Written By: James Dann - Date published: 8:57 am, August 5th, 2014 - 36 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, christchurch earthquake, community democracy, democracy under attack, Environment, Gerry Brownlee - Tags: gerry brownlee, national, rebuilding christchurch
As the government and the media start their crusade to sell off the council’s assets, the Press has also found time to champion one of the Right’s other pet causes: council amalgamation. One council could well be the answer – but it depends what the question was. Maybe it was “how can we give the people of Canterbury even less say in the decisions that effect their daily lives?” While this was just a short opinion piece from the Press council reporter Lois Cairns, it managed to contain an heroic number of omissions.
First up, what she is suggesting is a merger of the city council (CCC) with the regional council (ECan). This makes it seem like these are the only two bodies in play. ECan is the territorial authority for all of Canterbury – from Timaru to Kaikoura. There are TEN councils in the area covered by ECan, and so merging two of them would create a multitude of issues for the other 9 councils. Surely the Press knows this, so one wonders what might have led them to omission.
Secondly, the comparison to the Auckland Supercity is a fatuous one. The key reason for bringing the supercity together was that Auckland consisted of a number of city councils. While there were also rural and semi-rural ones, and the Auckland regional council, this was about making a city work together as a city. The CCC and ECan have two, almost exclusive, spheres of influence at the moment – rebuilding a city, and expediting water extraction for dairy farming, Why on earth would anyone want to join these two together?*
Thirdly, when comparing Christchurch to the supercity, Cairns has completely overlooked the twin elephants in the room: Selwyn and Waimakariri. If you were going to create one council (and, if you haven’t picked this up already, we most definitely shouldn’t be) then you would start by bringing the two councils that are making bank out of the CCC being severely compromised by the quakes. Selwyn and Waimakariri are opening up huge amounts of land – fabulously fertile farmland – for cookie-cutter subdivisions on the outskirts of Christchurch. They get the rates from these sections, but the people who live there benefit from their proximity to a city to which they don’t contribute rates to.
But of all the crap in this opinion piece, this takes the cake:
Opponents to a unitary authority have cited concerns about the loss of democracy. That argument holds little sway as ECan has been democracy-free since the Government stepped in and appointed commissioners in 2010. The Government has shown little appetite for changing that situation, so if we went down the track of a unitary authority we wouldn’t be losing democracy, we would be regaining it.
So. The government took away our vote, denying us a right that is protected under a UN charter. They then used the tragedy of the earthquakes so they could postpone our rights again – and all so they could hand as much water over to dairy farmers are possible. But don’t worry – this argument has little sway with Lois. Phew. There was me thinking it was the role of the fourth estate to try and speak truth to power. Nope. Instead of being outraged by the removal of our rights, Cairns manages to spin her little proposal as one that gives us more of a vote, not less. In her mind, 1 vote is greater than 2.
This opinion reads like one that came straight from the top floor of the Beehive. No one in Christchurch is asking for this. But on top of the fight we have to save our council assets – which the council are being pressured to sell, so they can build millstones for their own neck like stadiums and convention centres – we’re fighting EQC and insurance. We’re battling against rents going up at crazy rates. We’re struggling around on pot-holed, clogged roads. We’ve got whole suburbs going under water which the government wants us to believe has nothing to do with the quakes. And all the while, extensive, extractive dairy farming is turning our great rivers into open sewers.
We’re fighting on every front, and we’re tired of it. We’ve gone on like this for the best part of four years, living in a state of semi-permanent stress. We need your help. If you’re swinging about who to vote for, have a look down here and see what it means to us. We don’t have a say in what happens to our environment. We have say in our council, but our council doesn’t have much of a say in how our city is run any more. Power has been concentrated into the figure of one man – a man who has in recent weeks shown that he thinks he is above the rule of law. You might think your one vote doesn’t make much of a difference – but it is everything to us here. Another three years of National and Brownlee, and we might not have a vote at a local level at all. Under a Labour led-government, we’d have new elections for ECan, and we’d be passing power back from CERA to the council. It looks like it is the only thing that can stop the relentless march towards turning this city and this region into a wholly owned business subsidiary of the government.
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