Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

The pre-ordained demise of Auckland

April 7th, 2009

Barely five months into the Key administration, the centre right is plainly making far more effective use of its ideological bedmates than Labour ever did with the Alliance, or the Greens. Rodney Hide is not even in Cabinet. Fewer than four per cent of voters voted for Act’s agenda at the last election. Yet who is getting the bulk of his agenda enacted? Who is at the forefront of many of the government’s initiatives – on Auckland the Supercity, on rates reform, on spending cuts, on attrition in the bureaucracy? The government’s ideological outrider, the man from Epsom.

If this is a good cop/bad cop routine (and it isn’t, because Hide is also being pushed out front on the Auckland issue as the champion of local democracy) then it is a game Labour never came close to playing, let alone winning. For much of the MMP period Labour has routinely patted itself on the back as the party that got MMP, while National was still mired in old, FPP thinking. It might be time to revisit that idea.

The reality is that the last Labour government consistently treated its erstwhile allies – firstly the Alliance, then the Greens, and its own Maori caucus to boot – either patronizingly or with thinly veiled paranoia, as liable to upset the applecart. At best, it managed its ideological friends. It never embraced them, or set them loose in the way that Key is unleashing Hide. Labour much preferred its allies to be indistinguishable from itself, like Jim Anderton.

So far, Act has positioned itself outside Cabinet as the bean counters of local and central government spending, and the stewards of regulatory reform. That’s a far more powerful role than merely being the boss of some isolated portfolio. Local government after all, can be made to cut across everything else. To date, who has been the real Environment Minister, making the running on air and water standards ? Clue : it has not been Nick Smith.

Of course, no matter where Hide situated himself, it would have come to nothing without active endorsement by the Cabinet inner circle : Key, Bill English, Simon Power and Steven Joyce. This quartet, plus Hide is running the show. Which consists of Act providing cover for National on the economy and the ideology of small government, while the Maori Party similarly rides shotgun for National on social and industrial issues.

Labour would never have dreamed of using the Greens so imaginatively, in order to achieve the common goals of the centre left. Instead, it saw its role as being to deny and obstruct its ideological partners for a greater good that it alone could be trusted to define. The result is that National and Act have achieved as much in the first five months as Labour managed to eke out during its entire nine years in office. Any centre left resurgence in future will require Phil Goff to relax Labour’s iron claim to tactical and moral superiority.

Yes, National does enjoy more comfortable numbers in Parliament. Yet even when the centre right majority is slim, it behaves as if it has a clear mandate for its entire agenda. and acts with partisan unity to achieve it. Labour has rarely, if ever behaved as if it trusted its allies or believed in their goals. At best, its allies were to be used as mercenaries in order to fulfil Labour’s agenda, and little more. That’s why Labour in government lacks the cohesion necessary to achieve sweeping centre left goals – its main skill being to deny and frustrate the centre right, while achieving incremental gains.

This is not simply a New Zealand phenomenon. The Republican Party also treated George W, Bush’s dubious mandate as a license for extremism. Massive, unsustainable tax cuts and high risk nation building followed in the wake of Bush’s wafer thin ‘victory’ in 2000. GOP legislators were still demonstrating more cohesion at the depths of the Bush presidency than the Democrats are currently able to muster at the height of Barack Obama’s popularity.

As Jonathan Chait said recently in an interesting essay in the New Republic : “Republicans did not denounce Bush for squandering a budget surplus to benefit the rich, the way Democrats now assail Obama for big spending and deficits.” Nor did the Republicans let themselves be stymied over their bureaucratic appointments, or badgered into illusory compromises that deliver little, or nothing. Amazingly, as Chait says, more than a few Democrats are already behaving as it if is all downhill – that Obama can only lose popularity from here, so distance and independence from him are the wisest course.

In mitigation, one has to concede that it is hardly a level playing field out there. It helps National immeasurably that it is the party of business and the corporate media. The summer of business discontent in 2000 only confirmed Labour’s paranoid belief that progress could only be achieved by gradual and tiny steps. Unfortunately, it also cemented in a perception among business lobbyists that the Clark government was gunshy, and could be easily spooked into backtracking. Obviously, Hide and Key face no such worries.

