Red Alert

Archive for the ‘local government’ Category

It wasn’t meant to end this way

Posted by on November 2nd, 2010

John Key and Rodney Hide were like awkward guests at someone else’s party at last night’s inauguration of Mayor Len Brown and the new Auckland Council.  The Town Hall was packed with Len’s mob who had come to hear the ‘it’s our time’ message so it is not surprising Key and Hide were given only a polite reception.  Key delivered a wooden written-by-officials speech suprisingly lacking in heart for such a big occasion.

It wasn’t meant to end this way. John Key had all but endorsed John Banks for mayor. The Nats set out to remake Auckland in their own image.  But Len Brown’s campaign was driven along by deep public unease with Hide’s over-centralised and corporatised super city. In the end Aucklanders gave a thumping mandate to Brown’s inclusive vision, his pledge to protect communities and save our assets, and his promise to build a modern rail network.

This puts Key in an interesting spot. Any public goodwill for having unified Auckland was long ago corroded away by Hide’s handling of the process. The Nats must be furious with Hide for having stuffed their Auckland agenda and lost the mayoralty for Banks. That alone must be reason enough for pulling the plug on Epsom.

Aucklanders’ expectations however have now been raised.  The mayoral election made one thing clear.  If the super city is to mean one thing it has to mean action on public transport. Len Brown has staked his political career on this. He has invoked the memory of Robbie’s Rapid Rail. But he cannot deliver the level of investment needed on his own. Only central government can do it.

The Mayor dropped several references to rail into his inaugural speech. John Key didn’t take up the challenge, and noted that on some things ‘we will disagree’. National-ACT don’t get it. Auckland cannot go on building motorways, and now must invest in rail the equivalent treasure it has sunk into motorways over the past few decades. Steven Joyce is wedded to his Holiday Highway but won’t commit to the central city rail loop.

So what is Key to do:  Embrace a left-leaning mayor and council who ran against his plan for Auckland? Wean his party off its historic dependence  on the roads lobby by cranking up a big investment in rail?  If he doesn’t, and National are seen to be white-anting the popular mandate of the new Mayor for all of Auckland, I predict Aucklanders will make National pay at the polls next year.


The Wellington Mayoralty

Posted by on October 13th, 2010

Further to Brendon’s post, the result in the Wellington mayoralty is very interesting indeed. First off, huge congratulations to Celia Wade-Brown and her team. I have known Celia for a few years now and she is a person of integrity and strong values. She adopts a principled approach to her work, and that will stand her in good stead for what will be a very challenging role.

I also do want to acknowledge Kerry Prendergast for her time as Mayor. I have very different politics to Kerry and I have disagreed with a number of things she has done (or not done) as Mayor. But I can not fault her work ethic, commitment to Wellington or her willingness to engage with me as an MP.

Obviously the result continues the succcess of the left/progressive candidates in local body elections. While Celia is a Green party member she ran as an independent at the election and had the support of a broad spectrum of left/progressive voters. Wellington is traditionally a centre-left town and it is that majority that has prevailed here.

Despite what Kerry has said this result is actually a vindication of the STV system, rather than some kind of undemocratic outcome. STV ensures that the person who wins the Mayoralty of Wellington is genuinely the most preferred candidate of all voters. For too long FPP ensured that people with minority support won against a large majority.

In any case I, and the other Wellington Labour MPs, really look forward to working with Celia on some exciting new ideas for Wellington, especially in the area of transport and community development.


Celia in, Kerry out

Posted by on October 13th, 2010

Wellington has a new mayor.  Celia Wade-Brown has a 176 vote majority over Kerry Prendergast after specials were counted.

Another centre-left victory


Cabinet won’t be a happy place as tories around the country get their faces slapped

Posted by on October 10th, 2010
  1. Labour Party Mayor of the Supercity with a clear centre left majority. Key’s nightmare.
  2. National Mayor of Hamilton given the boot. Martin Gallagher top polling for council.
  3. Harry Duynhoven Mayor of New Plymouth
  4. Laws team routed in Whanganui with a left leaning Mayor.
  5. Act Mayor of Hutt City given the boot.
  6. Prendergast National Mayor of Wellington ahead by 40 with 1,000 specials to count. Her Wellington supermayorlty dreams in tatters.
  7. Tony Ryall’s bette noir Richard Thompson tops the poll for Dunedin City.
  8. One of Wellington’s best analysts David Choat got elected to the DHB.

