In search of the best outcome for our community

In the last week or two, the discussion around the redevelopment of Wanaka Airport has become more dynamic. More people are sharing their views – including those in favour of a large scale airport in Wanaka. That’s great – as we need open discussion and a full range of viewpoints in order to decide – as a community – what we want our future to look like.

While WSG encourages open discussion and dialogue – in fact we prefer it – there is one thing which we think will make it harder for us all to get a great community outcome. And that’s negative campaigning.

Negative campaigning

What do we mean by negative campaigning? The easiest way to explain this is to give you real examples. So in very public forums, such as newspapers, online forums, and online media, and even in a council meeting, WSG members have been labelled by a small number of people as …

  • scaremongers
  • conspiracy theorists
  • racists
  • “like Donald Trump”
  • marginal lobby groups
  • newbies to town who want to “shut the gate”

We’ve been charged with intimidating other people to the point that they are too scared to speak out, bullying, strong-arming people into becoming members, manipulating information and even “catastrophising”.

We’ve been cited as being anti-airport, anti-toursim, anti-growth, anti-business and naysayers. We’ve been told that we can’t grapple with the numbers and that we can’t cope with growth.

An approach which harms our community

Here’s why this so bad for our community. Two key reasons.

Firstly, not a single one of those claims has any basis in fact. Not one. Not a single one of those claims has been substantiated or backed up credibly. And in fact most of them are the complete opposite of what we stand for. By the way, what we stand for is clearly stated online, in black and white (and has been for over three months now), on this page (see “what do we stand for?”)

Secondly, these are personal attacks. Rather than focussing on debating the issues, some people are choosing to say things about us which are highly charged and simply untrue. Why would they do this, you might ask? Simple. Negative campaigning.

Negative campaigning is a technique often used in politics, where an opponent (or someone with a different viewpoint) deflects the conversation away from substance and logic, and makes negative claims (usually big, bold negative claims) about “the other side”. It’s can be effective because the claims are emotive and even sensational, and we humans (sadly) are drawn to that. It’s about shifting from a positive focus on the issues, to a negative focus on people.

This is so bad for our community; we’ll gain nothing if people on any side of this multi-faceted discussion just decide to expend their energy on negative campaigning. Constantly playing the player and not the ball is a waste of everyone’s time: it’s underhand, it’s emotive and it’s toxic. In a small community such as ours, it can quickly become divisive and corrosive.

Shaping the future of our community, together

The irony is, everyone involved in this discussion wants a positive future for Upper Clutha. Just what that future should look like is up for debate – and it will take a lot of discussion, and a great deal of compromise.

We should all put our energy into kicking the ball around so that as a community we get to a point we we develop a community view on these issues, rather than slinging mud. By seeking out the facts, focussing on the issues and engaging in robust discussion, we’ll get a much better outcome for the Upper Clutha community.

For that reason, WSG will remain 100% focussed on the facts and issues.

Posted by Mark Sinclair, deputy chair, Wanaka Stakeholders Group on behalf of all committee members and core group members, and the wider WSG membership, which will hit 3,000 people this week.

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