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Archive for the ‘local government’ Category

A good day for the left

Posted by on October 13th, 2013

What to make of the local government election results?  On the face of it you’d have to say that with centre left mayors in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin the vibe is good for the left heading into 2014.

Dave Cull and Celia Wade-Brown fended off challengers in Dunedin and Wellington. Lianne Dalziel romped in without a serious opponent in Christchurch. Life is about to get more interesting for Gerry Brownlee who now has to contend with a more sophisticated political operator in the mayor’s chair. Lianne will be a formidable counter-balance to National’s strange mixture of top-down and hands-off approach to the rebuild.

In Auckland Len Brown has a thumping mandate. Turn out is down but as Mike Williams argues in the Herald on Sunday, that is largely because Len never had a serious challenger on the Right. Mr Palino garnered 50,000 100,000 votes, scooping up the conservative votes on the North Shore and the Eastern Suburbs who were never going to vote for Len after their rates went up under the rating unification scheme legislated by National.  But the Auckland Right never got behind him in a serious way.

They put their resources into a couple of strategic Council contests, namely Denise Krum v Richard Northey in the Maungakiekie ward, and Linda Cooper v Christine Rose in Waitakere, hoping to tip the balance of power on Council. However the National Party picking up both those seats is neatly offset by Labour’s Ross Clow winning the Whau ward from Noeline Raffils, and left leaning John Watson joining his ticket-mate Wayne Walker in Albany. The balance of power on Council is unlikely to change much at all as a result.

The big story in Auckland is Len Brown’s long term mortgage on the Town Hall. The fact that the Right couldn’t find a credible challenger says it all. Len’s been the alternative government for the last three years on litmus test issues like transport and housing. He even rolled Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce on the City Rail Link.  If he can get the City Rail Link tunnelling underway before the next election (possible with a Labour win in 2014) then you’ll have to crowbar him out of the Town Hall.

And more good news for the left in Auckland: Labour and progressive allies scored some notable successes in the local boards. Out west where I am, Labour tickets won a majority in the Whau,  got three elected in Henderson-Massey, and the Labour-Green-Independent Future West won a clean sweep in Waitakere Ranges.  City Vision maintained its majorities in Waitemata and Eden-Albert. Labour wrested Otara-Papatoetoe from the centre right. Kaipatiki on the Shore shifted in a more progressive direction, and the progressive Roskill Community Voice team won a majority on the Puketepapa board.

National’s war on Auckland: a report from the front

Posted by on May 17th, 2013

I woke today to hear Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse declare on Morning Report the housing accord between the Government and Auckland was in danger, and Auckland Council would not ratify the accord until certain matters had been sorted out.

Crikey, it didn’t take long for the centrepiece of the National Government’s Budget to start unravelling.

Was it poor political management? Did Ministers English and Smith really think Auckland Council would not be annoyed by the Goverment sneaking into the Bill extra powers to override the Council in direct contradiction of its agreement announced only a week earlier in a grip and grin session at Hobsonville involving Key, Smith and Brown?

Or was it all about getting a few hairy chested headlines the day after the Budget with the Government getting tough on housing affordability? And tough on Auckland Council as a useful proxy? Bill English told his post-Budget breakfast he wasn’t going to let 20 planners  in the Auckland Council planning department wreck the economy!

In any case, the Government has just bought itself a couple of months of uncertainty and controversy over its flagship housing policy. Auckland Council, with Len Brown’s inexhaustible supply of good will, has shown itself to be remarkably patient and wily when it comes to dealing with the long list of mostly South Island ministers sent to deal with it: Gerry Brownlee, Amy Adams, Nick Smith, and now Bill English. (Except Bill English is from Karori.)

This is a high stakes tactic for the Government. If they provoke Auckland Council enough the Council could walk away from the Accord. The Government would then have to choose between backing off and losing face, or using its new powers to override Auckland Council and impose its own planning rules.

I suspect that would not go down well with Aucklanders who tend to view central government Wellington as a foreign country which should as much as possible be kept at bay.  Imposing martial law on Auckland Council’s urban planning would be unpopular to say the least.

