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How to approach Auckland

Written By: - Date published: 5:30 pm, April 4th, 2009 - 12 comments
Categories: local government - Tags: , , , ,

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?

Just LeftFrom Michael Wood on Just Left, this considered post on Auckland governance concentrates on where Labour should move from here.

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.

2) Anti-privatisation
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.

12 comments on “How to approach Auckland”

  1. RedLogix 1

    One option that would get rid of the ‘elected at large’ problem is the idea of indirect elections.

    Local Councils could continue to be elected as now, and then those Councils members elect from their own ranks, a smaller group to serve on the Super Council, with a rotating Chairperson instead of a ‘Lord Mayor’.

    The Auckland would get the city wide governance it desperately needs, but the people serving on it would chosen from those with experience and credibility at a local level.

    • Ari 1.1

      Indirect elections are bad at the best of times, (They brought us the first term of George W. Bush, for instance) but compounding that by “kicking up” a single member of an elected body to a superior body is going to cause problems- mainly, the people kicked up will have a very good chance to be favourites of the majority factions on each council, stifling significant opposition in several local areas, or they’ll end up as centrists or unoriginal, ineffectual, and mostly harmless do-nothings who a split council can actually come to agreement on.

      Either of those tendencies are pretty bad. I’d say the ideal system is going proportional for the super-city and electing local councils in wards, with abolishing the “at-large voting” seats a second choice that may have practical advantages with the crowd that hate proportionality.

      Voting-at-large is generally one of those binary things: It has potential if EVERY member is chosen by at large voting, but it’s actually worse than straight FPP elections when mixed in with districting.

  2. rave 2

    How to approach Auckland?
    Well not with my head up Rodney’s ass.
    What is the problem that needs fixing pray tell that we need a super yacht I mean city? Who gives a fuck if we have to doff our caps when passing from Waitakere to Auckland?
    The only problem is the ARC and the assets that are still in public ownership. The ARC is already a regional government charged with providing infrastructure. Wonder why we just dont pass over the water, the airport, the port and Eden Park (sorry forgot Wellington has bought that) to the ARC. It wouldnt be too difficult to do PPPs for the lot while Aucklanders were asleep at the beach.
    No its a matter of principle. The ARC is a bolshie fragment of Poland and the Polish docks are like a running sore in the eyes of his fatuous lordship of Queen St. And the freakish gnome of Epsom wants shares in his waterways when he gets his suit wet. And the jumped up prick of Parnell wants to survey us all with one sweep.
    This is a none to devious way to abolish the ARC in the name of regional pride, Maori tokenism, and fuck you proles we want our moneybags.
    What is fait accompliism mister lean left?
    You grouch about a Lord Mayor and fptp and then say because we had a Royal Commission we are supposed to grovel before this bit of feudal tripe. Off with its head I say.
    On the other hand, I don’t want to end up in the tower, so lets rename Rodney Kaipara and then we can all lie down and die happy.

    captcha: waving condescendingly (you know who)

  3. Excellent points made here – with the key being that there’s a LOT OF GOOD THINGS in the royal commission’s report. Much of the “big stuff” is right – like one district plan, one rates bill, on transport agency (oh thank god for that) and one council. The main debatable points relate to how many local councils should there be, how the councils should be elected and so forth. I think the 11 council option is far better than the 6 council option, and should be explored further. I also agree with the councillor split and voting system that both No Right Turn and Kiwiblog seem to agree upon.

    Heck if those two can agree on something it must be perfect.

    My other main worry is who will do the environmental advocacy role that the ARC currently does? Who will keep the councils honest when they come up with plan changes and the like, if it is a regional-wide council actually coming up with these plans and plan changes?

  4. Gareth 4

    Some good stuff, especially around retaining the super-structure but strengthening local representation and elections run in something approaching a modern democratic manner. I still think a 20-odd Borough model, divided into 4-6 “operational regions” that have a shared services centre providing the operational tasks and the Auckland Council overall would be a good model.

    But please, drop the “left-vs-right” partisanship on this. This is critically important to the future of my city, and I’d rather it didn’t descend it to bullshit “you’re a bloody socialist; fascist’s trying to sell my water” slanging match. Labour and “the left” should approach this in the manner that delivers the best model for their values – not in the way that best serves their political interest.

  5. Joshua 5

    I think there’s potential for some left/right agreement on the good things and bad things that have come of the Royal Commission’s report. There’s general agreement that a strengthened regional body is critical, and that the Auckland Council is probably a good idea. Nobody seems to be arguing for the status quo.

    There’s also general agreement that regionalising transport, water and other important pieces of infrastructure is a good idea.

    There’s also general agreement that local representation might be lacking in what is proposed by the Royal Commission. How that issue is sorted out remains to be seen, but people from the left and the right appear worried about unequal representation, the loss of community boards (or something similar to them) and generally the way in which “local councils” have been put together.

    That’s certainly more agreement than we see on most issues, so I can hope we’ll have a good outcome here.

  6. Gareth 6

    Has anyone come across an organised group lobbying for more low-level representation in the plan? As I understand it there’s little political room for such advocacy now, but even a media or letter-to-your-MP type group?

  7. rave 7

    Do you guys seriously think that the people of Auckland will have any say in how the supercity is set up? The RC was a jackup by business interests. The parameters are set in concrete. A super city with executive mayor (CEO) and a board of directors elected at large (shareholders).
    The current “conversation” is about the shade of lipstick on the whore.
    Ask yourself why the ARC was not empowered to do the job that the the supercity will do? Reason is that the ARC has a history of protecting the environment and key infrastructural assets from privatisation.
    Prove to me that this is not a cynical exercise in euthanazing the ARC to prepare the ports, airport, water, rail etc for privatisation.

    Yeah there is no prospect for turning this decision around. The resistance will have to be directed at preventing privatizations and putting the provision of public services and infrastructure under direct workers control.

  8. … you mean apart from every Community Board in Auckland, who are going to be knocked out of existence soon?

  9. Gareth 9

    Yes I do. I mean a group one can be a part of, should one so choose.

  10. Paul 10

    How to approach Auckland? You don’t, the best beaches are on the Coromandel.

  11. Rich 11

    Direct elections for a council leader are inherently undemocratic as the elected person will only have the full support of a minority of the electorate (even with STV). FPP is even worse as they will typically only have the grudging support of a plurality, who were forced to choose between two front runners. (Banks and Hubbard for example – I had no wish to vote for either).

    If the council leader (or Mayor, if you must) was elected by the councillors (who should be elected by a proportional system, either open list or MMP) then they would have to gain the support of a majority of the electorate, just as the PM has to have half of Parliament behind them.

    I’d also suggest that the whole process should be bottom-up not top down. Community councils should have a charter setting out what they can do. If the people in a community want to extend or reduce this, they should be able to. If they want to leave Greater Auckland and become a unitary authority, or align to another district like Waikato, they should have that choice as well.

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