Right Way the Wrong Way
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There is a war for the soul of Auckland.
The declaration for that war may have been made in October 2010, when Len Brown was elected the first mayor of the new amalgamated supercity. Or in September 2009 when legislation forming the super-city was enacted. Or in November 2008, when ACT MP Rodney Hide - the author of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act – was elected to Parliament.
I call the date today; 30 March 2012, with a media statement released by Christine Fletcher of the so-called “Citizens & Ratepayer (C&R) group,
Auckland To Become Unaffordable, Not More Liveable
Thursday, 29 March 2012, 2:18 pm
Press Release: Christine Fletcher
Auckland To Become Unaffordable, Not More Liveable
News that a majority of councillors voted not to include affordability in the context of costs imposed by council for the Auckland Plan will make Auckland unaffordable, said C&R Leader Christine Fletcher, and Cr Cameron Brewer, representing key independent councillors.
“The Mayor has set out a vision for Auckland as most liveable city – but his vision will actually hurt the ability of people, especially those on fixed incomes like the retired to stay in their homes. Already massive rates rises are coming, and future generations of Aucklanders will suffer too. When you add the prospect of higher regulatory fees, toll roads to pay for the Mayor’s rail plans, and user-pays rubbish, it’s going to get very expensive to live in Auckland,” said Cr Brewer.
“We all agree that the Auckland Plan is a far-reaching, profound document for our city. But without the principle of affordability to help guide it, it sends a message that rates and fees will be massively hiked to pay for all the big ideas within. That’s wrong – there are many people who simply can’t afford big rises in rates and fees,” said Cr Fletcher.
“C&R along with key independents proposed an amendment by way of addition that the Auckland Plan does have regard to affordability as a principle. It was defeated 12-9. City Vision, Labour and the left have embarked on a 30 year program of spending, but only providing a 10 year long term plan for budgeting”, said Cr Fletcher.
“It is especially disappointing that Cr Penny Webster, the Chairman of Finance from Rodney District, has abandoned her duties to be fiscally responsible, and voted for this big spending plan without appropriate fiscal prudence. I guess it’s easy for Len Brown to spend billions of dollars when he’s got a Penny in his pocket”, said Cr Fletcher.
Councillors who voted to support an affordability principle in the Auckland Plan include:
Chris Fletcher (Leader C&R)
George wood (Deputy leader C&R)
Des Morrison (C&R)
Dick Quax (C&R)
Noelene Raffills (C&R)
plus the following independent councillors:
Sir John Walker
Firstly, a bit about the C&R group.
C&R states on it’s website that they “are not affiliated with any central government political party“. However a cursory examination of that claim yields some interesting revelations.
Citizens and Ratepayers leadership consists of the following individuals;
Councillor Chris Fletcher, Caucus Leader
Ms Fletcher was an ex-National Party MP, serving three consecutive terms in Parliament, from 1990 to 1999. Ms Fletcher held Ministerial roles of Local Government, Women’s, Cultural and Youth Affairs
Mark Brickell, President
Mr Brickell served as electorate campaign manager for National MP and Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett, in last year’s general election.
Alastair Bell, Vice President
Mr Bell has been a Board Member of the National Party since 2009, to present. He was a senior advisor to Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, from 1999 to 2000.
Edgar Henson, Vice President
Mr Henson managed ACT’s election campaign in 2008. He will be attending ACT’s Annual Conference & AGM on 21 April.
Leigh Morrow, Treasurer / Secretary
National Party supporter in last year’s general election, according to this entry on Ms Morrow’s Facebook page,
Jim Stevens, Corporate Services / Administrator
(No party affiliation found.)
As the above information shows, C&R is anything but a neutral entity. It is an unofficial arm – a political ‘creature’ – of the National Party. The NZ Herald article, “Ex-National MPs deluging Citizens & Ratepayers card “, also recognised C&R as such.
As for the so-called “independent” Councillors who also appended their name to the 29 March Media Release, above,
Mr Brewer was a one-time National Party candidate for the Tamaki Electorate.
Mr Penrose is a centre-right Councillor who endorsed National MP Judith Collins in last year’s election campaign.
Sir John Walker
Sir John Walker is a centre-right Councillor who also endorsed National MP Judith Collins in last year’s election campaign.
Why does all this matter?
Because the Media Release issued by C&R on 29 March is the first shot fired in a campaign by right wing city Councillors – many with Party affiliations to National or ACT - to unseat Len Brown at the next local body elections.
For C&R and their fellow-travellers, the election campaign has begun in earnest, and expect either Christine Fletcher or Cameron Brewer to be nominated as the Right’s mayoral candidate. Expect the coming campaign to be nasty, as Cr Fletcher’s comments indicated,
“It is especially disappointing that Cr Penny Webster, the Chairman of Finance from Rodney District, has abandoned her duties to be fiscally responsible, and voted for this big spending plan without appropriate fiscal prudence. I guess it’s easy for Len Brown to spend billions of dollars when he’s got a Penny in his pocket.”