National are already offside with Aucklanders on transport (the most recent Herald poll had support for the City Rail Link at 63%). Gerry Brownlee’s impersonation of a human roadblock has left the city distinctly unamused. Even National’s traditional allies like the Employers and Manufacturers Association, and the Chamber of Commerce, have deserted it on this issue.

Over-riding Auckland Council’s planning laws would be up there with the suspension of Environment Canterbury and Gerry Brownlee’s post-quake wartime powers in the great pantheon of this National Government’s power hungry dealings with local councils.

National clearly thinks local government is a convenient punching bag. And I have no doubt councils around the country are watching this latest stoush with alarm. The housing accords bill sets up a legal framework that allows these powers to be used anywhere in the country.

It will be really interesting to watch how this slow motion punch up plays out. The super city reforms created something new and different. The Auckland Council, representing one-third of the country’s population and bigger than Fonterra and Telecom combined, is not like a council. It is more like an Australian state government.

And with mayoral and council elections in October, a stoush with the National Government may be just what Len Brown needs to guarantee re-election. (Maurice Williamson by the way has gone very quiet on his mayoral plans. I suspect there is an inverse relation between the amount of time the Government spends fighting Auckland Council and Maurice’s poll numbers.)

Given the constitutional supremacy of Parliament, the National Government could bludgeon Auckland Council into  submission if it wanted to. But is that an outcome, with all the likely consequences, National really wants, given that in relatively short time it is going to need the votes of  Aucklanders?

Labour voted for the Bill at first reading for two reasons: the housing affordability crisis demands a response and while it is inadequate, it is at least something.  The accord cherry picks from the draft Unitary Plan. Opening up greenfields land and fast tracking consenting gives no guarantee that any affordable housing will be built.

We also felt that if the Government and Auckland Council spent six weeks hammering out an agreement on this issue then it at least deserved scrutiny at select committee.  If Auckland Council decide not to ratify the accord that is going to make select committee hearings very interesting.

I think I might put up an amendment to the Bill giving Auckland Council the power to override the National Government if it can’t get what it wants and introduce a Capital Gains Tax in Auckland. Excluding the family home of course.

A lion in Parliament but a mouse when he comes to Auckland

Posted by on March 24th, 2013

Two weeks ago Housing Minister Nick Smith accused Len Brown of killing the dreams of Aucklanders, and said the city’s planning rules had a stranglehold on the city.  The potshots have continued for the past fortnight.  Then today on Q&A, the day before he flies to Auckland to meet Len Brown and Penny Hulse, Smith comes over all olive branches and white doves: there is a lot of agreement, the Auckland Plan is now “balanced” and he and Len are “in the same paddock”.

So what gives? The Member for Nelson is a lion in Parliament but a mouse when he comes to Auckland.  What has changed?

My theory: all the sound and fury from the Government is just political play acting designed to hide the fact that the Government has done nothing about housing affordability over the last four years. Nick Smith’s main job as Housing Minister is to run interference – blaming Auckland Council and framing the issue as being about the availability of greenfields land when even the Productivity Commission questions whether opening up large quantities of new land on the fringes will result in more affordable homes.

This is familiar stuff from Nick Smith. Remember the manufactured ACC crisis? Remember the bogus numbers on Council borrowing he used to justify his local government reform bill that had to be taken down from the Internal Affairs website?

But the risk here is that he is picking a fight with the country’s biggest city, as Mai Chen argued in the Herald.  Aucklanders don’t take kindly to another South Island MP trying to run Auckland from his office in Wellington. Having Gerry set our transport priorities is bad enough.

Nick Smith flies to Auckland to meet with Len Brown and Penny Hulse tomorrow. I welcome his visit. He might learn something. But if he wants to play at being an Aucklander by having a say on our plan then he should at least walk the talk. I challenge him to skip the limo tomorrow and drive himself from the airport to the Town Hall in morning rush hour. Let’s see how he gets on.

The Government’s War on Auckland – Part 2

Posted by on March 15th, 2013

Auckland is a great place to be at the moment. The summer festival season is in full swing:  Waitangi, Chinese New Year, Pasifika, and right now a stunning arts festival.

There are exciting changes underway in public transport. A new high frequency network in the offing, electric trains will start to arrive later this year, and the City Rail Link is a matter of when not if. Ludo Campbell Reid has remodelled city streets downtown and out in the burbs. Wynyard Quarter, Britomart and Imperial Lane are buzzing. And the harbour is full of snapper!