One can only speculate for instance, how the mainstream media would have handled the Super City outcome if it had been a Labour government that was ramming an undemocratic solution into place with such haste, and lack of proper public consultation. Essentially, the government has given barely a fortnight’s consideration to the Royal Commission report, and allowed no subsequent input from the public, or sought no mandate by way of referendum.

Can this be any way to decide the structure of our largest city, the editorials would be thundering up and down the country, and the fate of the nation’s economic powerhouse for the next 50 years? Should 1.4 million New Zealanders be shut out entirely from the decisions on how they are to be represented at a community level ? It would have been treated as the starkest, most malignant expression of Helengrad and the Nanny State – and a dire threat indeed, to the freedoms fought for on foreign fields.

Instead, Key has been able to get away with claiming that the new structure must, must, must be in place for the 2010 local body elections. Really? Why? Isn’t getting the structure of local democracy in Auckland right for the next half century a wee bit more important than the 2010 council elections? Secondly, Key argues that the consultation has already occurred, in front of the Royal Commission. Well, that’s not how we did it when we switched to MMP.

Back then, the Royal Commission reported back its recommendations about proportional representation in 1986, and then we had two referendums – in 1992 and in 1993 – to decide on whether to embrace the change. Could Key explain why the public were given more than one referendum subsequent to the Royal Commission findings on that important issue, but he is leaving no chance for any public vote at all this time ? The mandarins on the Royal Commission are not usually treated as having the final verdict, the serfs must accept without further ado.

Finally, contrast this with the situation on rates reform. There, Hide seems to be advocating that there should be a referendum if councils ever again want to raise rates, beyond the level of inflation. That ideological goal is held to be well worth the time and expense involved for any council, of holding a referendum.

But a referendum on how 1.4 million Aucklanders should be represented in their communities ? No way. Thanks to the fact they can command obedience from Act and the Maori Party in Parliament, the government will probably have no trouble in ramming this one through.

This afternoon, Key will announce his embrace of the One City/One council concept. Hide will be wheeled out to announce that instead of six local councils, there will be a dozen or more community boards. This will be packaged as victory for democracy, and for the plucky little battler from Epsom. In fact, it will be a meaningless sop if the capacity to levy rates and allocate funding is retained solely by the Super Council. In such a scenario, the community boards would become mere management centres for decisions made and (not) funded further up the line. Besides losing their parochial pride, Manakau will have lost its ability to set its own community priorities, and fund them accordingly.

At his post Cabinet press conference yesterday, Key dismissed the need for further consultation : “I think what Aucklanders are now looking to the National government for is leadership, to make some decisions, and inform them of those decisions.” Politics once again, is imitating parody. A couple of years ago, Stephen Colbert satirized this approach to governance as a process in which the President is the Decider, and the media is there merely to write those decisions down. Well, Aucklanders are now getting their chance to live out that parody.


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    1. 17 Responses to “The pre-ordained demise of Auckland”

    2. By Christopher on Apr 7, 2009 | Reply

      I liked your analysis of how Mactional have operated – in contrast to Labour – to achieve quite a bit of work inimical to, well, everyone except the good burghers of Epsom/Remuera.

      I agree with your analysis.

      Additionally, the Greens haven’t exactly got wise to playing the game. For instance, the Epsom poodle in the yellow jacket must, must, absolutely must in private at home be thanking Keith Locke every day. Keith stood in Epsom and garnered a fair swag of votes, splitting a healthy centre-left vote allowing Rodney to come up the middle.

      I suspect that Mr Dunne is in the same club as Rodney.

      Nevermind that the Greens have had and will continue to have a strong list vote – which they could use to strategically place good candidates in seats where it would be great if they win, but doesn’t tip the balance if they lose. Sigh.

    3. By Cookie on Apr 7, 2009 | Reply

      A superb piece, Gordon.

      New Zealand appears to have battered spouse syndrome at the moment – we are being pummelled by an abusive government but at the same time denying that very abuse. How else to explain that the public and media appear largely powerless to resist of even accepting of this lack of democracy?

      But kudos to ACT who appear to have increased their MP-yield to include the entire National caucus not to mention the Maori Party and United Future.

    4. By K on Apr 7, 2009 | Reply

      The slick way in which this government has rammed through its agenda does make the previous government’s incremental gains seem rather tragic.

      The lack of any meaningful engagement with interested parties as Key et al plough ahead reveals the limitations of our current democratic system – and the extent of government’s executive powers. A vote every three years is not enough to call this a democracy.

