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Is it time to Nationalise Auckland?

Written By: - Date published: 8:51 am, January 13th, 2018 - 52 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, climate change, Deep stuff, Economy, infrastructure, local government, Politics, poverty, supercity, tax - Tags:


It has been a decade now since Minister of Local Government Rodney Hide proposed amalgamating all of Auckland’s city councils into one enormous entity by dumping much of the Royal Commission’s proposals, then legislating in 2009 and forming the new entity in 2010. Well it’s time to hold its results to account.

In that time some good things have occurred that could not have occurred under the previous arrangement. Plenty like rail electrification was already happening. But the good stuff has included the HOP card for public transport, a revived waterfront, downtown streetscapes, better events and concerts, and better responding to the growth of Auckland itself.

But the standard policy question when evaluating an entity is: what would happen if that entire entity was pushed off a cliff tomorrow?

– Auckland’s parks and reserves would not get any worse.

– Auckland’s rubbish would still be collected by contractors.

– Auckland’s water and wastewater would continue with the same company.

– Auckland’s public transport system, so long as it got greater subsidy from central government, would probably tick over just fine. And the roads would just be what they are. Most large improvements are made through NZTA anyway.

– Auckland would continue to grow both spatially and as an economy.

– Auckland’s central business district and the rest of its development areas would continue redeveloping at their current pace.

Auckland Council doesn’t add much at all to New Zealand.

So what does Auckland add to New Zealand?

Back in October 2015, Peter Nunns at Greater Auckland asked the question: Is Auckland Costing New Zealand Too Much?

His conclusion was that, when calculated as a percentage of government expenditure the answer was no:

“Auckland’s hardly the rapacious parasite that some people make it out to be – it’s not sucking small towns dry of their tax dollars. If anything, it’s the opposite: taxes paid in Auckland fund pensions for small town residents. And while Auckland has been getting a higher share of spending on new roads, that’s not unreasonable given the current and projected rate of population growth in the city.”

That’s only when measured as a percentage of tax.

But poverty hasn’t improved. Traffic hasn’t improved. Public health hasn’t improved. Economic development has only improved if you include construction.

The Auckland Council can’t afford to do any more, and it’s not getting ahead of the curve that really makes a difference, according to its own measures:

Auckland Council’s own measures of economic performance include:

– Increase annual average productivity growth (Auckland went down not up).

– Accelerated growth in exports, particularly target sectors (no data available!)

– Improve ease of finding skilled labour (Auckland went down)

– Improve employment outcomes of migrants in terms of quality (Auckland went down)

In the big headline targets – annual average export growth, and average annual GDP growth, we are improving only marginally, according to that report.

Then there’s the transport targets. Are we getting any better? Well, the good news is that the public transport system has gone from “nearly dead” to “getting slightly better”.

The bad news is that most people are still using their car for most things to make their life work, and to do that they are travelling on roads that are getting worse and worse. Our congestion, according to TomTom’s 2017 traffic index, is worse than Hong Kong’s.

Even in the Ministry of Transport’s most optimistic projections for the future of transport, public transport and active modes take a tiny share of our future transport needs.

The sea port is holding us back, but it’s never going to move if we’re honest. Don’t even bother this Council with climate change or biosecurity.

I am not even going to repeat the housing and homelessness statistics for Auckland because they are commonly known and have become so bad since 2008. Many of you probably live them.

We can do an endless cycle of what could have been if the reforms had gone the right way. It’s pointless. It’s time to call the whole thing off.

Auckland Council has been a catastrophic failure at using the amalgamated powers that it has to build a brand new Auckland. Its’ moves have been weak, and it has been a follower of central government (in all but the City Rail Link) not a leader.

The only way to get out of this mess is to dissolve Auckland’s council and hand the whole thing over to central government.

Only central government has the capacity to coordinate and regulate what really needs coordinating and regulating: public health together with public housing, motorways and rail and public transport, biosecurity and biodiversity, immigration and employment and export-focused productivity.

And when you look at what jobs Auckland Council actually does, the chop-up wouldn’t be too hard either:

– Fresh water and stormwater operation and regulation would be a standalone Department under MfE.

– Transport would be amalgamated into NZTA with no difficulty

– Its regional facilities like the Zoo and the Museum would be a managed entity within DIA or MCH.

– Big parks and reserves go to DoC and Watercare.

– Electricity – through the Vector share – is nationalised and price-regulated.

– The housing and development portfolios would be just a couple of UDA’s under MBIE.

– Consents get managed through an Auckland branch of MBIE.

Instead of rates, Auckland gets special property taxes and petrol taxes administered by IRD.