It confirms the suspicion that if you could sort out the gridlock and housing affordability, Auckland would start to become a damn fine city. Today’s release of the draft Unitary Plan is a key milestone in that.

It’s just a shame the National Government is so out of sync with it. They cannot bear having to deal with a progressive Mayor, and just want to take the city back to its vision of Auckland as a 1950s sprawling, motorway-crossed cow town.

I have posted at The Standard on The Government’s War on Auckland.  How long do we have to put up with South Island Ministers like Nick Smith and Gerry Brownlee trying to run Auckland from their offices in Wellington?

Nick Smith, the Minister of Sprawl, and Gerry Brownlee, the Minister of Gridlock.

Labour’s vision for Auckland is a highly liveable, job-rich powerhouse for the New Zealand economy, and a magnet for investment, visitors and migrants. A 21st century compact city with great public transport, public spaces and thriving urban neighbourhoods. A city that protects and celebrates its natural taonga: the Gulf, volcanoes, the Waitakeres, and the rural hinterland. A more democratic super city, and active government from the Council and central government working together.

The Auckland Plan gets the fundamentals right: fix gridlock by investing in public transport, bold plan by central govt and Auckland Council to deliver affordable housing, compact city to contain the sprawl, local and central govt working together a. to stimulate high value manufacturing and jobs, and b. tackle entrenched inequality and poverty via the Auckland Plan’s southern initiative.

But it needs progressive leadership both at the Council and in central government to make it happen. Len Brown and the Council are doing their bit. Maybe if National doesn’t want to be part of the solution they should just hand Aucklanders a cheque for their share of taxes paid and let us get on with it?  (At least until we get progressive leadership back in the Beehive.)

Young Labour Find Hamilton Roots

Posted by on January 21st, 2013

Yesterday Young Labour was in Hamilton West for the second leg of their Clarion Tour.

The Clarion tour is named after the famed Clarion Cycling Club, which consisted of a group of dedicated British political activists who rode around the English countryside in the 1890s talking about their vision for a better and fairer society.

Young Labour are following this tradition: travelling around New Zealand living out Labour values.

In Hamilton Young Labour and I went to the Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park. We got out there and did what we call the “Pukeko stomp” where we release the newly planted native plants from the faster growing grass and weeds. It is an essential park of the community vision to provide both a home for Tui and a great location of community education and recreation.

Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park is the first step in the much needed restoration of native bush in the Waikato. From the 1820s European settlers began arriving in the area paving the way for the famous land clearances of the 1860s. It was clearing and draining of the land that gave the region much of the open pasture land we are renowned for today.

But it also destroyed all but 1% of the wetland once widespread in the region and meant native New Zealand birds were all but banished from Hamilton.

As with any story what struck Young Labour and I was how great community initiatives like Waiwhakareke are determined by abstract decisions about priorities. The Hamilton City Council lost millions of ratepayer’s money when it made the ill-fated decision 48 to bring the V8s to Hamilton. I fear it will be great initiatives like Waiwhakareke that may bear the brunt of Council attempts to recover that money. Pensioner housing units have already been sold off in a short-sighted attempt to reduce the city’s debt.

You can check out the other great community projects Young Labour are undertaking from West Auckland to Christchurch at

Hands-off and Half-baked

Posted by on January 4th, 2013

NICOLE MATHEWSON reports in The Press (4 January 2013):

A proposal to shift to a 10-year census could seriously affect Christchurch’s recovery, critics say.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson said in July 2011 the Government was considering holding the census once every decade.

Currently conducted every five years, the census helps determine electoral boundaries and funding for services like district health boards, schools and the police.

I agree with our Earthquake Recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel:

“Christchurch was already living with the consequences of a delayed census …I’d really want to see a good case put up for a delay. We’ve had the schools shake-up landed on the city without the benefit of knowledge about where the settlement patterns are going to fall and that’s wrong.”

Green’s Eugenie Sage cited as an example that one of the reasons for not closing Belfast’s Ouruhia School is potential roll growth from the Prestons and Belfast subdivisions. “Five-yearly census information will help confirm that.”

Labour statistics spokesman Raymond Huo said a 10-yearly census would reduce costs to Statistics New Zealand, but it was “not that straightforward”.

