Written By: James Henderson - Date published: 10:59 am, February 11th, 2012 - 105 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, local government, privatisation - Tags: bob parker, christchurch council, fran o'sullivan, gerry brownlee
People are waking up to National’s plan to remove the democratically-elected Christchurch City Council and replace it with its own hand-picked commissioners, who will then give a green light to Brownlee’s developer mates and the sale of council assets. You can already see the vultures circling – waiting for the chance to seize more public wealth for themselves.
Fran O’Sullivan, who seems to have made it her personal goal this year to promote the sale of everything New Zealand owns into foreign or private control, doesn’t mention sale of the council’s assets directly, but it’s there in code:
“it must surely be fast approaching the point where Parker either immerses himself full-time in leading his city through a very difficult period when tough fiscal choices must be made, or makes way for a new hard-nosed leader who can unite the divided council behind a common goal…
…Tough choices do have to be made.
The Government is stumping up an enormous amount of cash for the Canterbury rebuild. But the Earthquake Commission’s funds are exhausted. The kitty is bare and must be replenished. ..
…There is a desperate need to ensure businesses stay involved in Christchurch. Fancy urban plans are one thing – but sheer economics demand that Christchurch gets on with it soon.”
No-one’s denying that Parker’s a vainglorious fuckwit. He opportunistically used the first earthquakes to get re-elected and has shown himself to be useless at actually running a city – which is why the people of Christchurch were about to vote him out after one term before the media beatified him.
But that doesn’t mean that the entire council needs to be sacked. And it certainly doesn’t justify O’Sullivan’s “tough choices” to “replenish the kitty” and “ensure businesses stay involved in Christchurch” – ie asset sales and giving carte blanche to developers (without a hint of irony, O’Sullivan later writes how letting developers ignore the rules in the 80s lead to the CTV Building collapse).
Christchurch will need the strategic control and the dividend stream that its council-owned assets give it even more in the coming years. The last thing it needs is a one-off sugar rush of sale revenue and, then, to be bound by demands of a few large private investors that have no interest in Christchurch other than as a source of profits, while trying to build a city that will function for the whole community.
And the last thing this country needs is another of our CBDs turned into a developers’ disaster of cheaply-constructed buildings, poorly laid out and ugly. We have the opportunity to get Christchurch right and future-proofed. Get on with it, by all means, but don’t sacrifice quality in haste.
O’Sullivan isn’t the only neoliberal vulture circling, waiting for the chance to rip public wealth out of a wounded city and keep it for private gain. Stuff reports (in a tone that assumes asset sales are a foregone conclusion) that various large investment firms are lining up to get their mitts on the wealth built with ratepayer dollars. And why wouldn’t they? Those assets return $100m of profit a year, similar in scale to the slices of some of the SOEs the government is privatising.
Make no mistake, the crisis that National is generating around Auckland council, ably assisted by various shills, is about creating the opportunity to sell the Christchurch people’s assets and ensure the rebuild is focused on developers’ interests. The democratically-elected council is a road-block to that, and that’s why National will get rid of it, unless we fight them.
Incidentally, Christchurch was the only area of New Zealand where the number of National Party votes increased last election (despite a massive drop in turn-out there). That may be a testimony to Labour’s local MPs avoiding politicising the handling of the quakes, while no such quarter was given by National. Those extra few thousand votes in Christchurch are, ironically, all that gives National a majority for asset sales in the House. Don’t expect the people of Christchurch to be so generous in 2014 if National dismantles their local democracy and sells their common wealth.