Michael Bassett

Guest Post – Phil Hayward on Auckland and the RMA reforms

by Phil Hayward

The Auckland Unitary Plan Submission process is underway and we should soon know whether it is a charade with outcomes pre-determined and impervious to evidence. The usual suspects are also claiming once again to be able to “debunk” the latest Demographia Report on housing affordability, and even the government is embarrassed over the dismal ineffectiveness of its trumpeted “Housing Accords”.

My previous essays on this forum could usefully be read or re-read now by anyone interested in this subject.

The prevalent mythology is that Auckland already sprawls too much at low density, already has built too many roads (and that is why it is congested), is letting the floodgates re-open too much towards more new sprawl and not enough new intensification (60% of growth to be via intensification is the plan), the ramp-up in building now is major, and intensification will provide for affordability.

In fact, Auckland is around 3 times as dense as Boston, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Nashville and dozens of other US cities; is the second densest city in the Anglo New World after Toronto (pop. 6 million); is one of the densest first world urban areas of only 1 million people; is close to Amsterdam’s density and is denser than Lyon, Marseille, the Ruhr Valley and many urban areas in France and Germany, especially those with around 1 million people or less.

We have never actually had US style low density sprawl; very little of our suburban development was ever even ¼ acre sections. That always was a “dream” for most, and now nearly every such section has already had townhouses built on what was the backyard. In the USA, suburbs are common with minimum lot size mandates of 1 acre to 4 acres.  

Michael Bassett and Luke Malpass (NZ Initiative) “Priced Out: How NZ Lost its Housing Affordability” (2012) show that NZ and Auckland were during the period from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, building as many as twice as many new dwellings as now. Most of that was greenfields suburban development, albeit at considerably higher density than US-style sprawl. We now have congestion problems because there was inadequate planning of road capacity, not because we did the roads we did.

I have estimated from TomTom Traffic index data and Google Earth imagery, that Auckland has 1/3 the highway lane miles and 1/5 the arterial lane miles of Indianapolis, which has a similar population. Indianapolis in the TomTom Traffic Index, scores a congestion delay of 15 minutes per 1 hour of driving at peak (other comparable US cities are similar) versus Auckland’s 45 minutes. Of course its house price median multiple happens to be stable at around 3 as well, in spite of being truly low density, unlike Auckland.   Read more »

Michael Bassett on Dirty Politics


Michael Bassett is one of the smartest men in New Zealand politics.

This is what he has to say on ‘Dirty Politics.

Reading the New Zealand Herald and watching Parliament this week, one could be forgiven for thinking that the 2014 election hadn’t yet taken place. Left-leaning editorial writers and opposition parliamentarians have been busy re-hashing stories that grabbed them during the election campaign as though the voters hadn’t yet passed judgment. It’s worth reminding these people; an election occurred on 20 September, and they lost. The people have spoken. Voters told them that they had weighed up Nicky Hager’s “Dirty Politics” amongst other things and decided his book was either irrelevant to the current state of things, or was a pile of crap. “Dirty Politics” is a corpse, and there’s little sense now trying to resurrect it.
Why would these journalists and lefties, too many of whom are one and the same, want to revive Hager? A few, I guess, want something to keep bashing National with. They are angry at the election outcome. I keep being surprised at how many people believed until the numbers went up that a left coalition was still on the cards. Others possibly believe in St Nicky, and admire his chutzpah in using stolen emails for pecuniary gain. That, they seem to think, is “investigative journalism” at its finest.

It wasn’t and it will eventually be revealed for the large criminal political conspiracy that it was. Then the media will have a choice to make, and watching them make that choice will be delicious.

There will be others again, many of them young or naïve in the extreme, who actually believe Hager’s story. They have so little understanding of political processes in New Zealand or anywhere else that they think there was something new and especially sordid about Jason Ede acting as a conduit to bloggers, passing information, and discussing tactics designed to put National in a good light. Some won’t know about the methods used by the Labour government while Helen Clark was in office 1999-2008, when press releases and exaggerated criticism of opponents were filtered to “The Standard”, Labour’s electronic broadsheet. Nor will they know about the priming done by cabinet minister Ruth Dyson each morning of her email tree with sleaze that the government wanted to be widely disseminated. The Prime Minister knew all about it. I found out about it: some of Dyson’s stuff was inadvertently sent to me! Some journalists won’t know that throughout her career Helen Clark had a list of journalists she’d ring to exchange gossip. Sometimes she would only hint, other times she’d tell the person on the other end of the phone about what she planned to do to some on her own side who had incurred her wrath. Occasionally she’d plant an idea that the journalist would be encouraged to follow up, hopefully with devastating consequences. A few people in today’s press gallery were involved and are currently keeping their heads down. If John Key rang Cameron Slater in any capacity, what’s the difference? The Herald’s editor might like to tell us?