I’ve been at a Labour fundraiser tonight – plenty added to the war chest – so my look at results has been cursory.

What these results show is that when people actually cast their votes they are rejecting the right wing approach of Key and those who support him.

Just had a look at Kiwiblog – even the National Party cheerleader isn’t even pretending there was any real good news for National yesterday.


Super mayoral win

Posted by on October 9th, 2010

Just to add to Grant’s post, I think Len’s win is a pretty clear rejection of the Rodney Hide-John Key model for the super city.

John Banks said this was a contest between him and a Labour mayor from south Auckland. Well, the people have spoken, and it is great to have a mayor who has campaigned and will govern as an independent but comes from the Labour side of politics.

Rodney Hide has bullied and bulldozed his super city through in a way that has left Aucklanders uncomfortable and uneasy for the last 18 months. This is the first time Aucklanders have had a say on the super city at the ballot box. They have voted for a man who has promised to undo much of the damage done by Rodney Hide.

I don’t think Aucklanders trusted a former National Party Minister to implement the agenda that National has set in place for Auckland. In Len Brown they have chosen a mayor who will not sell our assets, who they trust to give real powers to local boards, and who will hold the powerful council-owned companies to account.


Its a Lendslide

Posted by on October 9th, 2010

Awesone news from Auckland that Len Brown has won, and won convincingly in the mayoralty. There is the makings of left leaning majority on the Council as well, which is terrific. I sat at the same table as Len at the Music Awards on Thursday night and I was struck by his ability to relate to all kinds of people, and the strong support he has. The first term of the Auckland Council will be a hellish job- but they have the best of the candidates to lead them through it.

Meanwhile, in Wellington we wait. Elsewhere, sad to see Jim Anderton not get over the line in Christchurch. Some good results coming through, including Ray Wallace winning in Lower Hutt (over David Ogden), Harry Duynhoven winning in New Plymouth, and various Labour folk winning in Council seats around the country. I want to make special mention of Hamish McDouall, my friend and Labour candidate in Whanganui. He has been elected to the Council up there with one of the highest votes, and he beat Michael Laws. Well done that man!


Mark Ford, czar of water and transport

Posted by on October 7th, 2010

When Mark Ford took the job of chairman of the Auckland Transition Agency 16 months ago he said he would seek no further employment with the Super City once the Auckland Council was set up. That promise was made amid concerns about how much power Mr Ford would wield in the ATA role. The Herald reported at the time that some National Cabinet Ministers were understood to have had concerns about his conflicts of interest heading Watercare and the transport authority.

But such official concerns seem to have dissipated. Mr Ford, working closely with Local Government Minister Rodney Hide, has overseen the establishment of the super city, at times directly advising Cabinet. He was responsible for the recruitment of the executives and hand-picked boards who will run the city. And now he himself has landed two of the most powerful roles. He is the new CEO of the new water monopoly. He is also chair of the powerful transport agency which will spend more than half of Aucklanders’ rates.

I think Mr Ford’s competence is unquestioned but I have been critical of the concentration of power in the hands of one unelected official. It is particularly galling such a significant appointment has been made three days out from a new mayor and council taking office. There is a convention in central government that senior public service managers don’t get appointed during an election campaign. Why couldn’t they have waited until the new mayor and council were in place?


When ‘speak to the hand’ isn’t good enough

Posted by on September 23rd, 2010

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Mark Ford was appointed by Rodney Hide to set up the Auckland super city. The ratepayers of Auckland pay him $540,000 a year.

He was responsible for hiring the agency Momentum to recruit 45 senior executives for the super city. Momentum has close ties with the National Party, employing former National Party President Michelle Boag as a senior executive, and with former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley on its board. Back in February it was revealed Ms Boag was working for John Banks’ mayoral campaign as an unpaid adviser while at the same time recruiting the super city’s chief spin doctor.