      Are we sliding toward a Berlusconi-style management of politics, with a media complex complicit in smoothing the descent in the interests of the wealthy? While of course it’s never going to be that obvious, I cringe at our newspaper’s meek subservience to this goverment’s every policy announcement.

      Lets hope we start strongly demanding real participation in decision-making – and robust analysis like this piece. Cheers.

    5. By Margaret on Apr 7, 2009 | Reply

      Yes Gordan, seems to me that National are going ahead with their secret agenda.
      Auckland used to be 1 large Council, but it was found to be ungovernable.
      So I guess if Auckland is made into another ungovernable mess, John Key has the opening to say “we have no option, we have to privatize”.
      Easy,especially if you push it through so fast no one has time to present a response to their plans.

    6. By simon on Apr 7, 2009 | Reply

      But … but … John Key went to Waitangi! And danced with the gay guys! And cured blind people!

      It is quite fascinating to watch the NZ media’s failure to grasp what is going on. It’s as though the essential DNA of journalism – the innate scepticism, the curiosity gene – has been removed. When did this happen? And why?

      But anyway, thanks for your lucid analysis, Gordon. Please send it to your media colleagues. Soon.

    7. By jared on Apr 8, 2009 | Reply

      i feel paralysed and powerless watching this madness unfold. I really can’t believe kiwis are so uninterested/uninformed of National/Act’s agenda. It isn’t helped by the fact the media (ie Herald, One News, 3 News, Stuff, and talkback) now just roll out the govt’s press releases. It’s as though the left were so evil and complicit in some massive disasterous public mismanagement of the country’s affairs(which they werent), that people cant bare to allow the alternative view to be aired at all. Perhaps we’ll get to that point in 18mths, despire the distortions of the media. But it will be mostly too late by then. 9 years of centre left efforts obliterated in less than one. Aucklanders deserve to be treated like this and watch their city grind to a halt and all their decisions be made centrally by the likes of Banks…after all, the pretty much all voted for this lot…keep these pieces coming though Gordon, as a local govt worker, possibly in permanent exile in the UK now, I sometimes feel I’m the only person incenced by all this!

    8. By Mazza on Apr 8, 2009 | Reply

      Thank you Gordon. Isn’t Auckland Great?! Look what you can get away with in this part of the world!? I’d definately want to live here…

      Honest and frank and informed opinion and debate needs to be injected quickly into the apathetic and disinterested collective citizenry of Auckland; the largely unconscious, analytically-shy, and niaive media, and our so called opinion leaders, who have fundamentally failed to get informed and think it through. The only people who seem to be ‘on to it’ are those ideological ‘interests’ (you could probably name them now) who have just pulled one of the biggest coup’s of the century. They must be laughing all the way to their off-shore banks and businesses in the Auckland region.

      With exception of a few driven egos, I ask, where have our civic and political leaders suddenly gone in all this, when they should be representing the best and democratic interests of their communities? I’d say they have scurried off under some rocks, frightened to say and do anything in case they inadvertantly rattle anyone’s cage, only to appear in time for October 2010 waving, sighing with relief, unscathed, and full of hopes, dreams and promises of representing Auckland’s best and democratic interests once again.

      Hopefully, it will be our communities holding the syringe; and the potion will be adrenalin-based, not some soporific supplied by the business/ national government cartel.

    9. By IrishBill on Apr 8, 2009 | Reply

      This is a rod that Labour made for the back of the Left. Rather than open the democratic process up they deliberately mystified it and made themselves the high priests of process.

      That’s left it open to these new high priests to go about their work under the veil of fine words.

      I recall having a conversation with Cullen not that long ago where he dismissed citizen juries as akin to trial by the mob and refused to acknowledge their validity. He simply refused to acknowledge that a citizens’ jury was any different to a referendum. It’s that arrogance that led to their demise but also set the conditions for National’s current coup.

      The Left should have the high ground on transparent participatory democracy but I don’t think Labour’s parliamentary arm quite gets it yet. The party (or the remnants of it) does.

      In fact, given what I’ve seen from within the greens and labour’s parliamentary arm, the hope for the parliamentary Left rests on the Labour party outside of parliament (and to a lesser extent the greens although Norman dealt a serious blow to their grassroots in his former role) and it’s ability to wrest control of policy in a democratic and grassroots manner.

