Hard News by Russell Brown

The envelope, please ...

So, how to vote in the local body elections? I'm not averse on principle to sending the odd vote to a CitRat candidate - the late Phil Warren always got a tick from me - but I'm blowed if I can see one I'd want to back from this year's Citizens & Ratepayers Now slate. And, in general, I simply don't trust the buggers.

You will, of course, be making your own choices - read the booklet! - but people do keep asking me about this, so ....from my point of view, it was a string of CitRat-dominated councils that allowed Auckland's water and wastewater infrastructure to deteriorate to the point of crisis by milking its budget. In this term, after campaigning on a zero rates rise, they altered the balance of the rates burden so that those least able to afford it faced increases of nearly 40%.

And then, from a dominant position on what is laughably described as a "consumer trust", they have turned the governance of our electricity lines company, Vector, into an undemocratic debacle. I think that civic utilities should be run in a businesslike fashion, and at arms-length from politics, but I also think they should stick to their knitting, and not go chasing after what a Herald editorial held to be "potent avenue[s] for growth" by fundamentally altering their stakeholder responsibilities.

The entry of an unpleasant Act Party tendency since the formation of Citizens and Ratepayers Now just makes them less appealing than ever. I accept that it is useful to have a centre-right presence on the councils, and I even agreed with some of the centre-right's past actions (the establishment of Metrowater, for example). I'm just not going to vote for them.

On the other hand, the centre-left and independent presence on the last Auckland City Council had a lot to do with its relatively competent performance in such basic areas of financial governance as controlling unbudgeted expenditure and not going on consultancy spending sprees (compare and contrast if you wish with what the CitRats have done in the past three years).

I'm largely happy with the performance of the current City Vision ticket, including Western Bays' two councillors, Bruce Hucker and Penny Sefuiva, who will be returned. For the community board, Leigh Kennaway and Bruce Kilmister are precisely the kind of active members of the community I would want to see on such a body. A glance at campaign literature for other wards suggests that one or two City Vision candidates are a little too Green-left for my tastes (opposition to the rational and affordable completion of State Highway 20, for example), so you'll want to check the profiles that come with your voting forms and make your own call.

It's rather more interesting on the other side of the tracks in Hobson Bays, where the Action Hobson ticket has sprung out of the Stop the Eastern Motorway group to provide a new sort of centre-right vision: one that is occasionally capable of seeing a road that it doesn't like.

I recently spoke to someone who had attended a STEM meeting and who described it as "the future face of the National Party - discreet, competent people who know what they're doing," and I rather suspect that if Banks is defeated and the CitRats lose some council and community board seats in the wards they have traditionally owned, the balance of Auckland local body politics will alter permanently. I think that's a good thing.

We get to pick four members for the Auckland Regional Council, a body which is rather too much of a mystery given its growing importance. The rates-revolt group Residents Action Movement (RAM) has entered the fray with a forest of signage that makes it look vaguely looney, but one of its ARC candidates, Rachel Asher, seems worth a look, although I'm mostly happy with City Vision here too.

The Auckland District Health Board ushers in the thrill of STV voting, and you may find it beyond your powers of political concentration to rank all 31 candidates in order - we certainly did in our house. But the thing is, you don't have to. I'll have Kilmister (again) as my top pick there, followed by Barry De Geest and Di Nash, but I haven't quite got to grips with the rest of the league table.

And yes, I'll be voting for Dick Hubbard as mayor - although, like Brian Rudman, I'm not exactly over the moon with what's on offer. As Rudman says, Christine Fletcher dug her own grave a while ago - although it’s a shame she declined to put herself forward for the ARC. But in comparison to the arrogant, self-fancying, ineffective little man in the job right now, almost anything would be an improvement.

PS: I'm off for 22 hours in swinging Dunedin now, so tomorrow's posts might be a little late, and don't expect any replies to emails till tomorrow afternoon, if that ...

PPS: I have been very confidently assured by Someone Who Ought To Know that the fraternal relationship between Auckland City employee Graeme Colman and NBR owner Barry Colman harbours no clues at all as to the NBR's assault on Dick Hubbard, so forget I said that. Oddly enough, it was someone to ought to know who suggested it to me in the first place …