Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Reinvent Auckland, Simon? If Only We Could!

A Safe Pair Of Hands: The whole point of the neoliberal Auckland supercity is to ensure that “big visions” and “bold execution” in the pursuit of anything other than neoliberal objectives is rendered impossible. As a tried and tested neoliberal himself, Phil Goff gets this. Producing “incremental improvements with greater efficiency” constitutes the outer limits of his political imagination. It’s what makes him the perfect candidate.
SIMON WILSON is an odd fellow – with some odd opinions. Here, for example, is the Metro Editor-at-Large's opinion on the general public response to the National Government’s forced amalgamation of Auckland, North Shore, Waitakere and Manukau cities. “Aucklanders were cynical about everything before he [Len Brown] and the supercity came along in 2010. But we lost that cynicism and we set about reinventing the city.”
I would be most annoyed if I thought Simon was including me in that “we”. Long before the legislation setting up the supercity came into force the level of my cynicism was already off the scale.
Everything about the supercity’s establishment: from the man chosen to oversee the process (the Act Party leader, Rodney Hide) to the deliberate exclusion of the people of the Auckland region from any meaningful say in whether or not the merger of their four cities should finally proceed; highlighted the profoundly anti-democratic spirit in which the entire process was conceived.
The reason for this hostility to democracy wasn’t difficult to discern. Far from being a bottom-up exercise: driven by angry residents’ from across the Auckland region; the supercity was a top-down exercise: the joint creation of local and national elites. Their common purpose? To create a model for local government in the neoliberal era. And the central feature of that model? The almost total disempowerment of the citizens of Auckland and their elected representatives.
The full measure of the supercity’s creators’ contempt for democracy was revealed in the proposed size of the supercity’s “Governing Body”. In the equivalent decision-making structures of Auckland, North Shore, Waitakere and Manukau cities, the ratio of elected representatives to citizens was roughly 1:15,000. In the new supercity it would be 1:70,000! Supercity councillors were being asked to represent more citizens than a directly elected Member of Parliament.
My own level of cynicism (and, I suspect, the cynicism of thousands of other Aucklanders) was in no way lessened by the Ports of Auckland dispute. It was during this brutal test of strength between the supposedly municipally-owned Port and its employees that Aucklanders learned just how misnamed their “Council Controlled Organisations” (CCOs) truly were.
Aucklanders elected representatives turned out to be equally mischaracterised. Far from being the people’s democratic tribunes, Auckland’s elected councillors proved to be little more than powerless pawns. The real game was controlled by legally cocooned CCO boards of directors – over whom the so-called “Governing Body” (including the Mayor) exercised no effective control whatsoever.
Indeed, so politically impotent was the Mayor made to feel in relation to the day-to-day management of National’s neoliberal supercity, that the poor fellow felt obliged to demonstrate his potency “by other means”. A better symbol of Auckland’s vast democratic deficit than Len’s and Bevan’s affair is difficult to imagine. Turned out the Mayor’s Office was good for very little else!
Even Brown’s signal achievement: the National Government’s final approval of his beloved City Rail Link; owes as much to the projected massive inflation of property values along its inner-city route, as it does to any rational realignment of Auckland’s public transport system.
In his latest Metro article, Simon Wilson opines that the job facing the next Mayor of Auckland is “not simply to produce incremental improvements with greater efficiency and better relations with the government in Wellington. Auckland has fallen into crisis. Growth has far outstripped expectations. Housing policies have had a catastrophic outcome. A big vision is required, all over again, and bold execution has to follow.”
Except, of course, the whole point of the neoliberal supercity is to ensure that “big visions” and “bold execution” in the pursuit of anything other than neoliberal objectives is rendered impossible. (That the Unitary Plan was so heavily promoted by the National Government and the Auckland City bureaucracy, both of whom threatened dire consequences should the councillors fail to approve it, tells us all we need to know about the document’s ideological complexion!) As a tried and tested neoliberal himself, Phil Goff gets this. Producing “incremental improvements with greater efficiency” constitutes the outer limits of his political imagination. It’s what makes him the perfect candidate.
Poor Simon. He seems to have been both surprised and distressed to learn that in a Citizen Insights Monitor survey released by the Auckland Council in June 2016, “just 15 per cent of us said we were satisfied with the council’s performance. Only 17 per cent of us said we trust it. This is disgraceful.”
Really, Simon? Disgraceful? Frankly, I’m astounded as many as 17 percent of Aucklanders place any trust at all in National’s neoliberal supercity. I do, however, understand completely why 83 percent of us find little, if anything, to like about the “governance” of the unresponsive bureaucratic monstrosity into whose tender care we were delivered without so much as a confirming referendum.
Nor am I surprised that only 35 percent of eligible voters bothered to return their ballots in 2013. Not when the people elected by those ballots are so bereft of power that – even if they wanted to – it wouldn’t be “within the purview of their lawful governance function” to make the trains run on time.
In terms of empowering the people who live within its boundaries, there’s nothing I’d rather do, Simon, than “reinvent” the Auckland supercity. It’s why I’m voting for Chloe Swarbrick. Not because she stands the slightest chance of winning, but because, alone of all the Mayoral candidates, she demonstrates some understanding of just how much we have lost.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 13 September 2016.