Read more »

The collapse of the Herald, predicted in 2009 and slowly grinding on

After reading of poor Tim’s travels, I found this article by Michael Bassett from 2009 on the demise of the Herald.    

It’s not the fact he openly outlines the failures, hints at Bernard Orsman interviewing his keyboard or making stuff up, he goes on to lay the blame at Tim Murphy’s feet for not acting to change either Orsman’s style or just moving him on.  

Roll on 5 years, yawn, same story, same mistakes and poorly researched articles or just plain made up on the fly.

Maybe this article should be compulsory reading for the executive team and board, along with their latest KPI indicators and their total and advertising revenue, circulation and overhead costs, that would be an interesting exercise to benchmark over the last 10 years.

In case you hadn’t noticed it, the New Zealand Herald, the paper that used to claim to be the country’s premier paper of record, has abandoned this aspiration and seems intent on becoming a mere British-style tabloid. Its journalists are down to a skeleton of reporters; the sub editing (those who fit the headlines to the story below) seems to have fallen into the hands of deliberate troublemakers; and the editor, Tim Murphy, appears not to be in charge of what appears in his paper. 

You might think these are rather strong comments. They are. They describe a state of affairs that is poisoning too many relationships around Auckland, and causing the time of competent people to be wasted on countering deliberate falsehoods that appear in the Herald. Several key people in Auckland local government now refuse to talk to Bernard Orsman, the Herald’s so-called Auckland City Reporter, because he twists words given to him, fabricates stories, and seems determined not to report the news, but to try to create it. 

Read more »

Anyone want a rug of dud politicians

Some wag is selling a rug of dud politicians…the cabinet of the 1984 Lange government…complete with a mustachioed Phil Goff who is still in parliament.


The good guys on this rug are Roger Douglas and Michael Bassett…the rest are useless, or dead which is a moderate improvement on useless since they can’t do anymore harm.

unbelievable that Phil Goff is still there after 30 years.

Colin Espiner explains about coups

Colin Espiner has been around politics a long time, he knows a coup when he sees one.

If you are ever of a mind to stage a coup against your party leader – or your boss, or even your mother – there are two golden rules you must follow.

1: Deny you’re planning a coup

2: See rule one

Yep…which is why Duncan Garner’s source is laying low…except we all know who it was, and so does David Shearer if he is smart…oh wait…he isn’t.

The reason for this is “bleedingly obvious”, as former Labour leader Helen Clark used to say. Since coups are usually plotted in private, and since you really need to make sure you’ve done your numbers before you pick up the knife, you can’t admit to it beforehand.

The ultimate bloodless coup is swift and deadly. The leader doesn’t see it coming until it’s too late to do anything but clear out the desk and start penning the memoir.

The only recent example I can think of where this plan wasn’t followed was the guileless Don Brash, who staggered everyone by freely admitting he wanted to roll former National leader Bill English, who promptly called a leadership vote he expected to win – and lost.

English expected to win because his colleagues had assured him to his face that they’d vote for him. And then voted the other way in the ballot. In other words, they lied like flatfish. Amazing, huh. Politicians lying. Who’d have thought?   Read more »

Compact Cities Cult raises house rises

Following on from a post I made earlier it seems others have been examining the cult of compact cities and the plague it has visited on housing prices.

Looks like Len’s and Labour’s little plan for affordable housing has been rumbled. It won;t work, in fact it will make matters worse.

Too much focus on compact cities has restricted suburban growth, pushing up house prices, a new report suggests.

The Priced Out study, released today, suggests local government has to fix a situation it caused that led to the present housing affordability crisis.

In the report, released by business and independent public policy organisation The New Zealand Initiative, former government minister Michael Bassett and Luke Malpass question why the supply of new houses never responded to the skyrocketing demand from the 1970s onwards.

They conclude much of the blame lay with local government bodies joining the “compact cities cult” and being very restrictive in zoning policies that would free up land for development.  Read more »

Where are the thinkers of Labour?

In the early 80s before the 1984 election Labour’s opposition was populated with thinkers.

Roger Douglas, David Lange, Michael Bassett, Geoffrey Palmer, Peter Tapsell, Mike Moore and Richard Prebble.

They didn’t just oppose Muldoon, they came up with some solutions to the morass the country found itself in. They showed an enormous tallent and prodigious thinking power. That powerful opposition went on to become a reforming government making dramatic lasting positive changes to the New Zealand economy crippled by Muldoon’s legacy and global economic conditions.

Even Helen Clark cut her teeth in politics at that time.

If Labour are going to challenge National seriously rather than sit back and expect to win in 2014 then they need to show the same sort of vision and ideas that those aforementioned lumnaries of Labour showed.

The problem I have is that I just don’t think there is a single one of the current Labour caucus that remotely qualifies in the same league.