Now we find out Ms Boag has been soliciting money and votes for John Banks on Momentum letterhead while the agency is recruiting the super city’s top executives. Mr Ford is asked about it by the Herald and he says “I’m not going there.”

When Mark Ford effectively says “speak to the hand” it is a disturbing sign of what could be in store for Auckland after the local body elections.  After overseeing the establishment of the super city, and advising Cabinet against allowing elected representatives on the boards of CCOs, and overseeing the appointment of the CCO boards, Mr Ford finds himself appointed to chair the powerful new transport agency which will spend more than half of Aucklanders’ rates.

He will be responsible for every transport matter from the smallest pot-hole to the second harbour crossing. And this is how seriously he takes public accountability.

But let’s be clear about this. Mark Ford is only a public servant. Rodney Hide is the Minister. He is responsible. He designed the structures of the Auckland super city which have shifted 75% of civic operations into council owned companies run by hand-picked corporate boards.  The entire lot was signed off every step of the way by John Key’s Cabinet.

It is time for Rodney Hide to tell Aucklanders whether this is the standard of public accountability he expects from the people running the super city.

Update: Rodney Hide washed his hands of responsibility for this matter in Question Time this afternoon, even though the Momentum contact is costing Auckland ratepayers $355,000 to recruit 45 managers for the super city. I’m calling on Hide to show some accountability and tell Mark Ford to bring the ATA’s relationship with Momentum to an end.


Rail links – yes, holiday highway – no. Time to listen to Aucklanders, Mr Joyce

Posted by on September 20th, 2010

Steven Joyce might want to think about the Herald’s digipoll that asked what Aucklanders most want. Top of the list – and what they’d be willing to increase rates for – is a rail link to the airport. Improving public transport was right up there too. In fourth place was improving roads – Joyce’s infatuation.

Joyce’s rear visionary thinking is not in line with what Auckland wants, or needs.

An inner city loop rated lower but is necessary before a link to the airport becomes feasible. It’s impossible to run the frequency of trains from the airport without it. It’s fair to say the case for the loop has yet to be made as clearly as it could to Aucklanders.

So let’s sink the Holiday Highway – one of the Roads of National Party Significance Joyce is blindly championing – and get in behind what people want, rather than fight on with 1950s thinking.


Managing parking or maximising tickets?

Posted by on September 13th, 2010

Marcus Ganley of Labour is running an impressive campaign in the Wellington Council downtown ward of Lambton. One of his issues is whether the Council should bring parking enforcement in-house and put an end to revenue maximisation. You can vote in Marcus’ poll here, and choose which one of a gruelling schedule of meet-the-candidates meetings is nearest you.


Let them eat cake

Posted by on September 9th, 2010

I enjoy a regular correspondence with Rodney Hide’s Auckland Transition Agency each letter prefaced with the phrase “Under the Official Information Act…”.  The ATA is the special group of public servants whose job it is to set up the Auckland super city.  I’ve been critical of their secretive ways but when they do release information they do it in style.

And now their secret is out. The Aucklander has revealed the ATA is writing its letters on replica goatskin parchment which costs $118 for a ream of 500 sheets  – up to 17 times the cost of normal paper.

Why not real goatskin parchment? That’s what I want to know. Tight-wads!

According to The Aucklander the ATA’s paper is Grecian tan rather than shades such as marble white or faint Corinthian green.

I am surprised they don’t go the whole hog and hand deliver their letters on a gold cushion with tassels.

As for the Auckland ratepayers, a majority of whom believe their rates will go up under the super city, I am sure Lord Hide of Epsom would happily let them eat cake.


Minister for school privatisation

Posted by on September 8th, 2010

I see Rodney Hide’s new delegations as associate education minister include responsibility for public private partnerships in schools.

Is this another instance of the Nats using Hide to front stuff they would like to do but don’t have the cojones for? And Key giving Hide the opportunity to play to his right wing base?

