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RIP Penny Bright

Written By: - Date published: 8:11 am, October 5th, 2018 - 33 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, activism, auckland supercity, local body elections, local government, Politics, supercity - Tags: ,

There was some sad news overnight. Auckland political activist Penny Bright finally succumbed to ovarian cancer and died overnight.

Penny was one of Auckland’s unique political activists. She was a regular attendee at protests and had that endearing characteristic of saying exactly, precisely what she thought.  Without fear.

She railed against what she said was corruption at Auckland Council and urged there to be greater transparency.

She engaged in a rates strike, refusing to pay rates on her home until transparency was improved.

This led to claims and counterclaims and High Court action. Simpson Grierson’s legal bill to Auckland Council was over $100,000. Rates arrears at the time were $33,000.

She offered to settle the defamation suit by being given an apology and $10,000. Council turned down this very economically rational offer.

The crazy thing in relation to the rates arrears is that Council could have sat back and not spent a thing and made more money. Arrears attract a 10% penalty per annum and Bright did not have a mortgage, preventing Council from seeking that the mortgagee pay the arrears.

And the defamation suit was I thought overblown.  People say awful things about Council all the time.  Thicker skins should have prevailed.

The stress of the court action clearly had an effect on her. I recommend people never go to court unless there is absolutely no alternative. Life is too short for that sort of stress.

She also stood for public office. She was almost elected as a Councillor in the early 2000s in a by election. Imagine what would have happened if she had won …

She also stood in each of the Auckland super city Mayoralty elections. She achieved 2,700 votes in 2010, nearly 12,000 in 2013 and over 7,000 in 2016.

She has been unwell for a while. It is a sign of her fortitude and strength of will that she survived as long as she did.

And one of the most touching things I have read for a while was this description by Bernard Orsman in the Herald of her meeting with former nemesis John Banks.

John Banks took the frail hand of his old foe Penny Bright at her bedside in Auckland Hospital today and held it for a good 15 minutes.

“I haven’t met anyone with more fight than you,” said Banks, who knew he was in her good books when she telephoned and referred to him simply as “John”.

“Whenever you referred to me as John Banks I knew I was in trouble,” said the former mayor of Auckland City Council.

On a Wednesday night in 2002, Banks stared down a group of protesters at the Auckland Town Hall and said he was not going to tolerate “boorish and childish behaviour by a small minority of Aucklanders hell-bent on disrupting the council”.

He ruled the protesters could not bring placards into the council meeting. That was followed by chaotic scenes with 20 security guards and several police officers dragging protesters outside and making 17 arrests. Bright was in the thick of the action.

Banks accepted Bright’s invitation to visit her in hospital today, turning up in a Ralph Lauren puffer jacket carrying a large bunch of red lilies and a friendly smile.

He had barely pulled up a chair and wrapped his right hand into hers when Bright launched into a tirade against the injustices of Auckland Council in pursuing her for not paying rates and trying to sell the Kingsland house she had called home since 1990.

“It’s a bit of a dag while I’m busy fighting for my life that I’m fighting to expose Auckland Council for what they have done to me … there needs to be a full-blown forensic inquiry,” said Bright, gravely ill in hospital with a life-threatening diabetic condition, ovarian cancer and a perforated bowel.

That last comment summed up Penny perfectly. She always fought and she never gave up.

I did not necessarily agree with what Penny said but I could never fault her passion or bravery.

Rest in peace Penny.

33 comments on “RIP Penny Bright”

  1. Sad to see her go. I met Penny a few times, mainly at the time when her claim to fame was that she was New Zealand’s first ticketed female welding inspector. She had to fight all the way to be allowed to be an apprentice welder (boys only back then) and then went on to teach welding to others.

    I’m not going to say that I had any respect for her battle against Auckland council, because I don’t. It was a pointless, expensive and wasteful exercise that she comprehensively lost. I think the reason for the defeat was that unlike her earlier battles, she couldn’t convince the people to support her. There was no overarching principle to build unity around and no widely held and deeply felt belief in the community that something was genuinely wrong with the council.

    However, Penny’s life isn’t defined by her choice of battle. It’s defined by the fact she battled, and battled, and battled. We don’t have enough folk prepared to do the same, more’s the pity.

    RIP, Penny.

    • cleangreen 1.1

      100% te reo putake.

      Penny was one special soul, we must carry on her message for total honesty and integrity in our civil Governance thrust upon us all.

      Too many times we have seen big business and corporate lobbyists win the ear of our civil authorities, and this must stop and we must be heard and considered over the wishes of big business interests.

      This is a message to jacinda;

      Jacinda take back our public voice, and hear us over the business ‘white wash noise’ you are bombarded with by business lobbyists continually.

