Saturday, 13 March 2010

Rogerpolitics

Don't tread on me! If Rogernomics represented neoliberalism's all-out assault on the institutions of social democracy, Rogerpolitics reflects a sinister shift of focus by the radical Right. The targets now are the core institutions of the bourgeois-democratic state itself. In the face of the new Auckland "supercity"'s corporate tyranny, the time has come to sound again the battle cry of the world's first bourgeois-democratic revolution "No taxation without representation!"

"ROGERPOLITICS" is Mike Lee’s, the Auckland Regional Council Chairman’s, evocative description of what’s happening to New Zealand’s largest city.

If "Rogernomics" represented the triumph of private over public interests in economic matters, "Rogerpolitics" stands for the elevation of private over public decision-making in the political sphere.

What’s happening in Auckland: the anti-democratic character of its new "super-city" council’s constitution, and the democracy-proof structures of its new "Council Controlled Organisations" (CCO) are developments the rest of New Zealand should be following closely – very closely.

Because, if what is being set in place in Auckland is allowed to stand, it will be tried elsewhere. City by city, region by region, the Auckland Right’s mutant political virus will spread, and in all too short a time, "Rogerpolitics" will be ready to leap the species barrier from local to central government.

When that happens, our entire system of responsible government will fall under its shadow, and the future of democracy itself will be imperilled.

Just consider the facts.

At the moment, the citizens of Auckland’s four big cities: Auckland, Manukau, North Shore and Waitakere; are represented by a total of 75 councillors (roughly one councillor for every 15,000 residents). The new super-city, into which the four present cities, plus the smaller, semi-rural, peripheral districts of Rodney and Franklin are being subsumed, will have just 20 councillors (one for every 70,000 residents). In other words, the democratic efficacy of the ordinary Aucklander’s vote is being reduced by more than 75 percent!

"How in the blue-blazes", you may well be asking yourself , "is a city councillor supposed to adequately represent 70,000 residents?"

Believe me, Aucklanders are asking themselves the same question.

Some were hoping against hope that the answer would be provided in the form of beefed-up community boards. But they must now be feeling cruelly disappointed. The constitutional powers and duties of the 19 community boards (handed down to Aucklanders by the unelected Auckland Transition Agency) offer not the slightest prospect of either effective democratic participation or representation. Their members have the power to suggest, to enquire and to complain, but they cannot require the Auckland City Council to do anything at all.

So, the democratic deficit of the Auckland supercity’s council and community boards is a large one. But it fades into insignificance when compared to the wholesale elimination of citizens’ rights entailed in the new city’s seven CCOs.

As Phil Twyford, Labour’s spokesperson on Auckland issues and a member of the parliamentary select committee currently scrutinising the legislation setting up the super-city, puts it: "They are wrapping 90% of Council operations up into commercial entities with their own boards of directors and CEOs. These commercial entities can meet in secret and won’t have to publish agendas, minutes, or subject themselves to members of the public asking pesky questions."

This takes us to the heart of what "Rogerpolitics" is attempting to foist upon Aucklanders – and, ultimately, upon all New Zealanders.

Just about everything your local authority does: supplying you with water, taking away your waste, constructing your streets and roads, running your public transportation system and civic amenities; will be bundled-up and vested in commercial institutions beyond the control of even your councillors. In this way the "Rogerpoliticians" intend to privatise the public sphere.

We will be given the shadow of democracy – but not the substance. There will still be local government elections, but those we elect to public office will have nothing to do. No, that’s not quite right. Those we elect will be able to do nothing.

A mayoral candidate, or slate of candidates, may promise to change this, or reform that, but once inside the Council Chamber they will discover that all the wires attached to the levers of power have been cut. All the important decisions affecting the lives of their constituents will be in the hands of unelected CCO directors. These government-appointed business-people will get 90 percent of citizens’ rates – but citizens will get zero percent say in the way their money is spent.