For a while there it looked like that strategy might work with the super city.  When the public reacted to unpopular decisions Key could just shrug and say “well, that’s Rodney”. But things got so out of control, and Hide’s brand so damaged, that his low standing with the public and close association with the super city has done a great deal to tarnish the whole project.

I wonder how successful he will be at convincing the public that PPPs in schools are a good idea.


Ethnic Aucklanders under-represented in council controlled organisations

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

The list of directors and chairs for Auckland Super City’s council-controlled organisations agreed by Cabinet last week under-represents the Asian and Ethnic voice.

It is a big disappointment the Government has not acknowledged more fully Asian and Ethnic representation in its Super City reform.

There are many successful Asian business people to choose from. This is exactly the kind of initiative the Government should be using to improve representation for ethnic people.

According to the Government every single member and chair is an Aucklander, yet the make-up of CCO boards announced does not acknowledge the over 20 percent of Aucklanders of ethnic descent.

This insensitivity is not acceptable to the wider ethnic community of Auckland, who have contributed hugely to the cities economic development.

These nominations were invited from Mayors of all Auckland territorial authorities, the chair of the Auckland Regional Council, Ministers, as well as the Ministers of Women’s Affairs, Consumer Affairs, and Pacific Island Affairs, Te Puni Kökiri, the Offices of Ethnic Affairs and Disabilities and the Treasury.

I question how robust this nomination process was, because the CCO board certainly does not reflect the diversity of Auckland city.


Hide hoses down Auckland water fears

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide has intervened in the Auckland mayoral and council elections with a carefully contrived announcement on water rates.

You would think water rates would be decided and announced by the new Auckland Council. The election is, after all, only six weeks away. And the water company, is after all, owned  by the Council.

But no, Mr Hide yesterday trumpeted a new water rate that will see all Auckland houses pay the same tariff of $1.30 per 1000 litres of water.

Asked why he was announcing it now, he replied because Aucklanders have been “anxious about water” charges.

Why have they been anxious about water charges? Because the Government wants to roll out volumetric or user pays pricing for waste-water expected to result in hefty increases for most Aucklanders. And because the centre-right Citizens and Ratepayers ticket has the same policy. And the C&R mayoral candidate Mr Banks has been taking heat on this issue.

Mr Hide was happy to announce the new rate on water piped to the home, but he was keeping quiet on the new rate for waste water which is the one that is likely to go up significantly if it gets the full user-pays treatment. If he was going to announce one I don’t see why he couldn’t have announced both, because Watercare has had a full year to do the calculations on both.

The farsighted Mr Hide has legislated that waste water charges, and general rates, won’t be going up until mid-2012 which just happens to be after the mayoral and council elections, and after next year’s general election.

By the time the new waste water and general rates kick in, the Auckland Council will have been in place for 18 months and Mr Hide will be able to wash his hands of any responsibility. He is hoping the Council will have to carry the can for the structures and budgets he put in place 18 months before.

If in 2012 the waste water charges and general rates do go up, as most Aucklanders believe they will, with any luck we won’t have to listen to Mr Hide blaming the Auckland Council.  He will be long gone by then.


Hide’s appointees to run Auckland Corp

Posted by on August 30th, 2010

Hide and Ford

Rodney Hide’s hand picked appointees to run the new corporatised Auckland have been announced.

Apart from Sir Don McKinnon and Mayor Bob Harvey most Aucklanders won’t know who they are. And that is the point: these people will now wield enormous power over local government in Auckland but they’ve been selected in secret by the Minister, without Aucklanders having a say.

Not only did the Key-Hide Government insist on corporatising the super city against the will of Aucklanders. But Hide couldn’t wait two months and let the newly elected Auckland Council make the appointments – he had to put his own people in there.  Hide promised to consult Auckland Mayors on the appointments and then promptly broke that promise.

The appointment that sticks in the craw is that of Mark Ford. Mr Ford is a former chief executive of Watercare and chair of the Auckland Regional Transport Agency(ARTA). He is Hide’s man put in place to run the Auckland Transition Agency setting up the super city. Along with Hide he is the main architect of the over-centralised and undemocratic corporate jack up that the super city has become. He has been extraordinarily influential, at times advising Cabinet directly.