“I think Williamson’s idea is half-baked at best because it’s not that simple,” he said.

“The key drivers are cost constraints and the demand for more frequent detailed and accurate statistics. Particularly for the Christchurch area, we need more frequent and accurate data.”

Indeed. There are at least three issues as Statistics NZ noted:

  • Continuing cost increases (due to population growth and inflation);
  • Not keeping pace with potential cost savings arising from technological changes;
  • Increasing availability of administrative date.

NZ could learn a lot from international experience. Australia has developed its eCensus system and one of the goals for its 2016 census is to further increase internet uptake. At its 2011 census 34% of households completed forms online, already.

Canada is researching methodology options (based on existing administrative registers plus a full-enumeration field census with yearly updates).

France’s approach is unique: a full-enumeration of population and dwelling every five years plus 8% sample conducted every year in large municipalities. Date are released annually as moving averages.

US also changed census model. In 2010, its 10-yearly long-form census was replaced by ACS – a large annual survey of 3 million households.

Statistics NZ in its Transforming the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings: Issues, options, and strategy gave a detailed analysis of each option/approach.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson could simply read it and talk to his officials. His approach has so far been hands-off and his idea, half-baked.

Delay on local alcohol action way too long

Posted by on October 22nd, 2012

The Alcohol Reform Bill returns to the House for its committee-stage debate tomorrow. The Bill is a disappointment in many ways, with many of the Law Commission’s more substantive recommendations ignored, but one provision that has the power to do a lot of good is the one that gives local Councils the power to regulate liquor outlets by way of Local Alcohol Policies.

There has been a palpable shift in community attitudes to alcohol abuse in recent years. Communities have felt powerless and angry at the proliferation of corner liquor stores, extended opening hours, and the marketing of cheap booze. Local Alcohol Policies will allow Councils to regulate the number and location of outlets, as well as opening hours.

But for some strange reason the Government has ignored the calls of Councils who have told them that the Bill’s 12 month delay before the framework for the policies becomes operative is just too long.

It means that after the 12 month delay, a month for notification and appeals, and then another three months’ public notice for policies that affect opening hours, it could be up to 16 months before Councils’ new alcohol policies start to bite.

That is way too long.

I’m putting up an amendment that will reduce the wait to three months. This should be plenty of time for police and social agencies to get ready. Add four more months for public notification and it will mean new Local Alcohol Policies will be up and running within seven months.

It won’t affect the people I represent in West Auckland. The presence of the licensing trusts out here ensures socially responsible management of liquor marketing, but this provision will make a big difference everywhere else. Let’s just make it happen more quickly.

Time for transparency.

Posted by on April 11th, 2012

It was only a few months ago rate payers took to the streets to protest the pay increases given to some CEOs of local government.  They were outraged at the size of increases and the process used by some councils to make decisions about terms, conditions and remuneration for their CEOs.

The most galling was the $68,000 pay increase given to Tony Marriott, CEO of Christchurch City Council.  Here was a city on its knees with people homeless, businesses in ruin and many without a job.  All were facing hard work and a daily struggle.  But some on the Council thought it an appropriate time to reward Mr Marriott for his ‘hard work’.

Mr Marriott didn’t help by trying to justify a pay increase through the media.  The interview with him in ‘The Press’ incensed the public even more.  Eventually Mr Marriott backed down, somewhat reluctantly, and decided not to accept such a huge increase.  But the damage was done.  The public want a more transparent and independent process.

My member’s bill ‘Local Government( Salary Moderation) Amendment Bill‘ now lodged for the next ballot, will address many of the concerns people have expressed.


Government says no to Ports transparency

Posted by on April 4th, 2012

Today I asked the House to agree to introduce my members’ bill, called the Local Government (Council Controlled Organisations) Amendment Bill and set it down for the next Members Day. The government said no.

The bill would have made information held by ports accessible under the Official Information Act and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

Currently, Ports are excluded in the definition of CCOs under the Local Government Act.  An easy amendment to the Local Government Act, as proposed by No Right Turn, (thanks NRT) would have fixed this deficiency. 

