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A Waiheke Island Myth Part 1 On Waiheke Island, New Zealand, a myth has grown up among a handful of people in the Rocky Bay Village th...

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Saturday, 22 March 2008

ROYAL COMMISSION v LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMISSION

The Royal Commission has been set up by the government to inquire on, investigate and report on Auckland's governance. But we have no idea what will come out of it so all we get is hope heaped on hope heaped on hope. We hope our submissions will be noticed, we hope that if they are they will be among the Commission's recommendations, and we hope that the government will turn them into law. But even if it does, it then has to wind its way through the House, and we cannot see any change on the ground till after the local body elections at the end of 2010--which means 2011 at the earliest. Three long years of limbo.

The Local Government Commission is the independent, statutory authority that decides what local authorities we have and where their boundaries are. Its word is law, so by petitioning it we get certainty heaped on certainty heaped on certainty. We know for certain that its answer will be yes or no--'go east' or 'keep going west.' And we know exactly what we will get if we do go east, because the Reorganisation Proposal--which will soon be published--spells it out in detail. We also know who would be running things: we can call them and talk to them, we can go and meet them, we can look them up on the Internet. And we know that everything would be up and running next year--two years earlier than anything that might come out of the Royal Commission.

It is very interesting that the government chose to create a Royal Commission instead of following the procedure set down in law and using the Local Government Commission. The Local Government Commission has all the power and wherewithal needed to reorganise Auckland, and it operates under a fair, democratic, statutory system. The government can have no say in its process because it is independent, by law. But the Royal Commission just has the power to submit an expensive report. Only the government can make it into law.

With the Royal Commission we make submissions, we get a report, and the government decides what happens, in 2011. With the Local Government Commission we make a petition, we make submissions, and it decides what happens, in 2009).

With the Royal Commission we don't know what structure will rule our lives, nor do we know what people will rule them, either the elected or the employed. We cannot see what we will get. With the petition and the Local Government Commission we know both. The Reorganisation Proposal will detail the structure, and we can meet and talk to the people. What you see is what you get.

With the Royal Commission the democratic process is subject to government interference. With the Local Government Commission it is not. With the Royal Commission we only get pie in the Beehive sky. With the Local Government Commission we get a real pie off an open shelf.

The government chose to bestow on us a process in which it gets the final say, instead of a democratic process in which an independent authority gives it. Why?

With the Thames-Coromandel petition we can thumb our noses at the government and choose the Local Government Commission. We can make democracy prevail. Now.

CASH-COW INVESTMENT NOT CHARITY

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Those who say we must stay with Auckland rather than consider Thames-Coromandel, because of the amount Auckland spends on us above what it collects, are so fixated on money that they cannot feel the dagger in their backs.

First, Auckland is not a charity. It doesn't spend money on us because it loves us.

Second, when it does spend 'extra' it is more myth than fact, because if you subtract the millions of our money that it spends on its side of the water, and the profligate way it wastes money on this side, we are living within our means.

Third, from Auckland's point of view it is a very good investment. The more it citifies the island the more our valuations skyrocket and with them our rates. Clever trick. They always get their money back, and then some. My own rates have risen about 25% per year for the last ten years. That's a stunning rate of return.

The entire point is good local government, not dollars. We have enough money. But we are not getting the best local government available. For that we must go east. At the moment we are going west.

PHILIPPA BARRIBALL AT WORK AND REPRESENTATION

An exchange of emails last week between me and Philippa Barriball, the mayor of Thames-Coromandel, included these snippets, the first that shows what kind of a mayor she is, and the other that shows TCDC's working relationship between councillors and community boards:

'I am currently taking the roadshow presentation for annual plan around our different communities. The next two weeks are extremely pressured for me and of course Easter Weekend is when I go to all the ratepayer association meetings.'

'..of course'! When was the last time an Auckland mayor went to any ratepayers' association meeting, let alone all of them? Or gave up the Easter break to do it?

'One of the key parts of our current representation is that councillors are required to sit on community boards outside of and in addition to their own community. This is to ensure that councillors are aware of issues that face other communities and are better informed for their decision making. Just imagine if all the Auckland city councillors had to take a turn sitting on your community board--I am sure they would have a much better appreciation of your demands, so I hope that you can see the value in our model.'

I hope every islander can see the value in it, and the world of difference between TCDC's thinking on representation and ACC's.

Friday, 14 March 2008

RESPONSE TO POLLY NASH

Polly Nash's expression of dismay in Gulf News and Marketplace at 'the pace of development' and her wish that 'our microcosmic uniqueness' will remain is an unwitting summary of the reason for the petition to the Local Government Commission to transfer us from Auckland City Council to Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC).