As well as setting up the super city, and overseeing the appointment process for the directors of these council owned companies, Mark Ford now has arguably the most powerful job in the whole set up. He is going to run the new mega-transport agency which will spend 54% of Aucklanders’ rates.  Transport is the area Aucklanders most want to see fixed. It’s importance cannot be over-emphasised.

Underlying the concerns about the Auckland super city has been a fear that power is being concentrated in the hands of a highly centralised bureaucracy, and corporate boards operating behind closed doors. Mark Ford is the personal embodiment of both.

I think the Auckland Council should hold US Senate-style confirmation hearings on the appointment of these board chairs. Let the newly elected Mayor and Councillors question Hide’s appointees on behalf of the people of Auckland in open session. Ask the questions their electors want asked and then decide whether these appointments should stand.


Water pressure

Posted by on August 24th, 2010

The Nats polling must be disastrous among Canterbury voters on its handling of water issues for today’s backflip to take place.

Why otherwise would they send 120,000 homes – at taxpayers’ expense – a four page glossy brochure with John Key seeking their views, including asking whether  new elections are wanted immediately for Environment Canterbury councillors, axed in 30 hours of urgency in March.

Today Key refused to answer my question about how much the brochures cost taxpayers: “Seeing it is paid out of the leader’s budget, I have no ministerial responsibility for that.” Cop out.  Await the OIAs.

Jim Anderton suggested consultation was best before the Government fired the elected councillors, rather than asking them 5 months later. ” I think that Cantabrians support the moves by the Government, and that is why over 55 percent of people in a recent poll gave that view,” said Key.

Sorry, if 55 % support the move, why revisit it?   Three inter-connected issues may have driven the Govt PR initiative (at our expense!) ; a wish to try and defuse water as a local body election issue (for non-endorsed candidates);  Key might be want to move away from Hide, a key supporter of the ECAN legislation as ACT implodes; and sending a peace-making signal may help ensure the crucial national Land and Water Forum can actually report this month amid ongoing signals of distrust from environmental reps who were deeply aggrieved at the ECAN legislation handing Water Conservation Order powers to the Govt-appointed commissioners…

One certainty; a lot of water has flown under the bridge since the pre-Easter legislation – and it’s made this the number one political issue in Canterbury.


Taking the public out of transport

Posted by on August 22nd, 2010

National-ACT’s determination to corporatise Auckland’s transport operation has been one of the most controversial aspects of its super city plan. They rammed it through against the advice of three government departments who argued a council-owned company would be less accountable to ratepayers than if it was run in house. The transport agency, governed by a hand-picked corporate board, will spend 54% of the super city budget and have 1000 staff.

There is no doubt getting progress on transport is top of Aucklanders’ must-do list for the super city. If it fails on this it will be judged harshly. And more specifically, it will be judged on its success or failure in ramping up public transport.

Which is why it is worrying there are early signs public transport might not be top of mind for those setting up the new transport agency.

For starters it appears the Auckland Transition Agency has overlooked the need for ongoing development of the bus system, which still carries the majority of Auckland public transport passengers.

It has specialists on urban design, storm water, cycling and walking, and several parking meter specialists. But no bus system development specialists. These are the people dedicated to the initiatives that give buses priority, from bus lanes to special signals at traffic lights, and the green patches in the middle of intersections that allow buses to queue jump.

Huge numbers of Aucklanders, especially in the outer suburbs, depend on the buses to get around the city. And the buses also feed the railway stations.

This public transport blind spot is reflected in the agency’s 306-page workforce plan which is mostly about roads. Bus stops, bus shelters, and bus priorities only get one mention each in the entire document. The words bus lane only get one mention, and that is in the context of revenue collection.

Josh Arbury over at the Auckland Transport blog has more to say on the apparent lack of focus on public transport in the new transport agency. He is also concerned about a lack of integration with urban design and land use planning, a point well made to the select committee when the bill was being considered.