      Start by refusing any audience from Ken Shirley and his lobbyists of the “Road transport forum” as his organisation is attempting to destroy the public rail service our Helen Clark bought back into public ownership to take trucks off the roads and make our lives safer while lowering the carbon footprint of our transport industry.

      These people involved in the “Road transport Forum” are enemies of rail services.

      They are deliberately now increasing use of extra heavy road freight vehicles that are now causing death and destruction to our roads and cost of repairs and threatening the lives of other road users.

      Then fix our public media so people have their voice heard now.

    • McFlock 1.2

      Well said.
      RIP Penny.

  2. Sacha 2

    Glad to see that Penny spent her final days in the care of Mercy Hospice. They do such important work, on the smell of a boilermaker’s rag. https://mercyhospice.org.nz/product/donation/

  3. SaveNZ 3

    RIP Penny.

    I think she was spot on against her fight for the council. With very few robust systems in place they have become a corrupt, morally bereft organisation that wastes money, makes poor decisions, are out of touch with ratepayers, only supports big business and feeds lawyers and consultants that they both parasitically and symbiotically host. The council should be forced as a public agency to open up their books, properly, full transparency of all moneys spent, not just to some overpaid consultants or auditors that fail to find anything amiss and then you get Kaipara council situation .

    Sadly NZ has become a nation of lawyers and middle people who can’t make decisions based on practicality, and when we stop selling the NZ monopoly board, not sure what is going to be left.. certainly not a working welfare system.

    Sad to see Penny go. I admire her ability not to care what other people thought of her and devote her life to fights that many people just give up on (aka paying rates to an organisation that is not fit for purpose anymore)..

    • All these people bleating on about her not paying her rates, and the weird thing is we never hear the whole actual story behind why she was doing it. It seems like there is some sort of conspiracy in the media to keep it all quiet.

  4. RRM 4

    I must admit I mistook her for a generalized anti-establishment lefty keyboard warrior, based on her posts on kiwiblog.

    Evidently she was much more than that. Someone who was prepared to fight real fights in the real world, at great personal cost, alone. For results not for Facebook likes or blog karma.

    That deserves respect, she has mine.

  5. Cinny 5

    Bless you Penny.

    One day I was chalking on the footpath, but because of you I knew my rights and when the police came to talk to me, I was not intimidated or arrested, because you told me what to say. Thank you Penny for everything you have done and the wisdom you have shared and left with us.

    Much respect Beautiful Lady, thanks for ‘being’.

    • patricia bremner 5.1

      Thanks Cinny. I never met Penny, but your wee tribute and te reo putake’s tale of the welding added a dimension to her life’s work for those like me. RIP Penny.

  6. ianmac 6

    Anyone who fights out of sincere belief and regardless of the setbacks has to be admired. Penny fought hard and fought well. Good on yer Penny.

  7. RIP Penny, rest now you gave it 100%

  8. greywarshark 8

    Penny had guts and determination to fight The City, or less politely The Supershitty which is an example of what RW politicians offer the whole of the country when enabled to get their Third? Fourth Way underway.

    She drew attention to Aucklanders’ problems with the new system of combined Councils, with a capital base that enabled it to play with ratepayers’ money, and dream big expensive dreams. The combined Councils wish to be unaccountable to the increasing poor and disadvantaged, as well as the fraught middle class who have little say even through their Local Boards. Penny made herself a human sacrifice to the great god Mammon by not resignedly or sullenly accepting it as a fait accompli.

    For you Penny Bright
    Do not go gentle into that good night
    Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953


    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night

    • veutoviper 8.1

      Perfect choice in Dylan Thomas, Grey. Thank you.

      I never met Penny as a Wellingtonian who rarely travels these days, but I did admire her tenacity and determination. I am sad that her days ended in illness but I am pleased that she did not get thrown out of her home before the cancer took its final hold.

      Kia kaha

      And thank you also, te reo putake, for that little bit of revelation about Penny being New Zealand’s first ticketed female welding inspector. It somehow fits with her whole persona. It is always surprising, but happens so often, that we find out things like that about someone only after they die, yet it is part of the whole of the person we knew – or thought we knew.

      • greywarshark 8.1.1

        That’s a good point vv.
        People are complex, even when they appear simple don’t you think. Behind the face, or the facade, what wonderful people – or possibly the opposite. If we could find a way to get together and talk about ourselves, our hopes, our dreams, our stories, I think we would be amazed or saddened by the stuff they have achieved or carried around with them. But we would gain perspective and respect for them and indeed all of us as we cope with our time on earth.

