two parts with the second part only about the campaign and its full extent and costs disclosed the majority would have still voted in favour.

    • Hype O'Thermia

      Diane, “I can’t help wondering if many of the councillors did not understood that this ‘asking for support’ would result in unleashing a full-blown advertising campaign with leaflet drop, website and newspaper ads costing so far $12,000!”
      I find I have to curb my old understanding of “support” to rule out encouragement, helpful physical effort, suggestions drawing on one’s own years of experience, loan of guillotine for cutting up handouts printed 3 to the page, etc. It now means “money” and nothing but money. Lovely free no-obligation money.

  13. What CRAP chairing from the mayor, allowing Cr Benson-Pope to ramble on about the courthouse!

  14. A bit of WTF???? transcription from the above discussion:

    2.18.22 into video
    Cr Newell: The other thing is as a council, I think we do need to offer leadership, especially when none has been shown thus far by central government. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to decide what is happening to our city. That is why we were elected here. … (ends)

    No …. that was NOT why they were elected there. Someone needs to explain to Cr Newell the basics of the difference between local and central government and that he is not a Member of Parliament.

    And Cr Benson-Pope sets a very bad example with his laying down the law to central government. For example, 2.22.23 into the video, he says:
    “I don’t support those who would be happy with whatever wise decision Government might make, because government unless it faces the pressure of the population makes stupid decisions, based on stupid Treasury advice …”
    Apart from entirely confusing the proper purpose, role and scope of local government, this is not complying with the DCC’s Code of Conduct to treat other with respect. I wonder why the chair allows it.

    And, even more worrying, has Mayor Cull inadvertently let a cat out of the bag by making the following comment?

    2.20.06 into video
    Mayor Cull: I acknowledge that this is a complicated build … that’s why we’re paying a number of consultants rather a lot of money for rather a long time to sort it out …

    Does this mean the DCC is spending ‘rather a lot of money’ on a central government decision? If so, why? Surely, such costly meddling would be irresponsible since the DCC can hardly pay for its legitimate local government responsibilities?

  15. Hype O'Thermia

    ‘Scuse me, when did DCC get so much spare money it can lash out on consultants about Other People’s Job? –

    “Mayor Cull: I acknowledge that this is a complicated build … that’s why we’re paying a number of consultants rather a lot of money for rather a long time to sort it out …”

    – oh I almost forgot. It’s Other People’s Money!

  16. Hmm, no, that ‘we’ may not mean the DCC but rather the taxpayers of New Zealand. But I have made an Official Information request to clarify.

    • I received an Official Information response on this. No, the DCC did not spend any more money on the hospital issue further than the campaign. Well, that’s good.
      But, on the other hand, it means that the councillors had no information on which to make their decision apart from what was already in the public domain….. supposing they had read it all, understood it all and believed it all. Plenty of indications that some or none of these conditions may have applied to all councillors. So what kind of decision-making is that?

      Further interesting info – it seems a Notice of Motion is purely the business, and responsibility of the councillors who move and second it. The staff don’t interfere or otherwise get involved.

  17. The DCC’s recent foray into what I think comes close to civil disobedience could, at worst, end up with central government dissolving the council and replacing it with a board of commissioners. Then local people would lose what rights of democratic representation they presently have. Central government would never directly address the matter of political agitation, as it’s too much of a hot potato. But they don’t need to. There have been plenty of occasions of mismanagement by the DCC and it would only be necessary to wait for the next one to pounce.
    There are real and serious tensions between central and regional political interests but a simplistic, tantrum-throwing and name-calling approach saying that regions want more and they want it now is not going to help. Regions need more political rights to self-determination and their leaders need to advocate for these and negotiate with central government, rather than alienating its people. For those interested in the considerable theory behind this idea of local empowerment (the’right to the city’), I strongly recommend the work of David Harvey and David Graeber. Plenty of stuff on the internet.

    • Elizabeth

      The Dunedin Hospital SOS campaign, raised by DCC, probably just makes the city council look weak (given the initiators’ names involved) rather than being seen as an act of civil disobedience. In other words, stupid and calculating, and underbaked. A tomcat spinball of rotten teeth and ragged fur with lots of spitting – from local elected reps with little mana. And stupid enough to be siphoning ratepayer monies (campaign funds) without publicly consulting for approval to do so. A matter for the Auditor-General.

      This campaign should have been initiated by a group of Dunedin’s leading citizens, not by the new unproven and morally impoverished yes-council.

  18. I was rather picturing the DCC in this as Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin, prancing around disrespectfully within striking distance of the dangerous owl, Old Brown. Squirrel Nutkin lost his tail so fast and suddenly that no-one was sure quite how.

  19. In ODT today : A South Dunedin hospital ticks lots of boxes
    Interesting opinion piece in today’s ODT from Cr Vandervis:

  20. Calvin Oaten

    I think Cr Lee Vandervis’s comments are enlightening and show thinking outside the box. I also think his suggestions need a great deal of follow up thinking by council.