Obviously, the costly dispute at the Ports of Auckland has highlighted the need for this bill. The way in which the Ports of Auckland board and management have acted without transparency and accountability has made it very clear there is a need to ensure that these publicly-owned businesses are opened to the same scrutiny every other public institution faces.

We can get information about the local school or a public library, or even SOEs, but we can’t get information about valuable assets like our publicly owned ports, that are worth millions of dollars.

It’s hard to believe any government that claims it cares about transparency and accountability would have a problem supporting a bill like this one.  But National is demonstrating that it’s all talk when it comes to open government.

So now the bill will go into the ballot. I’m not giving up.

National’s nanny state anti-camping Bill

Posted by on July 7th, 2011

The great Kiwi road trip could be at risk. A bunch of friends hit the road Friday night for a weekend of surfing. In the early hours they reach the beach and sleep in the van so they can get a few hours sleep before hitting the water at sunrise. Under the Government’s anti-Freedom Camping Bill they could be up for an instant $150.   (For surfing you can also read fishing, tramping, hunting…)

The Bill is an attempt to deal with the problem of littering and human waste left by the large number of campervans in some of the country’s most scenic spots.  It makes it easier for Councils to declare areas off-limits to freedom camping, and gives them an enforcement regime that includes instant fines for both littering, and camping in the wrong areas.

Let’s be clear: there is a problem here. Noone likes to see toilet waste on the roadside in our scenic spots. But according to submitters it is mostly caused by international visitors travelling in campervans without self-contained toilet facilities.

Our objection is that the Bill is a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.  It gives DoC and Councils the tools to effectively outlaw freedom camping by declaring large areas out of bounds for freedom campers. Both DoC and Councils can levy instant fines on offenders.  Now DoC doesn’t have a record of predatory enforcement regimes for the purposes of income generation, but you can’t say the same thing about some Councils.

It amazes me that other more targeted approaches haven’t been tried first. Why not bring in instant fines for littering and waste dumping (and not freedom camping), have the option of levying those fines on vehicles (as is done with traffic fines) and then make it mandatory for rental companies to recover the fine from the client’s credit card.

Why not phase out campervans that don’t have self-contained toilet facilities?  Maybe as a country that encourages higher and higher numbers of tourists we should invest a bit more in visitor infrastructure like toilets, rubbish bins, and waste disposal facilities for campervans?

From an email just in:

Thanks for your common sense stand on freedom camping, I’m a kiwi – currently overseas.As a surfer being able to enjoy New Zealand, crashing where there are waves is worth more to me than any sum of money.This bill represents a destruction of what I value most about New Zealand, and NZder’s tradition of camping next to lakes, the sea, enjoying what we ALL have as kiwis.

P.S. I should add that we voted for the Bill at first reading, recognising there is a problem and we thought the Bill deserved some select committee scrutiny. Having read and heard the submissions, we now think it is a dog.

Old dog lost his shine but hasn’t forgotten all his tricks

Posted by on June 23rd, 2011

We had Rodney Hide at select committee this morning to take questions on local government estimates. His fur seems to have lost some of its shine since the Brash coup. But he was in good form this morning: typically unrepentant on the Auckland super city IT cost blow out.

When he wrote in the Herald last June the super city’s new computer system would cost only $126 million, did he know then that it would cost another $450 million to complete over the next few years?  No, apparently not.

Continuing a discussion we had at last year’s estimates hearing, did he accept now that the Auckland ratepayer considered the whole cost of the new IT system to be a cost of the establishment of the super city, as opposed to just the initial pre-amalgamation costs?  No, again.

We got on to his new review of the system of local government which a Cabinet paper had promised would begin with stakeholder consultations open to the public, but now appears to be a series of invitation-only closed-door meetings with participants asked not to discuss the proceedings outside the meeting.

He wasn’t bothered by the secretive nature of the meetings: at least officials were consulting stakeholders, they could have just gone ahead and developed the reform proposals without talking to anyone.  I guess that shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is the Minister who handed 75% of Auckland local government over to hand-picked corporate boards who now do most of their business behind closed doors.

Would he guarantee there would be no forced council amalgamations following his review of the system of local government? His bemused expression seemed to acknowledge that barring some political miracle he won’t be around to guarantee anything after November. I think he is probably mentally moving on to other things already: his answer, no he could not give that guarantee. He didn’t know what a future Labour local government minister might do.

