Guest Post: Christine Fletcher – Take note Mr Key, ‘Auckland is precious and worth fighting for’

Freed from responsibilities of Auckland Transport, chairing Parks and other committees, I have had time to reflect on the queries received around accountability and CCOs and also the confusion around the centre-right during local elections. Richard Harman in the Listener and Bernard Orsman in the Herald have outlined a reasonably accurate account of the drama leading up to the election. Certainly, it wasn’t pleasant. Not because of a clever campaign from the left but rather the drive for power and the cannibalization of the vote within the centre-right. All without a coherent set of policies to an extremely confused voter base who knew that neither National or Labour over many decades have kept pace with the infrastructure Auckland requires to grow.

This election was distorted by a cunning plan hatched by a few in Wellington to gain control of local government in Auckland. It was clumsy and doomed from the start because it lacked integrity in terms of a genuine vision for Auckland. It was a simple grab for power from the right without an intelligent response to the many challenges facing Auckland. There was little understanding that Auckland is not a MMP type campaign, where a ‘brand’ based campaign may be effective. Elections in Auckland are won ward by ward, board by board, across the many villages that make up Auckland in much the same way that First Past the post campaigns used to be run right across the country. Underlying this fiasco was the uncomfortable relationship the right have with long overdue investment in Auckland infrastructure, in particular public transport. You have to wonder why the right allowed Phil Goff to have the absolute gift of the Auckland mayoralty. Without backing a strong right candidate there was little interrogation of Goff’s policies or his suitability for the role. Auckland is precious and worth fighting for.   

Since the election it has been untidy around transport and perhaps the Mayor is being poorly advised. The letter of the day in Saturday’s Herald encouraged Goff to apply the business principle of taking time to understand all of the issues before making change. He should do this and leave issues like a new stadium or city branding until he has had a bit more time. Better still with Auckland Transport he should appoint himself to the Board. It would be the best learning curve for a newbie to Local Government as long as he remembers that Directors of a company, elected or otherwise, are bound to be answerable to the company and the shareholder with legal repercussions and serious penalties should things go wrong. Just ask Doug Graham.

Had the Mayor asked beforehand I would have shared my experience with him. Politics are complex and the business sector does not always understand the nuances, resulting in commercial directors not necessarily always get the entire picture. In Parliament with SOE’s it is better as professional chairs and directors know that the Select Committee process will give a thorough interrogation of their SOI – something yet to happened at Auckland Council where the questions usually range around local activities that should be delegated to Local Boards and not AT. Councillors are yet to realise the power of an SOI and I am looking forward to working on this within the new council structure.

I would have also loved to have the chance to discuss some of the challenges facing parks.  There is much to be done to protect our magnificent network of Regional Parks, provide for the sustainability of sporting clubs, growth in volunteers and partnerships including aligning Council with DOC on ecological issues.

The mayor will discover the biggest issue for Auckland is how we now play catchup on infrastructure without pushing the boundaries on rating increases. Good decisions can’t be made without all of the facts and cool heads. We need reprioritization of council expenditure and an open debating environment that draws the best from councillors with contestible policy advice.  We simply can’t afford to waste money. If the Mayor doesn’t want Liveability or Sails to represent Auckland he might consider an existing brand that wouldn’t involve ratepayers spending another cent and is still relevant.

‘Auckland – First City of the Pacific

Auckland is Tamaki Makaurau, many peoples united in a proudly Pacific city. It moves ahead with confidence – confidently growing, sharing opportunities and prosperity. It is New Zealand’s first city of commerce and culture – sharing energy, growth and creativity. It is unique as its volcanic cones. As sparkling as its waters and as beautiful and diverse as its islands. Auckland values its past, acts in the present and creates the future.’

Good luck Mr Goff!

 

– Christine Fletcher

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