The announcement of the newly appointed interm chief executive of the transport agency David Warburton gives further cause for concern. Mr Warburton does not appear to have any significant experience in urban transport.  While the ATA says he has a PhD in environmental engineering, he did his thesis  on dairy shed effluent at Massey. He was Wanganui District Council’s CEO under Michael Laws, and then led a Melbourne-based engineering firm that does very little urban transport work.

He may well be a good manager, but don’t we need leadership on urban transformation? It has been reported urban transport high fliers from Perth and London pulled out of the recruitment. Perth is the public transport success story of Australasia. They are where we would have been if we had adopted Robbie’s rapid rail 25 years ago. Perhaps the Perth candidate got wind of Steven Joyce’s roads fixation and a super city being set up by people who just don’t “get” public transport?


The thoughts of Chairman Lee

Posted by on August 21st, 2010

Mike Lee has a new blog as part of his campaign to win the Gulf & Waitemata seat on the Auckland Council. He has a great post on the cheek of Steven Joyce criticising Auckland mayoral candidates for pushing pet rail projects when he is imposing his own Holiday Highway folly on Aucklanders at a cost of a cool $2 billion. Exactly what I was thinking!

You can also find a presentation Mike gave earlier this year called Sins of the Fathers – The Decline and Rise of Rail Transit in Auckland.  And a speech on Auckland’s local government history that Mike delivered as the Bruce Jesson lecture a few years back.  Both essential background to the current debates on Auckland.

Mike is a champion. He has done more than almost anyone I can think of to promote the necessary revitalisation of public transport in Auckland. Along with Bruce Jesson and others he saved the Ports from being sold off in the nineties. Under his leadership the ARC has expanded its superb network of parks. His submissions to the Royal Commission and two select committees on the future of Auckland governance have been in my opinion among the smartest and soundest.


The Future of Auckland

Posted by on August 20th, 2010

Auckland’s best years are ahead of it.

We can fix the mess Rodney Hide and John Key have made of setting up the super city.  We can invest in a modern public transport system and defeat Stephen Joyce’s obsession with the holiday highway. We can tackle poverty and inequality unlike this Government who have virtually ignored the Royal Commission’s ambitious plans on community well-being. We can build a vibrant, prosperous, job-rich economy. We can revitalise the downtown and waterfront – and build great neighbourhoods and streets and public spaces to match the sublime physical environment.

The Labour team have spent the last year fighting the Hide-Key Auckland jack up. But now we are developing a plan for The Future of Auckland that we will take into the election next year. We will put people at the heart of the super city. And Labour in government will work hand in hand with the Auckland Council – unlike this Government who try to control Auckland from Wellington.

If you want to hear more, or want to help us develop the plan, come along to hear Phil Goff and invited guests this Sunday at the University of Auckland, 3pm Sunday. It is a panel discussion chaired by journalist and blogger David Beatson. Joining Phil on the panel are Ngarimu Blair of Ngati Whatua, songwriter Don McGlashan, ideas guy Mike Hutcheson, and Auckland University’s head of architecture and planning Jenny Dixon.

See here for more details.


Speaking truth to power

Posted by on August 18th, 2010

Social policy expert Ian Shirley has launched a blistering attack on the Government’s super city model for Auckland.  Prof Shirley is pro-vice chancellor of AUT University, and professor of public policy with the university’s institute of public policy.

He says the proposed model for Auckland’s governance effectively removes local government from Auckland and argues that it will be “a corporate structure where the major beneficiaries will be the exclusive brethren of big business, merchant bankers and a narrow range of consultants dominated by legal and accountancy firms”.

Prof Shirley was speaking to the National Policy Makers Conference 2010 in Wellington today.

The super city…”ignores history, fails to connect in any meaningful way with the diverse populations and neighbourhoods of the region and has established a corporate framework and process that will not gain the trust of ratepayers.”

He says the policies are driven by a form of economic fundamentalism that equates ‘governance’ with managing a ‘business’ and reduces democracy to a token engagement in the decision-making systems of local and regional government.

Amen to that.