P.S. Nikki Kaye asked some wonderful patsy questions about how successful the super city has been. I wonder if she will be campaigning in Auckland Central on its success with Rodney at her side?

Tau shoots himself in foot

Posted by on June 18th, 2011

My opponent in Te Atatu, Tau Henare, is on the rampage campaigning on behalf of West Auckland businesses he says are being unfairly charged higher rates by the Auckland Council than businesses in other parts of the city.

Tau says this is a “constitutional outrage” and that West Auckland businesses are “being bled dry”.

He is right that West Auckland businesses should not have to pay more than those in other parts of the new super city. But they wouldn’t have to, if it weren’t for a silly law passed by National and voted for by Tau Henare.

The Local Government (Auckland Transition Provisions) Act explicitly prohibits the Auckland Council from introducing a new unified rating regime until mid-2012. Not only did Tau vote for it. He sat on the select committee that heard public submissions on the Bill.

Under the Act the Auckland Council is this year allowed only to levy a uniform percentage change on the pre-super city rates – a move carefully designed by National to make sure Aucklanders didn’t get hit by super-sized rates increases just before this year’s general election.

(For the record, Labour voted against it.)

Auckland Unleashed – still time to have your say

Posted by on May 26th, 2011

The new Auckland Council is taking public submissions on the first Auckland Plan – a 30-year blueprint for the new super city.  You have until May 31 to have your say.

A lot is riding on the Auckland Plan aka the spatial plan.  It is the mother of all plans, and aims to integrate land uses like transport and other infrastructure, as well as setting out the key strategies for the new Council. It is also the main way that Council and central government are supposed to line up their priorities.

If you want to have a say on the future of Auckland this is a great time to do it.

It is especially important if you care about Mayor Len Brown’s vision for a liveable city and a world class transport system. At a time when John Key and Steven Joyce are doing their best to sink the vital central city rail link, this is a good opportunity to weigh in behind Len’s election-winning vision for the city.

But maybe you have strong views on where development should take place and where not, what the Council should spend our rates on, and what the priorities should be?

The Council has produced a great discussion document called Auckland Unleashed.  You can email in comments, or take part in facebook discussions.

I have my own local issue I am submitting on. Since moving to Te Atatu and campaigning here I’ve realised how badly served this part of Auckland is by public transport. The transport planners seem to think the West’s problems were solved by electrifying and double-tracking the rail. However the rail line is too far away for people in Massey and Te Atatu who are plagued by a motorway that is  jammed up in rush hour and clogs the main feeder routes like Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd.

Adding the odd lane to the NW motorway, or widening the arterial routes is not going to solve the problem. We need a public transport solution that allows people to leave their cars at home. Happily the North Shore Busway offers a very successful model. It currently takes two whole lanes of traffic off the harbour bridge in rush hour and patronage is still climbing. 

A dedicated NW Busway is the logical solution, especially given the huge population growth planned for the North West in coming years.

So if you are a Westie who is sick of the traffic, check out out our campaign You’d Be There By Now on facebook, and go here to make a submission to the Auckland Council.

Whatever your desire is for Auckland, go forth and submit!

Double standard on double dipping?

Posted by on May 9th, 2011

John Key was asked over the weekend how he reconcilled his view that Hone’s by-election is a waste of money (which I agree with) with his view that Jami-Lee Ross should have resigned from the Auckland Council, thus forcing a by-election (which I also agree with). His response was ironic to say the least…

“There’s been a long-held view in parliament that when you come in , really, you shouldn’t double-dip and be on two different organisations” – John Key, SST, 8 May 2011

I’ve long held the view that politicians shouldn’t “double-dip”, but it seems to be a new one for the National Party. Key, English and other senior Nats defended Sam Lotu-Iiga doing just that when he stayed on the Auckland City Council at the same time as he was an MP.

In fact the case against Lotu-Iiga’s double-dipping was even worse. During the time he was an MP and Councillor, he took part in parliamentary debates about the ‘super city’ legislation, a pretty clear conflict of interest if ever there was one. Shame Key didn’t hold the same position on double-dipping back then…

Stop Hide

Posted by on April 14th, 2011

Stop Hide 3 (2)

Rodney Hide has announced a fundamental review of local government.  He is developing a master plan he will roll out across New Zealand if National-ACT get a second term.