Cr Webster was not impressed, as she made her feelings known in a Radio NZ/Morning Report interview on 30 March,
Cr Cathy Casey – not one to suffer fools or right wingers who bend the truth to suit their hidden agendas, replied on her Facebook page,
“This C&R media release yesterday was online yesterday by 2pm while the Governing Body was still in session. It caused mayhem when it was discovered! It must have been written ahead of time therefore the amendment and speeches by Councillor Fletcher and Councillor Cameron Brewer were clear political posturing. Radio NZ has just said it will be reporting on it on Morning Report after 8am this morning.
… It was pointed out yesterday to Councillors Fletcher and Brewer that there is already an affordability principle in the Auckland Plan (p.19) “Make the best use of every dollar spent.” It states that we will “act prudently and commit to projects and initiatives that achieve the best value result without compromising quality, affordability, or stifling creativity and innovation. Focus on achieving long-term benefits and intergenerational equity.”
This is party politics of the worst kind! ” – 30 March
It appears that right wingers in Auckland Council are getting up to mischief?
An interesting exchange then took place on Facebook between Cr Casey and at least two C&R members
Cr Cathey Casey: “ Hi George Wood, You are a member C&R so I presume you signed off this media release? “
George Wood: ” No Cathy, the role of making media releases is delegated to the leader of C&R, Cr Fletcher, and in this case the leader of the independent councillors that work with C&R, Cr Cameron Brewer has also had input to this document. “
Interesting that a nominally “independent” councillor and a de facto National Party councillor are working together on what appears to be very clear stategy.
The FB conversation continued,
Cr Cathy Casey: ” Hi George, So now that you’ve read it what do you think of the content and the fact that it was sent out of the meeting at 2pm, two hours before we had even completed our deliberations on the Auckland Plan? “
At which point another C&R member jumped in, with a rather weak attempt at derision and deflection,
Michael Williams: ” Big deal. Affordability is a huge issue. That’s the point here. Why protest against someone saying that? “
Cr Cathy Casey: ” Hi Michael, You are a member of C&R, are you are saying the process engaged in by Councillors Fletcher and Brewer on your behalf yesterday is kosher? And that it is okay for C&R to publicly malign Councillor Penny Webster? “
Williams then responded with the usual “no biggie” approach,
Michael Williams: ” There’s always a bit of rough and tumble in politics. If we all checked each others press releases nothing would get anything published. Individual members have to take personal responsibility for what they say in public and how they say it. As for C&R, we all agree that Affordability is a key issue. “
Cr Casey persevered,
Cathy Casey: ” Hi Michael, Maybe I wasn’t clear. Let me try again. As a member of C&R, are you are saying the process engaged in by Councillors Fletcher and Brewer on your behalf yesterday is kosher? YES or NO And that it is okay for C&R to publicly malign Councillor Penny Webster? YES or NO. “
Michael Williams: “ I see your angle, you are inviting me to take sides against a member of my own team.”
Well, actually, no – I thought Cr Casey was asking a perfectly responsible, straight-forward question. At this point it should be made clear that Michael Williams is a C&R member as well as the Chairperson of the Auckland Council’s Howick Local Board. In which case, Cr Casey had just cause to be asking Williams these questions – especially considering he had voluntarily joined the conversation on Cr Casey’s FB page.
Cr Casey continued,
Cr Cathy Casey: ” Hi Michael, Depends on whether it is a YES or a NO. I am inviting you to bring some integrity into the way your own team does its political busness. I note in the release Councillor George Wood is listed as “Deputy Leader, C&R” but he says he had no input. “
Michael Williams: ” Life is not Black and White Cathy. “
?!?! And the point of that statement was —?
Obviously by now, Williams is having difficulty answering a straight question with a commensurately straight answer.
By this time others have entered the conversation, and they are not happy with C&R’s obfuscation.
Cr Casey continues to push her line of questioning,
Cr Cathey Casey: ” Still waiting for an answer from George Wood too. Dick Quax is also a member of C&R. Dick do you support the process of sending out a media release during the council meeting yesterday? Do you support the content of the media release especially in relation to remarks about Penny Webster? “
Williams then responded with a deflection-non-sequitur combo,
Michael Williams: “ You people should read your own posts, they are every bit as offensive as the throw away comment you are referring to. “
Which is laughable, as Williams earlier had stated, ” There’s always a bit of rough and tumble in politics.“ Evidently “rough and tumble” is ok if it’s from the Right – but a naughty no-no if it comes from anyone else. Damn, I keep forgetting their funny rules and ways…
Williams did not respond, but C&R Deputy Leader George Wood did,
George Wood: ” … the situation really is that C&R and other like minded councillors are spending hours of time working through the myriad of issues around affordability and the make up of the 10 year budgets. It is no easy task but we are getting explanations to specific questions. We also went out to the community through radio adverts and have been getting good feedback. We are running things along the lines of how we did things when I was mayor of North Shore City although I’m more in an opposition role. Things seem to be progressing well. “
That statement is interesting in it’s own right, and raises several more questions,
- If “ C&R and other like minded councillors are spending hours of time working through the myriad of issues around affordability and the make up of the 10 year budgets “ – then why are they issuing vitriolic Media Releases – and abusing other councillors in the process? What is the gain in such actions?