      If they don’t manage that by 2011 (and I suspect the parliamentary arm is incapable of it at the moment) then we can expect another term of National. But like they say, it’s about the long game.

    10. By Steve on Apr 8, 2009 | Reply

      In her concession speech Helen Clark expressed the hope that all the work of the Labour Government would not be destroyed in the “bonfire that is right wing politics”. Sadly the bonfire is alight and burning ferociously while the electorate falls into a deep sleep induced by the smiling assassin Key. Wake up New Zealand and resist this madness now or face the prospect that in decades to come we will still be questioning how as a nation we allowed this to happen.

    11. By Richard Kennedy on Apr 9, 2009 | Reply

      500 irate ratepayers of Franklin met this week with the sitting MP Dr P. Hutchison (Nat) and “demanded” he present a submission to John Key on behalf of Franklin ratepayers voicing their strong rejection to any Auckland Supercity. Dr Hutchison was also told at various times during the heated meeting that his tenure as MP was far from certain in the next election. The meeting of Frankin ratepayers at Pukekohe itself came as a surprise to Dr Hutchison, given the town is renown as National Party heartland but apparently Franklin is not as submissive to the conservative view as previously imagined. A referendum on the subject of Supercity was called for and mutterings of direct action protest by farmers if this call went unheeded. Dr Hutchison hastened to do the bidding of ratepayers and presented their submission to John Key the next day. Details of what transpired at the Pukekohe meeting can be found in this week’s Frankin County Newspaper.

    12. By Peter Benson on Apr 10, 2009 | Reply

      I liked parts of your article, but think you were a bit hard on Labour. They had to govern with the numbers given by the electorate. At the 2005 election, Labour would have loved to govern in full co-operation with and participation by the Greens (whether in Coalition or by any looser partnership agreement). But the numbers did not stack up. You will recall that Peters and Dunne refused to negotiate a support agreement with Labour (to get the numbers up), if the Greens were to have any ministerial portfolios or be in coalition with Labour. In other words Dunne and Peters were the “spoilers”, preventing Labour’s Plan A from happening (others might call it political blackmail by NZ First and the United Future Party).

    13. By Penny Bright on Apr 10, 2009 | Reply

      10 April 2009

      The ‘SuperCity’ will downsize democracy and SUPERSIZE rates – especially water bills for the public majority.

      Local ‘councils’, (without direct funding or staff) will (somehow) make decisions over dog control, graffiti and liquor licensing.

      WHOOP DE DO!

      Meanwhile – existing Councils will be gutted of $28 billion worth of public assets, which will be placed under CCOs (Council Controlled Organisations).

      Hmmm…. seems no body has actually checked the obvious – where is the ‘cost-benefit’ analysis which PROVES the ‘cost-effectiveness’ of the CCO model for the public majority?

      “6 April 2009


      Please be advised that I have just sent a formal request, under section 18 of the Public Audit Act 2001, for the Auditor-General,
      Kevin Brady to set up an urgent inquiry into the ‘cost-effectiveness’ for the majority of Auckland City citizen and ratepayers, of the
      ‘Metrowater CCO (Council Controlled Organisation) model.
      (Copy of the letter is included in this email).

      It appears that to date, there has been NO ‘cost-benefit’ analysis of ANY CCO model, yet that is the model which the Royal Commission is recommending for ‘all Auckland Council’s major commercial trading and
      infrastructure activities’.

      BASED ON WHAT???

      How is it ‘prudent stewardship’ of ratepayer resources to recommend the spreading of the CCO model, when there is no apparent evidence
      which supports its ‘cost-effectiveness’ for the majority of Auckland citizen and ratepayers?

      (CCO under the Metrowater model has been proven to stand for Ca$h Cow Organisation as far as the public majority have been concerned).

      May I respectfully suggest that as members of a presumably fiscally responsible Government, that you do not attempt to rush through any
      legislative change to implement this CCO model, particularly now that the Auditor-General has been requested to carry out his statutory
      duties under the Public Audit Act 2001 and conduct an Inquiry which is now long overdue.”

      The Royal Commission was tasked with finding ‘cost-effective’ solutions.
      They had the powers to investigate and initiate research.

      Don’t you think it might have been sensible and ‘scholarly’ to at least attempt to provide some facts and evidence to support the ‘cost-effectiveness’ of the CCO model which they are recommending for $28 billion of public assets?

