Hard News by Russell Brown

Nice city, Mayor still a fool

I took the kids to the new, revamped Parnell Baths yesterday. That it is now a bit different from our regular swim destination at Point Erin could be seen from a quick look around the car park: I haven't seen so many expensive vehicles in one place for a while, but, then I don't spend a lot of time over that side of town.

Inside, the drivers of the cars - thin, tanned women and their flabby men - had pitched up their spots around the pool and across the square of new turf at the west end of the complex. This struck me as another difference from Point Erin, where the blokes are in better nick and the mums look like mums. There were no games of touch or volleyball going on. There was no room.

The baths themselves still seem a bit odd for modern use, and not only because they are full of treated seawater. While the remarkably warm new kids' pool was packed with splashing, frolicking punters, the much larger main pool remains a minimum six feet deep and was thus barely being used. The kids were unimpressed.

Inevitably, John Banks was there on Saturday hailing the re-opening of the baths: "To keep the heart and soul of the city Auckland needs to keep places like this," he barked, ignoring the fact that last year he declared that the tender process on the project had been "halted", it was "hanging in the balance" and he was personally "reluctant to spend many millions of dollars upgrading Parnell Baths if the eastern corridor was running five metres away with 16-axle juggernauts hurtling down the road."

Tendering - set in motion by the previous council, after an actual vote in 1997 - had not been halted. Banks' claim was, like so much of what he has said since becoming mayor, a fantasy (or, to put it less charitably, a lie). His ability to perform a seamless about-face - he ran a visceral campaign against the Britomart transport project then turned up to hail its launch as "a great day for the Auckland mayoralty" - is remarkable.

This is also the mayor who promised to close off Queen Street from vehicle traffic at nights - he even confidently told the press that the barricades would be up within a month. That was back in October 2001. It never happened, of course.

It seems that Banks' fondness for self-aggrandising fantasy has spread to his CitRat councilors. Brian Rudman wrote a nice column about councillors Geoff Abbott and Scott Milne shamelessly claiming credit for the work of others. And, of course, doing so in pricey, ratepayer-funded promotional literature of the kind Banks swore - before he became mayor - that he was going to eradicate.

The fact is, Banks and the CitRats have achieved very little in their term. Their financial control has been notably inferior to that of the previous council. They have repeatedly been obliged to back down from unsustainable and undemocratic positions. And yet the mayor blusters on where most of us might feel shame or, at least, embarrassment.

How do you develop this kind of chutzpah? By using your power as a broadcaster to peddle unnecessary dietary supplements in whose sale you have a financial stake, of course. Of course, that all went horribly wrong and ended up in court. There's no way to burn off those troublesome feelings of shame like selling something that comes out of a bee's arse, is there?