From anyone else this announcement would barely raise an eyebrow. But with the Hide-zilla in control, communities all around New Zealand should be very afraid.

Hide’s agenda here is to “do an Auckland” on the rest of the country. This should be reason enough to put in a shark-filled moat at the bottom of the Bombay Hills.  Or a grassroots network of towns and districts declaring themselves Hide-Free, with warning signs erected at the town limits (Welcome to our town, a Hide-free Zone).

Join the Stop Hide facebook group and register your opposition to Hide’s designs on local democracy. Suggestions on how to Stop Hide gratefully appreciated.

Why such alarm? Well, consider Hide’s track record on Auckland, his only real “achievement” in two years as Minister of Local Government.

He talked about allowing Auckland to speak with one voice and then rammed through a forced amalgamation without allowing Aucklanders the chance to decide in a referendum as would normally happen under the Local Government Act.

He talked about putting the local back into local government, and then massively centralised power in the hands of the new Council with local boards left toothless.

He handed over 75 % of Auckland’s assets and services to be run by hand-picked corporate boards.

He took away Aucklanders’ right to decide in a referendum whether their port should be privatised, and opened the door for private ownership of water infrastructure.

He rejected the Royal Commission’s popular proposal for democratically elected Maori seats, and imposed an unelected Maori Statutory Board that has voting rights on council committees and is costing the ratepayer a million dollars a year.

He promised to save the ratepayer money, but delivered redundancy and IT cost blow outs, with rates widely expected to rise once the new system kicks in.

Ignore the weasel words in Rodney Hide’s discussion paper. Look at his record in Auckland. Why should the people of New Zealand believe his master plan for local government in the rest of the country will be any different?

Rodney Hide simply cannot be trusted with the future of local government.

Wellington’s “quake prone” buildings

Posted by on March 4th, 2011

There has, understandably, been a lot of talk in the last few days about how Wellington’s buildings will stand up to an earthquake, and the progress or lack thereof that has been made in strengthening buildings.  The information from the Wellington City Council about those buildings that might be earthquake prone is now being consumed all across town.  That’s all well and good, but what about a solution to actually get the work that needs to be done, done?

I well remember in the 2008 election campaign coming under some pretty strong criticism about the costs being imposed on building owners for earthquake strengthening in Wellington as a result of changes to the Building Act.  In 2009 the Wellington City Council allowed for a negotiated slow-down of the timeline for undertaking the strengthening work, and most owners have got on with the often massive task of raising the necessary funds to do this work.

The tragedy in Christchurch has seen many people think again about the strengthening work. The City Council is to review the process again.  I have been contacted by building owners and tenants who are worried, and are anxious both to make progress on the strengthening, but also about what new requirements might come from the Council review.

There’s no doubt we all want to see the strengthening happen, and happen quickly. But we have been, and possibly still are in a recession.  People are struggling to find the money to do the work. 

I think the time has come from a central and local government partnership to address the issue just as has been done with the leaky building issue.  It does not necessarily have to be structured the same way (it could be a loan facility for instance) but if we are to see buildings strengthened in a timely manner, the owners are going to need some help.

The government’s priority in this kind of area must, and will be, with Christchurch over the next period, but as soon as it is practical I would like to see if we can get the right people together to develop a proposal that gives building owners, residents and the rest of the city a pathway to getting this important work done.


Posted by on February 17th, 2011


Maori representation on the Auckland Council has all the elements of a fiasco:  it started out as an ambitious undertaking but has ended in ludicrous and humiliating failure.

Aucklanders have been saddled with an unelected Maori board that has the power to appoint members to Council committees with full voting rights, after the Government rejected a perfectly good option of Maori councillors democratically elected off the Maori roll.  And the poor old Auckland ratepayer is going to be stung with $1.9 million a year, or more, to pay for this, depending on what the High Court decides.

So who is responsible? Not Local Government Minister Rodney Hide who says he opposed the provision but had it forced on him by the National and Maori Parties.  In Question Time yesterday the Prime Minister denied Hide had breached rules on cabinet responsibility because Hide had been speaking in his role as leader of ACT.  Ironically the PM criticised Pita Sharples who called on Hide to resign if he could not accept the Maori board, saying he should not have made those comments under his ministerial letterhead.