Auckland sees us as its suburb, which is why that sort of development is happening at an accelerating pace. Thames-Coromandel lets communities have their say, which is why when Hahei said it didn't want urbanisation the councils prevented it (both councils: Thames-Coromandel District Council and its regional council Environment Waikato). If we were with TCDC we would have more say, and not only for that reason. Democracy is all about numbers. With TCDC we would have 23.3% of the vote and the say. With Auckland we have 2.2% of the vote, but even less of the say because Auckland is run by party machines.

The Local Government Commission, not me, will make the decision on the petition, after a rigorous public process, and in law its main criterion is good local government. If it thinks we get better local government with Auckland it will keep us there. If it thinks Thames-Coromandel is better it will move us. But the question should be put to it. If a question is not asked the answer has to be no. If it is it may be yes. It will at very least be valuable to get a definitive ruling on the quality of Auckland's governance.

It is wrong to say that I do not have authority to be doing the petition. I do. I have the authority of the Local Government Act 2002. I am following the legal, democratic process set down there (and available to all New Zealanders). Hundreds of Waihekeans have joined in support, thus adding their democratic authority.

Rates on Waiheke will definitely NOT rise to match those in Thames. Under the TCDC rates are different in different areas because different areas have different facilities. Thames has facilities we do not have on Waiheke--mainly expensive wastewater and water reticulation. And the way TCDC's rating system works is also much fairer for low- and middle-income people. Deliberately so.

Library books can be got from any library in the country from any other library using the interloan service. That would not change. What it would cost overall is for out community to decide, via the community board.

The ferries are run by a private company. It will carry on, regardless of which council we are under.

Under TCDC community boards are like mini-councils. They virtually set the rates, and charges, such as library charges, would also be under our control.

When I visited Thames on the 27th of February and watched the council at work for several hours, amongst other things handling a very thorny issue, I was particularly impressed at how it sheeted all its deliberations home to the Local Government Act 2002, especially to its principles and most especially to the word that sums up the Act's overall aim: well-being (sections 14 and 10 if you want to look them up). I was also impressed by the way it referred things down to community boards. And by the outstanding quality of its CEO, Steve Ruru.

At lunch I spoke with a community board chair who had previously served on a board under Auckland City (in Eden-Albert). I asked her if she wanted to go back under Auckland. She was adamant: 'No.'

MR SMALL AND MR BIG

Once upon a time there was a man called Mr Small. He and his family lived on a small, beautiful property and were very happy.

But one day they got a new neighbour, Mr Big, who turned out to be the neighbour from hell. He was bossiness on steroids, he had loud disgusting habits, he was all money and no taste, and he treated Mr Small and his family like dirt. He made their lives a misery.

One day he called in the bricklayers and had them build a wall between the two properties. It was of course a very high wall, and it completely ruined Mr Small's place. All he could see now was bricks.

He was so overcome with grief that he took to sitting at the foot of the wall and bashing his head against it. Day and night, even in his sleep, he bashed and bashed. His family feared for him, but he refused to stop. Bash, bash, bash, on and on and on.

One day a stranger came along, saw him, and took pity on him.

'Why are you bashing your head against that brick wall?' he asked.

'I have to use my head, because I don't have anything else,' said Mr Small. 'I know it's not much use, but at least I'm trying, and there's nothing else I can do. Or that anyone can do.'

'Oh, really?' said the stranger, and whipped out a sledgehammer. In nothing flat he knocked the wall and Mr Big to pieces and chucked them into the sea.

Was Mr Small happy?

Strangely, no. He turned on the stranger, he screamed and shouted at him, he cursed him, he told him he was a pestiferous interfering creep who should be boiled in oil over a slow fire then picked apart by killer ants.

The stranger stared at him in disbelief. Then it dawned on him. Mr Small had got so used to bashing his head against the brick wall that he couldn't imagine life without it. In fact he'd been bashing so long and so hard that he'd forgotten he was Mr Small. He now thought of himself as Mr Bash.

Fortunately, after a time he came back to himself. But it was a close run thing. At one stage his friends and family thought he was a goner. He took to drink and habitually became so sozzled that he was forever getting lost in his own garden. One night it took all three emergency services to find him.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

AUCKLAND RAISES RUBBISH CHARGES

The Auckland City Council has proposed raising the charge for rubbish collection this year from $195 to $222 (to pay for its flash, hi-tech recycling facility it says). It has also proposed raising the uniform annual general charge (UAGC) from $99 to $154. A combined rise of $82 in the fixed charges for residential properties outside the CBD.

The Thames-Coromandel District Council has also proposed raising its rubbish charge, from $102.72 to $109.16, which is an exorbitant $6.44 (ayone who does not have a rubbish collection does not, of course, pay anything).