Job done.

And then government gets to throw all those useless local government politicians who almost zero people know, off a cliff.

52 comments on “Is it time to Nationalise Auckland? ”

  1. One Anonymous Bloke 1

    Sure Ad. The response to predictable ACT vandalism and incompetence is give up local democracy altogether.

    Cowed. 🙄

    • mickysavage 1.1

      I think Ad’s tongue was firmly in his cheek but the big issue he raises is relevant. Why isn’t Auckland doing better?

      • Ad 1.1.1

        Just keeping our collective critical faculties in order for the coming year.
        You talked once of the Golden Weekend.
        Summer is the time to expect more.

      • Tuppence Shrewsbury 1.1.2

        Persistent left wing councils running the place. Auckland council has a comms team larger than fonterra. If that doesn’t tell you something’s wrong I’m not sure what will.

        Not a single mayor since amalgamation has had the bravery to fix auckland with the simplest of measures. No more CCO’s to make arms length decisions that absolve the council of responsibility for poor performance

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.2.1

          Persistent left wing councils running the place.

          No. It was designed to fail. If we’d had right-wing councils it’d be a hell of a lot worse but the rich would have made a killing.

          • BM 1.1.2.1.1

            Like the one billion dollars the Auckland council spent on “IT consultation”

            No rich pricks making a killing there.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.2.2

          The CCOs are written into Rodney Hide’s ideologically motivated vandalism. Goff’s council sent them letters of expectation in late 2016. More upheaval at this point would waste whatever work they’ve put into reversing everything Hide baked into them.

          In time the government needs to rewrite the Act so it reflects best practice instead of right wing delusions.

  2. Takere 2

    Fuck’n ay! Before Goff puts the city’s Assets & ratepayers in the hands of international investors!
    With a 265% debt limit, currently at 257%!
    For example; hes already ‘given away’ for free, last March/April. The carbon credit rights to an Aust company called GreenFleet with a 50 year contract! For every park & reserve, held by the Auckland council which includes the Waitakere Ranges(???? – No Rahui). The company has encumbrance rights for every blade of grass, fauna,vegetation, “Tree” on all council property! Somewhere around 500,000 (?) Hectares of public land is controlled, not by the Councillors but the fuck’n Aussies!
    Mike Lee, Cathy Casey and a few others argued the issues with Goff in an Exec Finance meeting in March/April 2017 however the deal had been done with Goff & Townsends approval!FFS!

    • savenz 2.1

      @Takere – shocking! The are a bunch of bizarre decision makers who lost their brains in the 1980’s. No wonder dirty politics split the right mayoral vote to make even further right, Goff, secure the Mayoral role.

      Time that these officials are held accountable for ‘giving away’ or “too cheaply selling” public assets and rights. Prison should be an option for this type of fraud or stupidity.

      If you can be prosecuted for stealing a $1 chocolate bar or $20 worth of petrol, about time that some of our public figures are held to account for stealing much greater sums, from their ratepayers and future generations.

      • Takere 2.1.1

        Agree 100%! Public Floggings/humiliation at the least & the Guillotine too for Crown MP’s as well for these kinds of Acts of Treachery!! Had enough of this BS …

        PS: Josephine Bartley standing for Maungakeikei Councillors seat in Auckland vacated by that parasite Denise Lee who made it into parliament for the Nats.
        If you live in the Area of Maungakeikei, vote Josephine, she is a ‘people’s’ candidate! Jan/Feb: Postal vote only between 26th Jan – 17th Feb (midday).

        • Pi 2.1.1.1

          This smelled off and, with just five minutes of google research, yep – looks like your assertions are somewhat misleading.

          Greenfleet is an Australian not for profit and charity that plants forests to create carbon credits for carbon offset purposes. See here: http://www.greenfleet.co.nz/

          As far as I can tell, Greenfleet has entered into a partnership arrangement with Auckland Council, where Greenfleet will fund the re-vegetation of Auckland Council land in return for the carbon credit rights that result from the re-vegetation. The Council will grant Greenfleet an encumbrance over the re-vegetated land (i.e. not all Council land) to record Greenfleet’s interest in the carbon credits and to ensure that the re-vegetated forests are not cut down for 50 years. The Council otherwise retains control and ownership.

          Total land area involved seems to be 50 – 500 hectares, not 500,000.

