Hard News by Russell Brown


Totally Local

Labour's Phil Twyford has had splendid luck in having his private members bill drawn on the eve of a month's worth of select committee hearings on the government's Auckland Super City proposal.

The bill is a little like a mirror image of Rodney Hide's proposed reforms to the Local Government Act, requiring referendums on council spending -- except that Twyford's bill would require a referendum before the sale of "significant" Auckland public assets -- and it suffers from some of the same problems. Principally, that frequent referendums may not be the best means of formulating policy.

Brian Rudman doesn't think much of it:

I know it won't reassure the worry-warts, but four years ago the tide actually turned when publicly owned Auckland Regional Holdings, headed by Act supporter Judith Bassett, bought the 20 per cent of Ports of Auckland shares in private hands, returning the port company to full public ownership. A few weeks ago, when port company chairman Gary Judd refloated the idea of privatisation, he was unceremoniously sacked. Even more recently, the right-dominated Auckland City Council endorsed a 10-year city plan with a commitment not to sell its airport shares.

Despite this, some are still convinced that the Super City revolution is just a smokescreen, covering up a dastardly grand plan to privatise the remaining community-owned assets. The grand-daddy of the conspiracies is that Mark Ford, former chief executive of publicly owned bulk water supplier Watercare and now chairman of the Auckland Transition Authority, is a tool of the forces of evil, integrating Watercare and the local retail water companies into one, in preparation for handing Auckland's water system over to a private international water mogul.

At the risk of looking very stupid if this plot comes to pass, I'll stick my neck out and say it's not going to happen. Not unless Aucklanders vote for a mayor and council committed to such a course of action. Or if central Government orders it.

Rudman over-eggs his objections. The Auckland City Council's commitment will mean nothing by the end of the year, and the views of an Auckland Council will rely to some extent on the means of its election. Rudman declares that Hide has only "toothless ideological bark" behind his dream of hacking back councils to roads and sewers; but heis the Minister of Local Government, and the major party of government may be inclined to set him on a long leash.

And frankly, many Aucklanders do feel dictated to by Hide, and by the government, over the future of their city.

A schedule of 21 assets that would be protected under the bill includes the respective cities' water companies, remaining shares in the Auckland airport business, and Ports of Auckland. It also says "no Auckland local authority shall sell or otherwise dispose of any parks, swimming pools, public libraries, or public housing assets, except in a business as usual transaction as part of normal portfolio management."

I'm assuming any referendums would be city-wide. Could suburban South Aucklanders count on the voters of the North Shore to turn out and defend their loss-making swimming pool? If a local asset is sold to fund a regional one, won't non-local voters swamp the opposing voices?

I'm less sanguine than Brian Rudman about the possibility of asset sales in undesirable circumstances. But I'm not a great fan of frequent referendums to determine local government policy. I'll tell you who is, though: Rodney Hide.

As Twyford points out, Hide's recent cabinet paper would require councils to put any ’significant or irreversible’ decisions to referendum, "If flogging off the assets Aucklanders have paid off with their rates over generations is not ’significant or irreversible’ I don’t know what is."

Twyford is "hoping" Act will support his bill. I, for one, look forward to Act's creative explanation for not doing so. And that, perhaps, will be the true value of the discussion around Twyford's bill.


Phil Twyford's bill, and a basket of other issues -- from medical marijuana to Sarah Palin's resignation -- will be up for grabs tonight at Locally Left, a version of Drinking Liberally for people who don't want to drive home afterwards.

It kicks off at 7pm this evening, at the Grey Lynn RSC, 1 Francis Street (ie: just behind the West Lynn shops at the corner with Richmond Road). The panel is Phil Twyford, Rhema Vaithianathan and myself, and the MC is Michael Keir Morrissey.

The intention is for it to be a relaxed discussion with plenty of audience interaction. I'm quite looking forward to be part of a panel discussion that I don't actually have to run. Come along.


Simon Wilson's diary of the Mt Albert by-election for the new issue of Metro is a must-read for anyone who watched that race. Some of what Wilson observes has been said before -- there was plenty of time for pontificating during that particular campaign -- but he creates an illuminating context for the stories.

Some of its points:

The hit-the-streets campaign carried out by Labour may be a test-drive for a nationwide strategy of "reconnecting with the community". David Shearer seemed to meander through the campaign, whilst impressing even his opponents as a genuinely nice man. Also, he smokes roll-yer-owns and is more like John Key than you think.

Act's John Boscawen was well-briefed and worked hard on his campaign -- and clearly the outstanding centre-right candidate -- but it didn't do him any good.

At a candidates meeting, the Waterview connection comes up and Libertarianz candidate Julian Pistorious declares "It is not for the government to decide where to build roads." Later, Melissa Lee utters her infamous quote about motorways, burglary and South Auckland -- and then carefully repeats is when asked to clarify: "Lee doesn't realise she's blundered. She's right on message," writes Wilson.

Keith Locke observes at the Greens' election-night party: "We have lots of people who can do things, you know, like build a website, but not many people who know how to organise other people."

Pondering the grim spectacle of National's election-night event -- given a miss by John Key in favour of Huka Lodge -- Wilson observes that "National MPs could now be excused for thinking that their leader is a fair-weather friend. The more careful thinkers among them will also know that being a Key favourite is not always a mark of quality."

And finally: Cameron Slater is "involved in all National's internal debates"? For serious?

108 responses to this post

First ←Older Page 1 2 3 4 5 Newer→ Last

First ←Older Page 1 2 3 4 5 Newer→ Last

Post your response…

This topic is closed.