(Please don't tell the people who think TCDC's rates are over the top and ACC's are far better.)

RAKINO'S RATES TAKE

Here are the total rates taken off Rakino Island (excluding GST), supplied by Auckland City Council--under the Local Government Official Information & Meetings Act. Why does even a member of the Waiheke Community Board have to use LGOIMA to prise such figures out of the empire? Rakino comes within Waiheke's bailiwick, and s52 of the Local Government Act 2002 says community boards have to keep an overview of what is going on. How is that possible without knowing the numbers. They should be supplied without asking, as a matter of course.

2005-2006 $115,405
2006-2007 $181,055 (a rise of 56.89%)
2007-2008 $192,216 (a rise of 6.16%)

Thursday, 6 March 2008

NAYSAYERS VERSUS GOOD LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Those who condemn the Thames-Coromandel initiative have not done their homework, and are missing the only point that matters: good local government. The law that governs the process makes that point very clearly. Above all things it wants us to have good local government.

Local means local, local decisions made locally, a high level of self-determination.

We would get much better local government from the Thames-Coromandel District Council than from Auckland City Council. For a number of reasons.

Firstly, the level of understanding, the most important thing in any relationship. Thames-Coromandel understands the islands. Auckland, being a city, never will. Thames-Coromandel thinks like we do; Auckland does not, it cannot.

Secondly, the type of council. In the TCDC all the councillors are independents, they make up their own minds. In Auckland the party machines, just National and Labour under other names, slug it out with cut-and-dried decisions and whips to make sure the party line rules.

Thirdly, the type of people. Auckland has John Banks as mayor, his qualities are what they are; Thames-Coromandel has Philippa Barriball--human, intelligent, knowledgeable, accessible. Auckland has David Rankin as chief executive; Thames-Coromandel has Steve Ruru, a better man, and a better CEO. Ruru grounds his work and his advice on the Local Government Act 2002, which has at the heart the well-being of communities. He is a public servant eminently worthy of the name. The person at the top sets the character of the whole organisation. Thames-Coromandel's staff have the low-key friendliness and accessibility you would expect in a small town. There are exemplary people in Auckland's team, but the overall nature of the organisation, of the vast machine, is not exemplary.

Fourthly, the rating system. Auckland's rating system is destroying our communities; Thames-Coromandel's, in which improved values dominate, is deliberately designed to ease the burden on low- and middle-income people.

Fifthly, the value placed on community boards. Under Auckland, community boards are of little account. Under Thames-Coromandel they are virtually mini-councils.

Thames-Coromandel is not perfect. Nothing ever is. But for us it would be much better.

THE OPPOSITION CONFIRMS THE RIGHT COURSE

It is very heartening that apart from two minor objections all the opposition to the petition to shift the Gulf islands from Auckland to Thames-Coromandel has been in the form of misinformation, scaremongering, defamation, lies, hatred, abuse, and sabotage (some 'missing' petition forms). In any battle if the opposition has nothing true to counter with the proposal must be well grounded in truth.

(The only true objections have been minor--the distance islanders would have to travel if they wanted to go to council meetings, and the fact that anyone wanting to take out a library book from Auckland's libraries using the interloan service would have to pay more. But occasional inconvenience and higher fees for interloans would be a small price to pay for much better local government. But if the fees for books were a big enough concern, and the community wanted it, they could be subsidised via a targeted rate. The only other objection of moment, based on losing 'Santa Claus' Auckland, is rooted in greed and/or self-interest, and ignores Santa's overspending and waste and the damage he is doing to the precious character of the islands.)

The virulent opposition from all but two members of the community boards on Waiheke and Great Barrier (me on Waiheke and a member on Great Barrier) is particularly disappointing. All board members must make a statutory promise to uphold, in particular, the Local Government Act 2002, but the opposers have in effect condemned the democratic process available under the Act to all New Zealanders. Once a petition of at least 10% of the registered electors has been gathered there will be an application to the Local Government Commission to move the boundary. That is the law; that is democracy. The aim of the petition is to get better local government than we are getting under Auckland. That is also the aim of the Act, and in law it must be the LGC's primary concern.

So why such opposition from people who just a few months ago also swore to act in the best interests of their community, to the best of their skill and judgement? What skill and judgement is there in a knee-jerk resolution, in not doing their homework, in ignoring the facts, in condemning a lawful democratic process, in countering it with misinformation, in arguing to the man not the issue?

The best interests of the islands will be served by asking the question: are we better off under Auckland, or would we be better off under Thames-Coromandel? If that question is not asked, no board member can claim to be acting in the best interests the community. The application will ask the question. The LGC will subject it to rigorous examination. Its ruling will be in our best interests. Refusing to get it cannot be.