And what’ll soon be true for Aucklanders’ rates, will eventually be true of all our taxes.

Which is why we must tell the "Rogerpoliticians" what the American revolutionaries told King George III: "No taxation without representation!" Emblazoning on our banners the same tightly coiled serpent – and beneath it the same insurrectionary slogan:

"Don’t tread on me!"

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 12 March 2010.

14 comments:

Robert Winter said...

You were generous enough to suggest that the idea of a "Supercity Covenant" might be one vehicle for focusing our opposition to the attack on democracy in progress. Some words are here:

http://robertwinter.blogspot.com/2010/03/supercity-covenant-some-words.html

solatnz said...

I am very glad that this has been published so widely Chris, as I think it is a must-read for anyone living in Auckland and anyone who cares about democracy in NZ.

I am wondering, though, how long it will take NZers to wakeup and realise what is happening. There are many reasons to think that we'll just let Roger complete his infernal circle, and then wonder why we're even poorer and run by corporations.

Olwyn said...

Why oh why oh why! My heart sinks as plans like this get formulated and publicised, and yet another poll comes out with the right riding high. It's as if people refuse to believe the worst until it hits - like sitting on the beach sipping a G&T and idly watching the approach of a tsunami.

Victor said...

The corporate takeover of New Zealand is nearly complete. It has been a slow, silent coup d'etat and all the more effective for that reason.

All my life, I have argued against those who see sinister and far-reaching plots against democracy in the quotidian dross of politics. But, this time around, the paranoiacs seem to be right.

Olwyn said...

I think it may have more to do with the fact that we are a small country with a relatively thin political structure, so that those with the agenda, the will and the financial backing all too easily get hold of the levers of power and cling to them. The bit I really do not understand is the lack of outrage, and the lack of resistance from the people themselves. People get up in arms about Japanese whaling and ignore the corporate takeover of their city.

Chris Diack said...

This article is so confused it’s hard to know where to start.

I quite like Mike Lee. Rather then pandering to the fears of some of the nutty left and trying to coin a trite phrase that wont stick he would be better focusing on election to the Council – at the moment in the ward he has his eye on he will probably struggle.

There are lots of CCO’s in Auckland already many duplicating functions of others. All the Govt is doing is dramatically reducing the number and making them more coherent.

CCO’s were created by Labour they have existed for more than eight years – if local democracy is imperilled it’s taking a long time to wilt.

An ad hoc statutory transport authority (ARTA) was created by Labour already. It’s sort of understandable that Wellington wants some input into its functioning in Auckland simply because of the size of taxpayer spending in the region and the high amount of taxpayer subsidisation of much ratepayer spending (up to 50%). As a result of better co ordination a few more transport bureaucrats in Wellington can probably be let go – their Auckland focused functions can shift up here and are better done here.

The reason that much council activity is currently in CCO’s is because much of it is operational in nature – no grand plot or conspiracy. You don’t hear about it not because its all done in secret but rather most of it is boring and not newsworthy unless there is a stuff up.

Policy, strategy, vision, is the responsibility of the Council, likewise the new spacial plan the district planning and by laws. Likewise ensuring that the new CCO’s do not duplicate functions will be up to the Council. It remains the 100% owner of these, upon election can sack some (Auckland Transport) or all of the board appointees (all the rest) that run the CCOs; and can control most of them at a high level via statements of intent. I suspect that Councillors will want to develop their scrutiny skills, rather than subsuming these when they themselves and their core bureaucrats attempt to run these operations.

The rest of New Zealand doesn’t need to follow the CCO model closely the rest of New Zealand already has them.

The local Boards created by the Government are far superior to the community Boards they replace. Some Councils particularly rural ones delegate significant powers to current Community Board. But in urban areas most delegations are pretty limited. The worst Councils are often the leftwing ones in Auckland: Manukau and Waitakere (has a CE who doesn’t like them and uses senior Council management to control them). The fact is the Government has provided a good model but in the end regarding Local Boards they will only be as good as Aucklanders want them to be.