- ” It is no easy task but we are getting explanations to specific questions. ” – What questions? The ones asked above seemed fairly straight forward. Does it require a collective mind-set from the entire C&R Team to respond to simple questions on a social media?!
- ” We also went out to the community through radio adverts and have been getting good feedback. ” – ??? Is that normal Council procedure, for factions in the Council to pursue ad hoc means to seek public feedback on issues? Surely there are more professional, traditional means of seeking responses from the public. In fact, I’m certain of it – they are usually called “Making a Submission to the Draft Annual Plan”!
- ” I was mayor of North Shore City although I’m more in an opposition role. ” Why are you in an “opposition” role, Mr Wood? Do you consider the Auckland Council to be Parliament? And just what are you ‘opposing’?
The FB conversation ended with Mr Wood’s posted statement.
But it does in no way end the matter of C&R’s unprovoked, ad hominem slur against Cr Penny Webster, suggesting that she is “in the pocket of the mayor”.
One can only assume that the Right Wing in Auckland are starting to panic. They have lost another ‘battle’ in the ports industrial dispute, and the National Government is under siege from multiple directions from scandals, cronyism, and unpopular ideologically-based policies.
It is not a happy time to be a right winger.
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As I started this piece with; there is a war for the soul of Auckland.
For the Right Wing, there is unfinished business to settle; Rodney Hide’s Master Plan to privatise Auckland Council’s assets, and to strip away any services that the Right consider “non essential” or “non-core business”.
All this was supposed to have been taken care of soon after the founding of the supercity, Auckland Council. John Banks was to have been elected mayor; along with a bevy of barely-restrained free-marketeers; and with Central Government’s nodding agreement, the Firesale of the Century would have ensued. Anything not nailed down would have been flogged off to “mum and dad” investors (ie; corporate interests).
Except, it didn’t quite go the way things were planned.
Aucklanders elected a centre-left mayor, and C&R and their fellow travellers were a neutered minority.
Default to Plan B.
(There is always a Plan B.)
Port workers were due for a renegotiation of their Collective Employment Agreement (CEA). The Agreement had expired on 30 September 2011, and formal negotiations had been ongoing since 5 August 2011.
However, POAL Board and management were in no mood to settle, and plans were afoot to casualise the workforce. A secret POAL memo leaked to the Maritime Union confirmed suspicions that POAL management were up to no good.
The Port dispute worsened as management became more and more intransigent. As the industrial dispute became a crisis, and workers were locked out, public pressure was brought to bear on Mayor Len Brown.
As the mayor elected on a centre-left platform, port workers; centre-left councillors; and many other Aucklanders looked to him to intervene and bring the crisis to a head. It was only after the 5,000+ strong street march on 10 March that Brown offered to mediate.
By then, the damage was done – Brown’s reputation and credibility with the Left had been shredded. He was seen as ineffectual at best – and kowtowing to the Right at worst.
The Left began openly discussing an alternative mayoral candidate to Brown for the next upcoming local body elections. Every left-wing blogger (including this blogger) expressed frustration at Brown’s inaction and wanted change. If Brown couldn’t stand up to the New Right – then by golly, we’ll find some who could!!
On 30 March, on his TV blog-show, “Citizen A”, Bomber Bradbury asked his panellists,
” Will the Left stand a different candidate against Brown for the mayorlty, and if they would, who would it be? “
Unfortunately for us, the Right were paying attention – very close attention – to what the left were openly debating on various blogs. To paraphrase H.G. Wells,
“And yet, across the gulf of the political divide, minds immeasurably greedier to ours regarded these assets with envious eyes; and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us.”
You bet they did.
The Right are counting on the Left putting up an alternative candidate to Len Brown. And if Brown stands again – we end up splitting the centre-left vote.
End game result: a C&R mayor sneaks through.
Or, if the Left does not engage an alternative candidate and simply turns our collective back on Brown – his vote will collapse (as it did for Labour generally, last year).
End game result: the C&R mayor’s support stays firm, and beats Brown at the ballot box.
The Left needs to be more clever abour this.
Instead of showing Len Brown the door, and all but guaranteeing a C&R victory for the mayorlty, we may have no choice but to hang on to him. All passions aside – do we really want to see Cameron Brewer as mayor?!?!
The best way to deal with this situation? We need to re-think our strategy.
Instead of dumping Brown – the Left must work damn hard to build on our electoral support in the community, and get more centre-left candidates elected! With more centre-left councillors, the Left will be in a stronger position to “support” and “encourage” Len Brown when it comes to those awkward “minty moments”.
‘Cos sure to goodness, getting rid of Brown and inadvertantly letting a centre-right mayor win office would be an own-goal of incredibly dumb proportions.
So, fellow Aucklanders. Take note of Cr Fletcher’s Media Release. Class war is upon us. Our mission – should we choose to accept it – is to be more cleverer than them.
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