          Source:

          http://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2016/12/GB_20161215_AGN_6750_AT.htm#PDF3_Attachment_51011_1

    • RedBaronCV 2.2

      Why the hell should any government or council be entitled to issue a 50 year contact , or for that matter a 25, 20 or 10 year contract to a private company. it makes a mockery of democracy as future ratepayers or voters cannot easily choose a better path of action.
      Try shifting that lot without paying compensation under TPPA.
      Once ratepayers got to vote on loan raising by councils

      The left needs to set up a corporation with the shareholders the voters on our electoral roll, and then issue a 50 year contract that allows them to fund welfare benefits tied to a CEO remuneration index so the benefits continue and taxpayers have to fund regardless. Imagine the Right wing squeals about that kind of mirror arrangement

  3. savenz 3

    Yep Auckland council is a neoliberal corrupt and incompetent mess with a less than 20% approval rating from ratepayers, but the answer is NOT to give up democracy in Auckland either. If the RMA was reformed to include environmental and individual and community protection then that would go a long way. The way the RMA works is killing the country by allowing bad decisions so that people can make a short term buck while leaving the long and short term consequences to others.

    Centralising power never works. Thats why the supercity does not work and why making it more centralised again with central government would not work.

    As for thinking HOP was a success a few months ago they wanted to rip off Aucklanders by having their money on cards wiped after 3 months of non use. Japan has 10 years for their cards.

    Aucklanders and anyone who comes here are being ripped off again and again with bad decisions from a bunch of morons in charge of decisions.

    • JessNZ 3.1

      +100000
      Supercity centralisation didn’t work, so let’s centralise nationally? From whence this logic?

    • hetmes 3.2

      “Central power never works”. Ironic that it was Rodney Hide and the ACT party who pushed through this Soviet style central planning monstrosity, that is the Super City. Just look at the roads around Auckland and realise what a backward step this has been.

  4. BM 4

    Far better would be to repeal this part of the Local Government act.

    The Local Government Act 2002 brought about a total change in empowering local bodies. It changed from the ultra vires approach to a more permissive approach that gave local authorities “full capacity to carry on or undertake any activity or business, do any act, or enter into any transaction”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_Government_Act_2002

    Local governments need to have far more stringent controls applied to them, the people running council are financial incompetents who see ratepayers as nothing more than cash cows to be milked for either their social agendas or business interests.

    Unfortunately, we can’t get rid of local government, so the answer is to put them on as tighter leash as possible to minimize the damage they can do.

    • Businesses need to have far more stringent controls applied to them, the people running businesses are economic incompetents who see the public as nothing more than cash cows to be milked for either their social agendas and business interests.

      FTFY

    • One Anonymous Bloke 4.2

      Shorter BM: I hate democracy because it makes bribery harder.

  5. Keepcalmcarryon 5

    Overturning democratically elected councils -even if incompetent is a bad street to go down.
    As soon as the Nats regain power, how much worse would Auckland get?
    But mostly think about ECAN and what the Nat government agenda has done to destroy the environment and water quality in Canterbury for massive capital gain of a few wealthy land owners.
    We need more democracy not less, maybe some actual accountability would be a start.

    • Takere 5.1

      Q. When does “more” democracy become Communism? Just a question, I’m not entirely opposed to the idea (as a Marxist Socialist). By implying more democracy & control …. does that lead to Communism or Totalitarianism or just Authoritarianism?
      I still believe we need Treachery & Treason Acts with personal accountability & liability for office holders.

      For some, just the threat of ‘pain’ is enough for them to think twice before they cross the rubicon and for those that do, theres consequences for their deliberate actions.

      • A democratic society is, by default, communist.

        This raises the question of if we’re truly a democracy. What we have is certainly authoritarian though with top down control.

        • Tuppence Shrewsbury 5.1.1.1

          Probably the most misinformed thing you’ve ever said.

          Democracy is an institution allowing for the freedom to choose representation, communism is at best an institution where freedom is removed for the benefit of all

          • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1.1.1

            Democracy is an institution allowing for the freedom to choose representation,

            Wrong.

            Democracy is where the people choose collectively how their resources are used and the rules of how to act.

            communism is at best an institution where freedom is removed for the benefit of all

            Wrong again. Communism has nothing to do with removal of freedom but the control of society removed from a small clique and distributed to the populace.

            Communism = democracy.

            This explains why capitalists don’t democracy and have a tendency to remove even limited examples of it when they can – see National’s removal of ECan.

      • Stuart Munro 5.1.2

        The short answer is not so much the stocks (or the tigers) as reclaiming ill-gotten assets. These crooks steal public assets to enrich themselves – if the consequence is losing their assets they are likely to find that a significant deterrent.

    • Ad 5.2

      I think you’re mistaking democracy for leadership.

      • Takere 5.2.1

        There is a serious lack of leadership …. shit floats, unfortunately, your right.