    Let’s investigate and debate the issue on its merits, then if accepted put a reasoned letter of support to government. Too hard? With the current mindset perhaps, perhaps. Shame!

    {Moderated. In particular, the councillor name deleted avoids an action. -Eds}

  21. Elizabeth

    The bid by Waikato District Health Board and Waikato University for a medical school has greatly perturbed Otago and Auckland universities.

    Sat, 22 Apr 2017
    ODT: Medical schools jolted into action
    By Eileen Goodwin
    There is nothing like a common threat to unite old foes. Waikato’s bid to set up a third medical school has forced traditional rivals Otago and Auckland into an unlikely alliance. The two medical schools have in recent months pitched up together in Wellington to persuade officials of the merits of their proposed “School of Rural Health”. It is quite a contrast from their traditionally frosty relationship. Cont/

    Related article
    22.4.17 ODT: Waikato call for ‘radical’ medical education reform

  22. A cynic (or realist?) would wonder whether they are fighting over their market in the educational sector, rather than being concerned about the provision of health care professionals.
    Pretty stupid education system in NZ where education providers are set up to be business competitors.

  23. Hype O'Thermia

    I’m wondering about the “pressure cooker” GP training. There were “pressure cooker” trained teachers, I think this was a post war shortage thing, one of you probably knows the story. They didn’t actually seem to be any worse than other teachers, nor better.
    IF good GPs can be produced quicker, why aren’t they already?
    As for teachers, now we have an MP urging teacher training should be postgrad, which would make becoming a teacher an even worse choice considering how much money and time would have to be invested for a poor monetary return – and would put a pointless delay in the way of people with a passion for teaching and natural personality qualities for communicating with young people and inspiring them with love of learning.
    China had its “barefoot doctors” (Wikipedia, “farmers who received minimal basic medical and paramedical training and worked in rural villages in the People’s Republic of China. Their purpose was to bring health care to rural areas where urban-trained doctors would not settle.”) and here there was a move to add an intermediate between nurse and – how many, 8? – years to become a GP. Nurse Practitioners:
    Nurse practitioners combine advanced nursing knowledge and skills with diagnostic reasoning and therapeutic knowledge to provide patient-centred healthcare services including the diagnosis and management of health consumers with common and complex health conditions.”

    So – some important questions need sorting, and not just about health professionals and teachers. How much training is needed, and what training? Is it necessary to start with, or would it be better to look at a trades model, apprentice > journeyman > tradesman > master, and whether further expertise is better learned after one has been working on-site for a while and come to an appreciation of how much one *doesn’t* know yet?
    And how much is demand for qualifications driven by patch protection and gatekeeping? Or “rising status” which was the reason given for cleaners and other lowly (as in, appallingly badly paid) workers to have diplomas and qualifications in you-name-it, and is I believe behind the idea that teachers should have to complete a degree before training as teachers – any teachers for any age group.

  24. Right, my Public Forum submission all written out for the Council meeting of 1st May (NB The meeting starts at 12.00 noon – an hour earlier than usual).
    I wonder if any of the councillors were to ask me a question on it which I thought was stupid, whether I might forget my manners enough to actually say so. (Sorry, Cr Blah, but I am declining to answer that question on account of its stupidity.) It would interesting then to see whether the Chair (the Mayor) would enforce a double standard – one rule of courtesy for members of the public and quite a different one for (some) councillors. After all, I remember the Mayor holding forth at some length a couple of years ago about the importance of the DCC upholding its Code of Conduct.

    • Elizabeth

      All the best with this Diane. So many speakers at the DCC public forums are not dignified by questions from the elected slouched. Let’s hope for better things when you front.

  25. Elizabeth

    At Twitter:

    Former #NZ nurse shocked at staff conditions at #Dunedin Hospital @whatifdunedin @WoodhouseMP @clarecurranmp— Media Man (@TheWarRoomNZ) April 24, 2017


    Mon, 24 Apr 2017
    ODT: Another hospital rebuild setback
    By Eileen Goodwin
    Uncertainty about the size of the Dunedin Hospital rebuild appears to have forced the Ministry of Health to delay a plan to gauge private sector interest in taking a stake in it. A “market sounding” for a public-private partnership (PPP) was pencilled in for April-May in a hospital rebuild schedule. When the Otago Daily Times first asked if it was going ahead, rebuild boss Andrew Blair said it was. “Yes, a market sounding is taking place, as we indicated would happen,” he said in an email. But when pressed for details, a ministry spokeswoman revealed it had been put off. “The delay is so we can give the market a clearer picture of what we are progressing. We have recently made the decision to delay the market sounding until after decisions are made on what options will be progressed from the indicative business case into the detailed business case.” The shape of the project is unknown. The ministry cannot say if the ward block, the biggest hospital building, will be replaced. Cont/


    At Facebook:

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