So who is responsible if the responsible Minister is not responsible?

The affair is another blow to Hide’s chances of surviving the election. First there was his spectacular fall from grace as the perkbuster and then his role in concealing his law and order spokesperson’s identity theft. Now the self-styled Minister of Ratepayers and one time champion of ‘one law for all’ has presided over a shonky and undemocratic Maori board at some cost to the Auckland ratepayer.

He is desperate to present the Auckland amalgamation as a success in election year but this has well and truly knocked the gloss off it.

It is also a failure of leadership by John Key. First he buckled to Hide’s threat to resign. Then to make good with the Maori Party he inserts a dodgy compromise option into the law without making any public statement.  The responsible Minister (Hide) openly slags the law he himself introduced to Parliament. Another Minister (Sharples) calls on the responsible Minister to resign over it. Key sees no problem with it all. The Auckland ratepayer is left to pick up the tab.

Checking for signs of the apocalypse

Posted by on January 22nd, 2011


I have just been outside to check for any signs of weirdness that might indicate the apocalypse is on us. No sign of birds flying upside down. Water still seems to be flowing down hill. Which makes this morning’s Herald editorial even more of a shock.  It is scary. I agree with every word of it.

The Herald says the Government has  breached a fundamental principle of democracy in allowing non-elected advisers to vote on Auckland Council committees. Exactly.

But wait there is more.  The editorial rightly points out it is the Government’s problem to fix.  Rodney Hide, the great advocate for one person-one vote, brought this legislation to the House. Labour and the Greens voted against it.  The Herald’s solution: Two dedicated Maori seats elected by Auckland residents on the rolls of the Maori parliamentary electorates covering the Super City.  Couldn’t agree more.

Hat tip to The Aucklander who broke the story.

Limiting big money in local govt

Posted by on December 11th, 2010

Campaign donation returns for the Auckland mayoral race were filed yesterday and Auckland Mayor Len Brown is taking a bit of heat here and here for channeling $499,000 in campaign donations through a trust. His unsuccessful opponent John Banks accepted $520,086 in anonymous donations.

I think there should be openness about donations to political campaigns. Local government electoral law needs to be changed so donations are transparent, there are sensible spending limits, and limits on third party campaigns.

The parties have argued over these issues in recent years in relation to central government but I don’t think anyone has worried too much about tightening up the rules for local government. With the creation of the Auckland Council the power and resources at stake make it essential there are rules to limit the influence of big money.

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says he doesn’t want to see any transparency requirements.

To be fair to John Banks and Len Brown, they have both operated within the law. The National Party has a history of using secret trusts. It was pretty obvious John Banks would rely on big anonymous donors. Len Brown would have been tying one hand behind his own back if he hadn’t been willing to accept anonymous donations too. The rules need to be changed so there is a level playing field.

National should have included transparency for campaign donations when it passed the Auckland super city legislation, as well as a lower spending cap, and limits on third parties. Now would be a good time to review the Local Electoral Act to get this sorted out.

Urgency, local government and the democratic process

Posted by on November 13th, 2010

The Government is planning to push Rodney Hide’s water privatisation bill through its remaining stages under urgency next week. This is not surprising in itself, given how much of this Government’s business has been done under urgency.

But it is irksome that urgency is being used to pass yet another local government bill that takes away democratic rights.

Two out of Rodney Hide’s three Auckland bills were passed under urgency, one without even a select committee process. They corporatised Auckland local government, and radically centralised power, without giving Aucklanders a say.

Then Nick Smith’s sacking of the Canterbury Regional Council and suspension of elections for more than three years.

Now the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill opens the door to privatisation of water supply by allowing 35 year contracts that can include private ownership of water infrastructure. At the same time it repeals many current requirements for Councils to consult the community.

The Nats are sensitive about all this.  Right up until the committee finalised its report National members continued to argue these 35 year contracts that allow private ownership of water infrastructure do not amount to privatisation. They also criticised our use of the word corporatisation in relation to the Bill’s repeal of the requirement to consult the community before shifting services into a council-owned corporate entity.

You can download the committee report here, including the Labour-Green minority view. Make your own mind up.