Hard News by Russell Brown


Rodney's Folly

It was always clear that Rodney Hide had an agenda in requesting the Local Government portfolio, and this is it. He has been granted Cabinet permission to oversee a review of local government laws with a view to eliminating social, environmental and cultural roles for local councils.

These aren't new ideas. The belief that life would be grand if local government activity was hacked back to little more than roads and sewers is an article of faith amongst neoliberals. It's a kind of magical thinking.

In 1998, Doug Myers wrote a genuinely vile column in the Herald, which drew a Hard News response:

I'm afraid it stops there for me and Doug Myers, however. I'm surprised there hasn't been more attention paid to the thinkpiece on local government that he wrote for the Herald last week. Amid a lot of the usual Business Roundtable mumbo-jumbo - some of it really quite contradictory - he declared that libraries are not a public good.

While local government's building of sewers benefited him personally, it enriched him not a bit if his brother man read a book, said Myers. Yes folks, he was actually calling for an end to public libraries as we know them. What an arsehole.

And then, of course, there was the so-called "Birch Report" commissioned by John Banks in 2001 after he commenced his first mayoral term. I said this then:

Let me be blunt: This thing is a scam - a doctrinaire report from an irrelevant politician, commissioned without a mandate in response to a crisis that doesn't exist.

There is not a single fresh idea in this thing. Nor any heart, soul or understanding of Auckland. It is a death march through a string of tenuous economic assumptions that begins with a narrow definition of public good - one that doesn't necessarily include fripperies like public parks and libraries …

Pressing further into this collection of nasty little cuts to the things that make Auckland a decent place to live, we reach the statement that "the provision of arts, culture and recreation is not a public good".

Thus, if Birch's recommendations are accepted, the Music in Parks programme, which already runs on a shoestring, and reaches hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders every summer, will have its budget cut by 20 per cent. Libraries will be leaned on "to ensure that they are providing a high quality service at least cost." This not only insulting to the dedicated people who run Auckland libraries on very slight budgets, it is self-defeating and contradictory.

Furthermore, community development activities - sponsorships, partnerships and subsidies - will be "reviewed". Council will contribute nothing to Mainstreet programmes; probably half of the 10 Citizens' Advice Bureaux in the city will be closed.

The report itself had all the practical merit of a Garth George column, and it was not a surprise that even a CitRat council eventually dumped most of it. But you'll never stop these people trying.

This isn't to say that ratepayers shouldn't be angry about the likes of the Beckham and My Fair Lady debacles -- and Dunedinites may have feelings about their stadium -- but those also shouldn't be used as a rationale for a much broader philosophical shift.

As Phil Twyford points out in this morning's Herald story, it's ironic that Hide should be touting regular referenda on council initiatives when he has set his face against a referendum on the issue where people do appear to actually want one: his own plans for an Auckland Supercity.

John Key has been swift to issue an assurance that he does not share his minister's philosophy on "core services" for local government, and that Hide's Cabinet permission to use Internal Affairs resources for his review is but an "engagement in debate". And indeed, previous attempts such as the Birch Report have tended to evaporate on contact with reality. In which light you could take the view that Hide has won himself a taxpayer grant to develop Act Party policy.


This week's Media7 will look at the news media's handling of the Bain case -- where there is a rich trove of material -- with a panel composed of Bruce Ansley, Jock Anderson and one tbc.

And in the second part of the show we'll look at the past and present of the student press, with Tim Watkin, Sarah Barnett and current Salient editor Jackson Wood. I believe Simon Pound has been introducing Jackson to Mt Albert, where Jackson is a by-election candidate.

If you'd like to join us for the recording, we'd need you at The Classic in Queen Street before 5.30pm tomorrow. Hit Reply and let me know if you'd like to join us.

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