There certainly isn’t a Richard Prebble and a book like “I’ve been Thinking“.

Hel me out here readers, is there anyone in the Labour caucus right now that will have such a dramatic positive effect on New Zealand like that of the 4th Labour government?

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Goff Memories – Episode 19

Clear thinking on Len's incompetence

Dr Michael Bassett is one of New Zealand’s clear thinkers, and yesterday he had something to say about the competence, or in this instance the lack of competence of the Night-Mayor Len Brown.

This morning’s report that the new Auckland Council yesterday pushed through a budget of $3.43 million to fund an unelected Maori Statutory Board for Auckland is a disgrace. Len Brown and his Council should hang their heads in shame. So, too, should Rodney Hide and John Key who let it happen, despite earlier protestations that there would not be separate racial representation on the Auckland Council. The new council’s allocation of ratepayers’ money to unelected people to play games with, “engaging and reporting to the Maori Community”, “researching” the well-being of Maori when 101 other publicly-funded agencies are doing the same, and with nearly $1 million allocated for “staff costs” that aren’t explained, brings shame on every councillor who was party to the rushed decision. The Auckland Transition Authority estimated that the costs of a Maori statutory committee would be $400,000. How has this grown to $3.43 million? Rodney Hide and John Key must immediately turn their minds to legislating a satisfactory arrangement for Maori advisory services to the new council. A form of parallel government by Maori who are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Auckland area, with an overwhelming number of them hailing from outside of the council’s area, and therefore unable to claim tangata whenua status, cannot be tolerated by sane people. Even if the majority of them were tangata whenua, no credible case can be made for what is occurring.

This funding allocation is nothing more than a Maori tax on every ratepayer. Arguably Len Brown has handed over teh city to a bunch of, now well paid, but unelected Maori elite, who number perhaps less than 20.

What this National-led government seems to be pushing is separatism within a country that has always thrown its small but significant strength in world forums against any form of apartheid. Tens of thousands of New Zealanders marched in the streets 30 years ago against apartheid and the visit to New Zealand of a racially selected Springbok team. Today many of those same marchers must be cringing in corners as Len Brown, who was elected by a majority of them, marches onwards toward parallel forms of local government – one elected, and the other seemingly with a right to mail invoices for ratepayers’ money without any proper public scrutiny. This process must be stopped in its tracks. If Len Brown lacks the commonsense to understand that he has gone too far, then his council must re-think the issue. Failing that, the responsibility lies with central government. Three days after we celebrated the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi that guaranteed Maori “the same rights and duties of citizenship” as the rest of us, we must pull back from this new arrangement being implemented by the Auckland Council. It clearly bestows special privileges on Maori and goes way beyond any reasonable interpretation of any Treaty obligations. It is also at odds with New Zealand’s record in international forums.

A number of issues and challenges spring to mind. Michael Bassett talks of one, that of separatism. Instead of New Zealand coming together under one government like the Treaty was meant to deliver, modern treaty-ism is leading, in fact, to separatism. The splitting of the nation. Moreover it is also leading to the splitting of Maori between the urban have nots and Maori-tocracy elite whose pockets are not only very deep when it comes to themselves, but very well lined thanks to the largesse of the long suffering taxpayer, and now ratepayers.

For me the biggest issue is that currently in NZ law, to my understanding anyway, there is simply no way to remove wayward politicians who are hell bent on doing what ever they like, except at the ballot box and then only every three years. Three years is a long, long time for changes that Len Brown is forcing through to become bedded in and permanent and then und-doing them becomes almost impossible.

It seems that all of Labour’s and Phil Twyford’s fears of ACT hijacking the city have come true, except it isn’t Act or Rodney Hide hijacking the city, it is Len Brown and his Maori backers using poorly drafted legislation to capture a city. Phil Twyford and Labour backed Len Brown and now they are aghast at what he has done to destroy democracy in Auckland City. Well they emboldened the idiot. They built him up so that he believes his own hype. They need to own the problem just as much as the government does. I would like to see Labour support the addition of recall legislation into our laws. Control must be in the hands of the people. Phil Twyford thinks so: ORIGIN Greek demokratia, from demos ‘the people’ & -kratia ‘power, rule’. Nothing gives power to the people like a simple mechanism like recall. Easy to implement, swift to deliver.

John Key can deliver too. When they have to pass urgent legislation to fix up the bungles they may as well add in recall provisions, it isn’t as though it is radical either because under current local body legislation you can run a petition to force a referendum, the mechanisms are already there, they just need tweaking to support recall. If they are going to amend legisaltion to fix the hijacking of Auckland City by the Maori-tocracy then fix the gaping hole that prevents us from acting on our voters remorse.

Kris Fa'afoi memories

Kris Fa'afoi and the Fish and Chip Brigade

Kris Fa'afoi and the Fish and Chip Brigade