Hard News by Russell Brown


A. B. B.

Well, the voting forms have arrived, so it must be time for a comment on the Auckland local body elections. As he has through the campaign, John Banks is holding a handy lead over Dick Hubbard, but is well short of a majority, with Hubbard having shed some support to Alex Swney, who I think is both the candidate with the most potential and the one most likely to get Banks over the line by splitting the Anyone But Banks vote.

Both the leading mayoral candidates have their achievements listed on their websites. Banks, as usual, is claiming credit for things he didn't do, or even opposed:

Grafton Gully Improvements - I helped play a role in the Grafton Gully improvements, and pushed for the initial investments in Spaghetti Junction’s upgrades.

Which is a slight improvement on his claim to Simon Pound in 2004 that "we have completed the Grafton Gully motorway project". But, for the record, Transit New Zealand's Central Motorway Improvement strategy was launched in 2000, before Banks was even mayor.

Westhaven Marina - I saved Westhaven Marina from the possibility of becoming an overseas-owned theme park and apartment blocks. I’m proud to have saved this harbour jewel for future generations, and look forward to a role in creating magnificent open spaces at the adjacent Tank Farm.

Actually, it was the government that purchased the land from Ports of Auckland, then onsold it to Auckland City at a $10 million loss. But Banks did play a critical role in the purchase, by obtaining confidential knowledge on the bidding process, which he provided to Cabinet, putting the government at an advantage. He was in his element there.

But then there's this:

Parnell Baths - My council found $4.2 million for the makeover of the historic Parnell Baths.

This is ludicrous. The renovation of the baths was budgeted by the previous council, under Christine Fletcher. Banks actually tried to halt the project, because it would interfere with his eastern motorway plan.

Sylvia Park - I helped kick off the redevelopment of Sylvia Park – a destination shopping centre that is the envy of other Southern Hemisphere nations.

Oh, shut up

CBD Auckland - The central city was a safer and cleaner place to work, visit and recreate under my watch. We brought in liquor bans and toughened up on boyracers. Sadly, this has been neglected under my opponent’s term.

The CitRat council during Banks' term did apply a 10-year targeted rate for CBD renewal in June 2004. The current council extended the period for the targeted rate by a further two years. But it's hard to survey this list and demonstrate "neglect" of the CBD. I see Banks is no longer promising to close Queen Street to traffic at night.

Finance - City debt was eliminated and a strategic asset fund was created to help fund infrastructure. Sadly, the current council mismanagement means this fund has been spent and debt is projected to blow out.

Banks and the CitRats cleared the debts not through some special genius, but by selling half the city's shares in Auckland International Airport, an action which will deprive the city of $115 million in dividend revenue after tax over the next decade. (That's still less than it costs the council to borrow money, but the capital appreciation since the sale has been significant.)

And so it goes. In truth, major initiatives tend to span council regimes, so perhaps we should average it out and give Banks his list. Even so, Hubbard's listed achievements seem more copious.

I am, as you may have noticed, a signed-up member of the Anyone But Banks tendency, but it's not just because of the above. Brian Rudman covered the GABA candidates meeting and noted the following:

It was something of a two horse race, with former mayor John Banks under the distinct handicap of his homophobic utterances of earlier days. We all know he claims to have undergone a transmogrification, and is now a gentler, kinder, touchy-feely sort of bloke these days, but at least one questioner angrily accused him of references to gay activities on talkback which I won't spoil your breakfast by repeating.

Well, I'll tell you. Banks was being questioned by Jay Bennie, the publisher of gaynz.com about the time he took a call on Radio Pacific from a man who declared that "sodomites" should have "six inches of barbed wire" shoved up their rectums. Bank responded by telling the caller "that would be a waste of good barbed wire."

Banks is claiming to be a reformed man. Which is what he said when he was grasping for votes in 2004 too. GayNZ totted up his utterances since 2004. I don't believe at all that he has changed his beliefs. He's still a nasty little bully and a bigot.

Hubbard's problem is the rates and Metrowater. People might have forgotten that the last time they got a majority the CitRats campaigned on a zero rate rise then presented a budget containing a nine per cent overall rate rise that fell most heavily on the least wealthy -- but they're all too aware of the bills landing in their letterboxes this year.

And, worse, in an effort to keep down rate rises, the council has used Metrowater as a cash cow in a very dubious way. Raiding water rates to keep down property rates is precisely what got Auckland's water into the mess it's in today. It appears that it's Auckland City CEO David Rankin who is most squarely in the gun over this (Green councillor Neil Abel has campaigned against the policy all along and City Vision and the CitRats have run screaming from it now), but it's still not a good look for Hubbard.

In my local manor, Western Bays, the incumbents are not standing this time, meaning two new City Vision candidates. I'll happily vote for Lindsay Rea, who is hard-working and diligent, but I'm not a big fan of Graeme Easte, who comes from the Alliance side (on the other hand, anyone who has these people for enemies has my sympathy). And I have a lot of respect for Sally Wenley, who, unfortunately, is standing as a CitRat candidate. I'm going to have to think about that one …

PS: The winner of the Halo 3 game and sweatshirt from Friday (a very popular draw, that one) was Sam Tobin.

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