      • Stunned Mullet 5.2.2

        Leadership you say ?

        Not many if any in the last few decades

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayor_of_Auckland_City#List_of_officeholdershttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayor_of_Auckland

        Quite a few hits and troughs though, I expect if we listed the councillors and the other haters on from the Northshore, Waitakere etc pre amalgamation it would be even more depressing.

        • Ad 5.2.2.1

          Sir Barry Curtis may not be a New Urbanists paragon, but he was a leader who shaped an entire subregion.

          Same with Sir Bob Harvey. He gave pride to a region where previously there had been little.

          In Auckland City Council, the last century has had only two notable leaders; Mayor Robbie who failed in a lot of things but paid attention to sewerage, and Sir John Allum who led the formation of the dam system that is now the core of Auckland’s biodiversity, but who also enabled the full motorway system that we have now (like and loathe it).

          • Stunned mullet 5.2.2.1.1

            Agreed about Bob despite his flaws i was disappointed he didn’t consider running for supercity mayor.

            Barry Curtis failed to strangle Len Brown in the Manukau city council chambers therefore I consign him to Dante’s inferno. 😆

      • Incognito 5.2.3

        There is no leadership in Auckland and there hasn’t been for a very long time as far as I can tell (I am not a centenarian). There is management and it is way short of high quality. BTW, same arguments apply to NZ as a whole: it is being managed, poorly, and no real bold leadership is sight. And no, a figurehead is not the same as a leader.

      • Keepcalmcarryon 5.2.4

        No Ad, leadership with no accountability is dictatorship. While we would all agree that benign dictatorship could achieve great things in reality there is no such thing.
        Democracy where we get to vote is our only tentative control.
        Get some big penalties happening for nepotism in all levels of government and restructure the biased media so they can show voters what’s going on, then they can be held to account.

        • Stunned mullet 5.2.4.1

          LKY in Singapore was about as close to a benign dictatorship as there has been in modern times.

        • Incognito 5.2.4.2

          Democracy where we get to vote is our only tentative control.

          Voting for so-called political representation does not equal democracy; it is only one necessary aspect of it.

          In theory, any NZ citizen can stand for local and national office but in practice the field is dominated by a few political parties & factions over which we, the general voters, have no control whatsoever.

          Whatever you’d like to call it, it ain’t democracy in the real meaning of the word/concept. Thus, we have no real control and power rests mostly with largely invisible and nameless managers to whom we have not ceded authority to muddle in our (daily) affairs.

  6. Auckland Council doesn’t add much at all to New Zealand.

    Chances are that if it was removed a hell of a lot of stuff would suddenly not get done. Those contractors that are doing the work of the council are paid and managed by the council. The fact that they’re private contractors just means that it costs more not that if you removed the council things would still get done efficiently.

    Auckland Council has been a catastrophic failure at using the amalgamated powers that it has to build a brand new Auckland.

    All indications are that it was designed that way so as to force privatisation. If a right-wing council had been voted in then everything would have been sold already and things would be far worse. Fortunately, we got left-leaning councils and things haven’t crashed and burned but they have been purposefully restrained by the policies put in place by National.

    And when you look at what jobs Auckland Council actually does, the chop-up wouldn’t be too hard either:

    So we should get rid of all local government then? After all, they all do the same job and you just told us that central government is better at it.

  7. RedBaronCV 7

    If a lot of the big stuff is being funded by government departments then why not break Auckland up into small communities that elect, deal and collect rates at a very local level and decide which of the larger issues they are prepared to fund after they have dealt with their own needs. Can’t wait really.

    But why the basic assumption that Auckland has to grow and be funded for that massive increase? Get a net outflow of migration from Auckland flowing and fit the number of people back to the existing size of the city. All these problems have only arisen since the massive immigration sponsored by the NActs.

    And as for that ridiculous statement
    “it’s not sucking small towns dry of their tax dollars. If anything, it’s the opposite: taxes paid in Auckland fund pensions for small town residents”

    it’s only because of corporate unwillingness ( and I know of several corporates with a few thousand jobs that don’t need to be in Auckland) to shift jobs away from there. If they did the tax dollars would be paid in the same towns as the pensions
    Why not put call centres in Dunedin? It has the perfect population mix of students wanting to earn & older people who can still cope with desk jobs.