Polly said...

Auckland has been taken over by immigrants, Kiwis have been locked out by the money they have and the money supply available to them, raging property prices do not look like abating. Council have been complicit ( by holding back land) with Parliament to cause this and only one politician has had the grit to speak out.
Yes old Winnie and his party is the only party to say they will curb or stop immigration particularly from countries that do not share our values.
John Key wanted to hold the line on past intakes but the pressure from Labour, Green and all those sob heart groups forced his hand, he was not strong enough.
I am sure Goff will be another Len Brown with a blue suit on.
I am sure, despite assurances from the Mayoral candidates, that rates will rise above inflation.
I am sure that pay rises will continue to soar and that Managerial positions with salaries above $100.000 and $200.000 will continue to increase.
I am sure that people will continue to hate the super-city as many of them hate it now.
Rodney Hide should hang his head in disgrace for this out of control monstrosity he sign off on.
I shall vote for Penny Bright, she wants transparency, particularly in the letting of contracts, I want transparency and prudent and cost cutting management of the whole rotten caboodle. She offers the closes to my needs.

jafapete said...

Apart from being a little too hard on Simon Wilson--whose detailed analysis of the machinations and personalities of Auckland Council is usually spot on--your high level overview is persuasive. Where to with the neoliberal white elephant? We can make some useful adjustments this coming term (I feel your head starting to shake, should you get as far as reading this), especially to the resourcing and delegated power of local boards. I think that local boards have been a success story despite all the roadblocks and neglect heaped upon them by the Governing Body and some staff. However, without significant culture change, especially seeing off the ex-mayors and deputy mayors on Governing Body who can't accept stronger local boards, we won't get any further than incremental adjustment. Please don't squander your vote for the Governing Body!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's funny, everyone from Roger Douglas to Rodney Hide has promised transparency. But it never seems to arrive. It's like the flying car – always five years away. And I think it was a little mean to mention Brown's affair :). Still, he should have known it was going to come back and bite him in the arse at some stage. Figuratively speaking of course. Over and over again it seems. Good fodder for the seven days crew I imagine. Don't live in Auckland, haven't for some years, but from what I know of some of the candidates it's not looking good. I doubt if there is any of them that would have the guts to stand up to the CCOs even if they wanted to. They pretty much be hand in glove I think.

manfred said...

Nice one Chris for reducing the number of votes for Phil Goff. I'm glad your strategy won't work, or you could kiss goodbye to decent public transport and the basis for a social democratic city.

Nolajo said...

I think there is a clear need for local Council powers to be clearly defined in a constitutional document which cannot be changed at the whim of central government without a super-majority of some kind. Constitutional issues generally need to be discussed. Why has New Zealand still not got a written constitution?

Melanie Scott said...

Accurate and very depressing observations. One really insidious consequence of making unaccountable and arrogant CCCOs and their devious bureaucratic henchmen so all powerful its the dreadful effects this Council is having on the environment. And not just in the metropolitan areas. That these devious and arrogant employees can wreak havoc in pristine coastal area like Te Arai, the most north eastern corner of what used to be Rodney is a scandal. And nothing will change under Phil Goff, as you say. His PR minder also represents the developers causing utter devastation on a pristine coastline,home to NZ,s most endangered sea birds - all for the benefit of a few rich Americans who can afford a 4 million dollar house lot and golf club membership fees of several hundred thousand dollars. The same developers are trying to make it hard for locals and survives to retain access to this beautiful beach and its fabled surf breaks. All this is has the enthusiastic support of Auckland council which is bending over backwards to facilitate. No development contributions seem to be forthcoming to improve the dreadful roads in this area. The golfers don't need them you see, an airstrip and heliport are available. You can probably imagine how thrilled locals who value their now lost tranquility, are. The same people whose ground water levels are dropping because of bores sunk to service the golf course and whose land has secretly been responded at the developer's request so that these land owners can no longer subdivide their land. No political accountability, squillions of dollars flying around. A super corrupt, super cynical city indeed. That's why people don't vote.