        Could it be an innovation to meet and talk about something interesting or thought-provoking in our histories? Using similar to the PechaKucha brevity but not as elaborate and remembering that it is a copyrighted name. So some other snappy name not dripping with nostalgic sentiment. It would be interesting to hear what active people in our world are doing, what is exercising their brains and their dreams. Could it be a Penny for Them – enigmatic? Or Light Up – Show and Tell for Grown-Ups? Silly but intriguing perhaps.

  9. mary_a 9

    Dear Penny did some hard arse kicking during her time with us, never afraid to challenge the establishment. A real fighter for social justice right to the very end of her life.

    RIP Penny.

  10. Tony Veitch [not etc.] 10

    My God, this country needs more people of determination and fortitude like Penny.

    I just wish I had her courage.

    R.I.P. Penny.

  11. I’ll always remember her walking along beside John Key and protesting,… bold as brass, dressed up nicely and quietly making her presence known all the way down the street , I think it was during the failed National campaign in Northland…

    What a fighter !

    These are the New Zealanders that keep these political deviants on their toes and she was one who did just that ! Good on you Penny , we’ve truly lost a champion. Rest easy and in peace.

  12. chris73 12

    At the end some class (that some politicians on the left and right could learn from) from Penny and John, good to see

  13. greywarshark 13

    Penny died Thursday 4 October 2018. A last interview with her unchanging individual views:

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/107615830/veteran-auckland-activist-penny-bright-dies

    It has warm tributes from her friends also comments from some of the recipients of her campaigns.

  14. Philj 14

    Watch out Huey, Penny is heading back your way! Thank you for your fearlessness, against unbridled power.

  15. Exkiwiforces 15

    The sad thing about reading obituaries like this is you learn something new about the deceased.

    Is that Penny becoming a welder and later becoming an welder inspector, but also a teacher in her profession.

    I doff my hat to you Penny and my you Rest In Peace.

  16. theotherpat 16

    wish there were more like her

  17. james 17

    Very Sad.

    I have said it before regarding Penny when we learned that she was ill – NZ is poorer for her passing.

  18. David Mac 18

    I hope it’s not too long before central Auckland has a ‘Penny Bright Park’ and it’s not too hard to imagine such a place becoming a popular meeting place for the commencement of future protests. Viva le Penny.

    Nobody stomped their foot and said “No” quite like Penny.

  19. One Two 19

    Why are there so few Pennys…

    Because it takes courage and energy to take on corporate entities on behalf ones own self..and therefore on behalf of others…

    Others who are not even aware of the issues Penny was fighting for or against…or the degree to what those issues impact on the existence of other human beings…

    Rates bills keep rising…people understand that much…but what…radio silence at best…insulting and mocking at worst…

    RIP Penny…thank you…may your activism propagate…

  20. The Chairman 20

    RIP, Penny.

    Your efforts and input will be missed.

    Condolences to family and friends.

  21. Tiger Mountain 21

    well done Penny

    knew her well during ’81 Springbok tour, and car industry union battles of the 80s, and not well in later decades, her world view certainly changed from her Workers Communist League–WCL–days, “workers of the world unite!” became “lets expose the filthy swine at council”; but really, too many live lives of compliant mediocrity, too afraid of their own shadow, or the authorities, or others view of them, to take direct action, Penny Bright was a sterling example of what fully embracing “freedom of speech, association and assembly” looks like

  22. millsy 22

    I don’t suppose it was too much of an exaggeration to suggest that Aucklanders have her to thank for not having their water reticulation hived off and handed to some European hedge fund?

  23. OnceWasTim 23

    RIP Penny, though I know you probably won’t be.

    All things considered, you weren’t actually asking for that much.
    A sprinkling of honesty, a peppering of accountability, and a sprig of transparency.

    Although you might not end up resting in peace, you can be assured that when it all turns to shit you’ll have achieved what you were searching for.
    Only time was the enemy.

    There goes one beautiful lady in every regard.

    Thankyou

  24. Philj 24

    Your legacy lives. Where and when will the next Penny turn up?

  25. Jum 25

    I’ve looked at this post and thread over several days. I wish she could have been listened to by more people. I supported her in several instances and if she had become Mayor (not a chance in hell that was ever going to happen in Auckland – too much money to be made at Aucklanders’ expense) the city could have been such a different place. Wishful thinking on my part, but at least she could have highlighted the secrecy of the CCOs, the dealmaking, the sell-offs. We all know of course but we just sit by while our country is destroyed under us.

    She has to be in a much better place than she was.
    Still, I hope she’s watching over the shoulders of those that rip us off and tapping them on the shoulder when she spots a dirty deal. She’ll be even busier if she takes that job on!

    Rest in peace, Penny. Thank you so much for all you tried to do for us, and in spite of the harm it did to you. Another New Zealander, like Helen Kelly, that will be denied the New Zealander of the Year crown.

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