    • Ad 7.1

      Auckland is growing and there is no stopping it. Maybe just a minor tapering at the edges. The NZ Stats graph with actual plus projected is here:

      https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2015/12/01/ats-smarter-integrated-networks-presentation/

      “Corporate unwillingness” as you put it to build in Auckland is a trend that is also irreversible and has been occurring since the 1930s. Auckland dominates New Zealand like almost no other city over 1 million in the world dominates its host country. There are only a few things smaller centres can do to ameliorate that.

      • RedBaronCV 7.1.1

        okay then slap a large payroll tax on certain ACC classes if they are being performed in Auckland. Corporate’s can pay for the infrastructure or move. And nothing is irreversible – there was a time when places like Dunedin & Wanganui & Charleston where large important rich towns in the NZ context. 30 years ago most corporate head offices where on the Terrace in Wellington.

        The current growth splurge in Auckland is not organic or internally generated but based on a massive immigration policy of the Nacts which did not from part of their election platforms. Having policy aimed at rolling back the size of the place or at least not letting it increase is not an outrageous idea.

        • Ad 7.1.1.1

          Here’s a useful article for you on the causes of Auckland’s population growth including the “natural increase” v “net migration” causes:

          https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2015/11/25/why-is-auckland-growing/

          • RedBaronCV 7.1.1.1.1

            I’m not entirely sure that that little article proves anything much.
            For starters there are no comparisons to the rest of New Zealand.
            I note that the graph goes back only to the neolib reforms of 1990, needs a longer time horizon and is year on year not cumulative. The cumulative net migration will feed after a time lapse into higher natural increase.

            “Natural increase accounted for 58% of Auckland’s growth over this period, while net migration accounted for the rest.”

            So 42% of growth is “net migration” and of course this becomes an increasing spiral as migrants tend to be in middling age groups and therefore have children to contribute to the natural increase which gets included in the 58% ( is the natural increase at a higher rate per capita than the rest of the country?)

            And so long as jobs are hoarded in Auckland by corporates then younger people will go there and have children etc etc. ” The “growth” is a spiral that we could look at slowing or reversing.

      • RedBaronCV 7.1.2

        And that dominance is a problem in itself that overt or covert encouragement to shift activities out of Auckland needs to address. Untrammeled free markets produce rubbish results as we know so there are some governance issues to address here. Or Auckland could secede and the rest of then enjoy a marked up lift in life?

  8. millsy 8

    Perhaps just close down the Auckland Council and just have the local boards running things? Maybe respawn the old ARC?

  9. adam 9

    Ever since the reforms of the 80’s Auckland has been sucked dry. It pays the most tax and gets the least services, now with the property boom, it’s just another leaver to get more rates (tax) from the populace. Time to have a re-think – well done for raising this Ad.

    Personally, I’d like the borough councils to come back – more accountability, and more people out voting. With somthing like you purposed for things like transport, water and power – being held account by central government, and a elected watch group.

  10. Carolyn_Nth 10

    Remove Auckland Council & give the jobs to central government? What about libraries, local events and festivals – basically community activities by and for their communities?

    But these are public/community services, and a corporate-style structure is not the best for them.

  11. Lloyd 11

    The main problem with Auckland Council, other than it doesn’t directly control a number of CCOs like AT and Watercare, is that the Council doesn’t have enough money because its rates are too low,
    Increase the rate income and many of the Council problems vanish,

  12. David Mac 12

    Aucklanders have heard it ad infinitum. ‘Give me more money’ is a bankrupt solution. Double rates tomorrow and what would happen? Kilometres of sewerage pipes laid and buried? Or the hoarding for the America’s Cup Village construction decorated with the murals of the world’s leading artists?

    Would any of the councilors run their personal affairs so that they had borrowed 99% of every dollar of credit available to them? Of course not, that is fiscal insanity yet it is what they’ve done with Auckland City. Suggest any of them do it with their personal stuff and they’d rightfully laugh at the lunacy of the prospect.

    More money may well be required, but lets stop pissing it up against the wall first.

  13. David Mac 13

    The executive salary structure at Auckland Super City is the envy of Cosa Nostra.

    So many doing so little for so much.

    The cry goes up…”I’m doing the same job as someone in the private sector, I deserve the same pay.”

    “That’s great news Mr High-Flyer Council Exec, you’ll need to sell 8 million dollars worth of stuff next week, ok?”

  14. Anon 14

    Please, ECAN went to central government and they crippled public transport.

    • Ad 14.1

      I wasn’t presuming to discuss Canterbury.
      But be honest, what percentage of Cantabrians used public transport before that?

  15. Ken 15

    If the city has been amalgamated, how come some suburbs still pay by the binload to get their rubbish collected, how come some suburbs can’t buy liquor in their supermarkets and how come the dog ownership laws are not the same all over Auckland?

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