No Right Turn and David Farrar have written posts on the massive lack of proportionality in the suggested voting regime by the Royal Commission report on Auckland governance. Shades of a rotten borough of 18th century England, it seems to be designed to make some voters far more ‘equal’ than others. Unlike the evolution of rotten borough’s, the Royal Commission’s plans are for a new system. What were they thinking?
Labour is taking the right approach to the Royal Commission report on Auckland governance namely, the inhalation of a deep breath, and the opening of our ears to the views of Auckland now that there is a concrete proposal to cogitate on. Having accepted the need for change, having set up the Royal Commission to determine the scope and nature of that change, and having recently lost office, it would have been unwise for Labour to have jumped in all opposition-y having just digested the Executive Summary, let alone the full 800 page report.
Unsurprisingly, there are aspects of the proposal that appeal, and some that don’t. The rationalisation of services that on any sensible basis should be run regionally is good, as is the establishment of new regional fora such as the Social Issues Board which will bring central and local players together to co-ordinate social policy in the region. Mandated Maori representation is a bold step that will bring a tangata-whenua voice to the regional table where it has been sorely lacking.
As to the super-structure of the city itself (namely the abolishment of the existing territorial authorities and regional council, and their replacement with one council for the whole region governed by a directly elected mayor), any sane and attuned person would have to say that the time for debate on this is over. The government will accept this aspect of the report and there ain’t no going backward.
Instead of fighting over that dead duck, the left needs to align our core values with emerging community sentiment in Auckland and look at aspects of the proposal that can and should be changed. In line with this I would like to see us building a coalition of support for change in three key areas:
1) Changing the ‘at-large’ voting system
Ten of the super-city’s twenty three councilors will be elected under a region wide ‘at large’ vote. No Right Turn persuasively points out that this method of election inevitably leads to the concentration of power in the hands of the organised few. The new structure must be seen to be democratically mandated, and in a country that has accepted proportional representation as the fairest method of electing our parliament, at large voting seems a bizarre and un-democratic step. We should campaign strongly for either the region wide election to be run under either an appropriate proportional representation system, or to have the ten regionally elected members absorbed back into the wards.
Matt McCarten rightly points out that the right have been assiduously peddling their privatisation agenda in the press recently, focusing in the first instance on Ports of Auckland. There can be no doubt that those who wish to see Auckland’s publicly owned assets hocked off to private interests, will see this re-organisation as a golden opportunity. Labour and the left should campaign vigorously to categorise all other significant regional assets alongside water services, which are identified in the Royal Commission report as needing to be protected in public ownership. This is unlikely to succeed, but at the least should put the new council on notice that a fire-sale of Auckland’s assets will not be tolerated.
3) Improved Local Representation
There is a real (and surprisingly bi-partisan) sentiment building that the proposed structure does not take sufficient account of the need for good local representation. Frankly I think there is a lot of bullshit being bandied around about how good it is now (seriously ask your neighbour to name the people on your community board), but that isn’t an excuse for trying to make it more meaningful under the new structure. My preferred option for dealing with this, under the broad parameters of the Royal Commission report, would be to seriously beef up the pay and resourcing that goes to the local councils that sit under the super-city. In each sub-city this would mean that you essentially get the same number of local councilors that you have now, shorn of some of the bigger picture responsibilities that are shot up to the super-city council, and focused full time on service delivery and advocacy in their local patch.
Naturally, some better proposals may emerge from the region and Labour would be wise to listen to these.
By focusing on these issues and not getting caught up in a debate about aspects of the proposal that are a fait-accompli, Labour and the left can emerge as a relevant force in the debate about Auckland’s future, and help to cement together the progressive interests that need to come together to fight regional elections next year. More on what’s needed in that area later.