Regarding the representational functions of Councillors it isn’t actually much about the ratio of voters to elected members. Rather one should focus on the support provided to elected members, their ability to question and probe policy. Bear in mind of course, that their legal duty is to the City as a whole not those who elected them – Labour didn’t have too much of a problem with this when it continued to make this part of Local Government law in 2002.

I take it from the tenor of your remakes that Councils should have the power to require Parliament to do something? Sauce for the goose….

What is true is that if those elected to the Council or Boards and those working for the Council or the CCOs want to frustrate the governance model, they can do so. But that is the case with all constitutional models. Just look at all the constitutional rights and freedoms in all those socialist democratic republics that used to exist and that Mr Trotter was so fond of.

Its up to Aucklanders to make it work. Election fever isn't much of an indicator of this.

Michael Wood said...

Chris D, your comments suggest a wilfull misunderstanding of what is actually being proposed. In summary:

1) Yes, CCO's do currently operate under exisitng Councils in the region, but on an entirely different scale. Current Councils do place certain activities into the hands of CCO's, but retain responsibility for the expenditure of the vast majority of public funds. The super-city legislation will see approximately 75% of public money being spent by boards of un-elected appointees.

2) If the CCO model is so blindingly appropriate for so many of Auckland's public services, then why not give the new Council the choice to place services into them. Every other Council has this choice. It is only Auckland that is having CCO's legislated upon it by central government.

3) The ARTA analogy is false, and even if it wasn't, the deficiencies of that body are readily apparent. ARTA's focus is on the development of long-term regional transport priorities. The tranpsport CCO on the other hand will oversee and deliver everything from major regional projects down to the berms and footpaths of my suburban street. Everything to do with transport in Auckland will be removed from direct democratic control. ARTA's recent decision to ignore the wishes of Mike Lee to keep the Newmarket South rail station open show how the claimed democratic accountability of these organisations is a chimera.

4)As to the point that Wellington has a claim to some control over local expenditure. Well sorry, what happened to the initial rhetoric from the government about "empowering" and "equipping" Auckland to take charge of its own destiny. You can't have it both ways.

5) The suggestion that CCO's will simply have an operational function makes no sense. If they are simply delivering services then why have a corporate style governance board at the head of each CCO? If Council is setting the strategic direction, and management and the workforce are carrying it out, wouldn't the Board be kind of superfluous? What about the fact that the unelected CCO's can actually make legally enforcable by-laws, or the fact that explicitly, Watercare will not be subject to Council policy or direction after 2012?

6) As to the suggestion that the Local Boards are superior to the current (admitedly weak) community boards. Care to actually identify what powers the Boards, in their own right actually have? If you can, you are the only one.

You do point to something useful towards the end, and that is the fact that we are actually dealing with constitutional change here. That's the outrage. Decisions about how we are governed, and legally enforcable by-laws are actually going to be made by unelected boards, with limited accountability.

Nick said...

Chris D sounds like an apologist for a corporatist agenda. Which is what Hide and ACT are.

Chris, at the risk of opprobrium for going bravely where few dare go, why dont you consult a history book on the corporatist agenda followed in inter war Italy. The story of the council of corporates set up by Il Duce seems to have some genuine parallels with what Hide is up to here.

milliepickle said...

The boys in charge right now are not that creative, but they know enough to copy a winning model. They have watched Bush come off an 8-year slash-and-burn campaign that yielded phenomenal results- he even stole both elections and got away with it! It would take an educated/activated/unified populace with little to lose to win against corporate model politics.
How far is the average person willing to go to foment revolution? How much risk would they take on and how long would they engage in the lengthy, messy process of revolution? This country was not formed in revolution. It was gifted its independence. Not until the pinch is felt will there be a rebellion is my guess. But I hope I'm wrong.

AndrewPickle said...

As a relative newcomer to NZ from the UK the thing I understand the least is the lack of complaint and outrage. could it be that kiwis are right wingers who think this is a good idea?