      There is NO democracy for the public majority under the CCO model.

      The Board of Directors are business appointees – the public don’t elect them.

      Meetings of CCOs are not open to the public.

      The ‘Statement of Intent’ which governs the operation and management of CCOs has no direct public input.

      After 4 years and 22 arrests, Auckland City Council only now remove Metrowater matters from the ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ section of Finance and Strategy Committee meetings.

      But key Watercare matters are still kept under CONFIDENTIAL’!

      Under Metrowater CCO stood for ‘Ca$h Cow Organisation’.

      What is being proposed is a GIANT Metrowater with ‘user-charges’ for wastewater spread across the region.
      Families of 8 can expect water bills of over $2000 per year on top of rates based on the Metrowater model.
      That will REALLY help the social well-being of the large poorer families which NEED to use more water! (not).

      Disproportionately burdening poorer families for the cost of water services compared with richer families VIOLATES the basic human right to affordable water.



      WEDNESDAY 22 APRIL 2009

      Trades Hall Auditorium
      147 Great North Road
      Grey Lynn

      7.30 – 9.30pm

      NO SAY – NO PAY!


      Penny Bright
      Media Spokesperson
      Water Pressure Group

      Standing as Mayor for the ‘SUPERCITY’ to do everything possible to STOP ‘Auckland Regional ‘ROGERNOMIC$!
      For those pushing this corporate agenda – this will be the backup – ‘protest vote’ from hell!

      Want to help STOP THE SUPERCITY?
      Contact me:

      Ph (09) 846 9825
      021 211 4 127

    14. By Jane on Apr 10, 2009 | Reply

      Thanks Gordon, nice article.

      The way I see it is left, right it’s the same thing in the end though and governmental politicking is just a game which the media can profit from. Leaders and led. Business is business. Voting or lobbying never makes much difference except for the already privileged.

      I still think the best alternative is to organise and strengthen communities so we take the power back into our own hands again. Stopping the blind belief that ‘our leaders’ can solve everything for us is a first step.

      All power to the people.

    15. By Gooner on Apr 12, 2009 | Reply

      Suck it up people, suck it up.

      Basically, we won, you lost, eat that.

      Government is about making decisions, whether they are popular or not. Indeed, the hardest decisions are usually the most unpopular. Good on Nat/Act for actually doing things instead of talking, consulting, and generally wanking on. Auckland has been asleep for 50 years and if we had your way it would be asleep for a further 50. Labour sat on the Rates Inquiry by David Shand for 12 months, which had over 90 recommendations.

      If you don’t like it then it’s either tough, or get out in force and change the government in 2011 and change the law. Otherwise fall in behind and start being constructive.

    16. By BDB on Apr 15, 2009 | Reply

      That is an anti-social thinking process Mr gooner.
      Doing the wrong things just to be seen doing something(job summit) and making stupid decisions that are not in public best interest is not an “achievement” for any Govt.
      The act of PFI= Socialist capitalism is not “waking up”.

      We all win or we all lose- you cannot separate yourself from humanity…or can you?

    17. By nbwz on Apr 16, 2009 | Reply

      The idea of “unconscious, analytically-shy, and niaive media” is perpetuating the myth that the media is benign and neutral. It’s not – most forms are owned by corporate or similar bodies and the information published reflects that.

      What is obvious is that there seems to be a high level of complicity with business interests in our mainstream media, something that should come as no surprise to anyone.

      What’s equally repugnant is that the National and ACT party are rampantly enacting policies that are the very fundamentals of the economic crisis we’re experiencing. And they’re not being challenged on it at all apart from people like Gordon Campbell.

      It’s time to make yourselves counted unless we want another 20 years of the rich getting richer and everyone else downright miserable.

      Time to grow up New Zealand

    18. By stuart munro on Apr 16, 2009 | Reply

      Of course, it is very satisfying for right wing dupes like Gooner to say:

      Suck it up people, suck it up.
      Basically, we won, you lost, eat that.

      And it might work on a fearful and ignorant electorate like Auckland. But New Zealand is, at least formally, still a democracy, and that means, in terms a Gooner can understand, John Key is our bitch. He works for us, and he does what we tell him. If he stops or fails, he’s history, if not toast.

      Rates revolt be damned, lynch a few of them and they’ll soon fall into line.

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