Monday, 3 March 2008

IT'S ONLY ABOUT GOOD GOVERNMENT

Every argument hurled against the Thames-Coromandel District Council is irrelevant beside the one over-riding point: getting better local government.

All the evidence and all the contacts with it show that with the TCDC we have better local government than we could ever get with Auckland. The fundamental reason for that is understanding, which is always the most important thing in any relationship. A city will never understand us. It cannot. The peninsula does.

Weighed against better local government all the nay-saying headings combined are only a feather in the scales--such as the distance that people would have to travel if they wanted to attend a council meeting, the 1000 people who go to work or school in Auckland, the number of ferries to Auckland compared with the number to the peninsular, etc., etc., etc.

Good local government trumps the lot.

CAPTURING AUCKLAND'S HEART AND SOUL

Auckland has told the Royal Commission it wants to be a 'world-class city.' But does it have world-class people running it?

An odd rumour has come in on one of those new tongue-in-cheek mobiles, to the effect that Auckland wanted a symbol with which it could go out and impress the socks off the world, something that would express its heart and soul. It followed its standard practice, allocated a half a billion dollars and hired 79,000 consultants. The first problem is that Auckland doesn't have a heart or a soul. But after countless committee meetings behind closed doors, and years of work, they finally came up with the perfect symbol. It is a sphere about 10mm in diameter, with a thin coating of orange on the outside and brown stuff on the inside. Someone thought of marketing it in boxes coloured blue and orange.

The alternative symbol was Skite Tower.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

LAWFUL AND DEMOCRATIC NOT WILD

In the editorial in Gulf News (Thursday the 28th of February 2008), Simon Johnston dismissed as an 'unwanted distraction' the growing petition to apply to the Local Government Commission to transfer the Hauraki Gulf Islands to the Thames-Coromandel District Council. He also called it a 'wild-card' scenario, in spite of the fact that it is a lawful, democratic process that has been available in the Local Government Act to any qualifying group of New Zealanders since 2002.

His editorial was disappointing, not one of his best.

He was not correct to call me a man on a mission, because in law everyone who signs the petition is a co-proposer, so there are hundreds of men and women on the same mission.

He is wrong in saying that the 'powers that be in Thames-Coromandel made it clear that I had not been invited to make the presentation' to them on the 27th. Where did he get that from? Wicked & Weak (aka Waiheke Week)? But if that were true, why do I have an emailed invitation from the mayor, why did they choose to put me first on the agenda when they had a long list of people who wanted to speak, and why was I received in such a friendly way?

He can have great faith in the Royal Commission, and hope that everyone will sing the same
song to it (as John Banks does), and there is no doubt at all that they are good people, but they will not be running the new structure. That will be the same sort of minds as run it now; it will have at least as big a bureaucracy, probably bigger; and being a city will still have as little understanding of islands as the existing one. It does not matter how many checks and balances are put into the law the new Auckland can always ignore them. It does now with the Local Government Act 2002. Take the excellent principles in section 14, for instance. But Thames-Coromandel does not ignore them. It deliberately grounds its debates on them.

It would be helpful if he would read the PDF booklet available from the Local Government Commission because he would then understand the process, and realise that I am tracking down the railway lines of law available to any citizen. It just happens to have been me that stumbled across them, thanks to the mayor of Thames-Coromandel, and decided to do something about it. The community boards on the islands should remember that they have sworn to uphold that law and stop treating as despicable a part of it they do not agree with.

Simon wants us to put all our eggs in one basket. Two is more prudent. We are more likely to get what we want.

The outcome of the Royal Commission is uncertain. With the Local Government Commission we can see in advance exactly what we will get, because the reorganisation proposal will be published and open. The LGC will then say one of two things: yes or no. And it has one over-riding criterion: good local government.

EVERYTHING COSTS

Many Waihekeans think we cannot do without Auckland's money, by which they mean whatever it may chose to pump in over and above what it extorts from us in rates. But they are forgetting that wise old saying: 'There's no such thing as a free lunch.'

Sooner or later Auckland's seeming largesse comes out of our pockets, partly because the more it citifies the island the faster property values rise, and with them our rates, and partly because it can always be depended on to find some way of getting 'its' money back.

They are also overlooking (1) the fact that $15.1 million, $1964 per head, is quite enough to run this island well, and (2) the $2.44m taken off Waiheke last year for the bureaucracy over in Auckland and the $614,000 taken off us for Auckland's roading and transport. With Thames-Coromandel we would contribute only our fair share of the administration costs in common (133 staff, not Auckland's 1767) and nothing at all to its roading and transport. We would have at least an extra million, every year, to spend where it should be spent. Here.