Victor said...

AndrewPickle

I learned early on in my time in New Zealand that most people here don't think in European left and right terms.

For much of last year, many New Zealanders were congratulating themselves on having a Prime Minister who didn't suffer from an eternity of bad hair days and whose teeth were in reasonably good nick.

Tracey said...

Michael Wood, thanks for your thoughtful response to Chris.

I keep hearing this "But Labour created CCO's". It's a willful distraction. NACT are taking it far further by removing accounatbility and representation from to voters.

We, Aucklanders own the assets whether corporate right wing NZ like it or not. They are legislating to take those assets by stealth.

Chris Diack said...

Dealing with Michael Wood’s reply point by point.

1. The scale of the new city suggests fewer bigger CCO’s and other Council entities. No maths degree needed there. Their scale is consistent with the scale of the region and the new Council. What’s your point?

The 75% figure is a beat up. The biggest item of TLA spending is on Transport. Almost all the ARC’s spending is on transport. This spending attracts huge taxpayer subsidies ranging from 25% to 50% of the value of the spend.

CCO’s (but for the proposed Auckland Transport) are entirely accountable to the Council – who can remove some of all of the directors from day one. Auckland Transport has duel accountability because of the substantial direct taxpayer contribution.

2. The Government is handling the transition because Local Government in Auckland has proved to be hopeless reforming itself; and the size of the transition requires an ad hoc process. Within statutory bounds the new Council can determine its structure after it is elected. If statute is a problem it can seek a law change (exactly has happens now). What’s the problem?

3. I am sorry but we don’t have direct democratic control of every transport decision now; and nor should we. Elected members set the strategy vision and overall direction. Auckland Transport will be subject to the spacial plan and until that is produced the regional growth strategy.

Who died and made Mike Lee King?

Yes. Most direct political interventions by elected members in operational/implementation matters are unhelpful… but not all. The trick is to ensure that were there is a broad political consensus among elected members they can have input into operational and implementation issues – but this should be rare. In most cases their influence is on the various policy, planning and control instruments the Council has to communicate its vision and strategy. These are produced using democratic systems as now.

4. See above comments – Wellington wants input where taxpayer money is being spent. This is primarily in transport area.

5. Yes CCO’s cant make By laws. That’s because they are Council controlled organisations – the Council makes the rules and has the function of making By Laws. From recollection some can propose By laws for their area of responsibility for the Council to formally adopt.

A focused special purpose board permits Councillors and core bureaucrats to focus on scrutiny and accountability. Running to much stuff results in Councillors and bureaucrats running a mutual cover arrangement that kills real scrutiny.

6. The left are all over the place with local boards. Labour proposed the move away of enumerated powers for local government. But they want it for Boards? Odd. Better to have a formula approach as the Government has suggested. It will allow the model to adapt to circumstances and the emerging organisational culture. If you think the Auckland Council isn’t delegating enough, make an election issue out of it and vote in a new Council.

Chris Diack said...

Clarification:

Looking at the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill.

All Directors of the CCOs (including Auckland Transport) can be removed by resolution of on open meeting of the Auckland Council. One Director of Auckland Transport is nominated by NZTA but has no vote is also able to be removed by the Council.

Regarding By Laws – yes Auckland Transport picks up current transport By laws and those become By Laws of Auckland Transport. Thus Auckland Transport has By Law making powers. It is bound in a manner similar to the local authority itself regarding making these. All other By Laws are make by the Auckland Council

Auckland Transport is a CCO; it is still governed by a Statement of Intent.

It must produce formal transport strategy documents after input from the Auckland Council – but it must do this using the special consultation procedures under the LGA 2002.

All CCOs including Auckland Transport are subject to Parts 1 to 6 of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 – thus the major charge of the Herald that Aucklanders are “locked out” is completely false.

Auckland Transport can delegate functions back to the Auckland Council and/or one or more Local Boards.