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Wednesday, 22 July 2009

SELECT COMMITTEE ON AUCKLAND: SUBMISSION 2

My oral submission to the Select Committee on the second of Rodney Hide's Auckland Bills:

Relative to local government the Remuneration Authority is chronically corrupt. For years it has poisoned the grassroots of local government by working to its own rules instead of the mandatory criteria set by Parliament in Clause 7 of Schedule 7 of the Local Government Act 2002. It is well known that David Oughton dislikes community boards, so he treats their remuneration with contempt. Some members are paid only $206 a year, and the average means that none of us can work full-time for our communities, as our statutory duties demand, so ratepayers cannot get what they vote for. Many councillors are treated unfairly. Auckland Regional Councillors, on $22,000, are the lowest-paid regional councillors in the country. When Parliament makes good laws and bad public servants ignore
them that is corruption.

Good laws are like locks. Only the honest heed them; they never stop the dishonest. If Parliament fails to include penalties in laws, you are assuming it will be administered by angels. But the Remuneration Authority and Auckland City Council, to name two, have long proved that that assumption asks for bad local government, and gets it. The bureaucrats do what they want. And penalties must be easily and cheaply accessible to the people. Otherwise corruption wins.

That assumption of angelic administrators is a fatal flaw in what you are doing here. The other is that it is out of scale with New Zealand, way out of scale with local government and way out of kilter with it.

Good local government is government that is local and government that is good. But to achieve better local government you are centralising power into the hands of a massive bureaucracy of 6000 people, an empire that will rival or out-rival anything else in Australasia. Yet you fondly believe it will deliver a better result. Those who cannot learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. Look at Auckland City Council--2300 staff, the biggest in the country, second biggest in Australasia--and it manifests everything bad about a large bureaucracy, yet you want one about three times the size.

Big bureaucracies are always the same. Inefficient, with a high internal overhead, selfish, self-centred, inward-looking, arrogant, a law unto themselves, and anti-democracy. They become impersonal machines, little interested in what the people think. They are primarily concerned with what The Machine thinks. This will just be a variation on Yes, Minister. Except it will be Yes, Mayor.

That huge bureaucracy will be out of kilter with what local government is there for--'to enable democratic local decision-making and action by and on behalf of communities'--and it will be so big that it will be way out of scale with the country.

What you are creating is a state within a state. A powerful mayor, and a powerful council, which will preside over a third of the country and its economic engine, and a very powerful bureaucracy that will rule the whole roost. They will be able to thumb their noses at Parliament.

Out here on the Harauki Gulf Islands none of the regional considerations you are so exercised about have any relevance. And the mismatch in scale is outrageous. Already Auckland City Council is far bigger than we are in power, and far bigger than Great Barrier in population. This huge bureaucracy will be much worse. Great Barrier, population 852, used to be run by three people; Waiheke, population 7689, needs only fifty; Rakino, population 12, needs 1; we do not need 2300 bureaucrats, we certainly do not need 6000.

If the local boards do not have control of local staff, control will be central and local staff will be able to thumb their noses at us even more than they do now. The Machine, even more than now, will decide for us.

The Hauraki Gulf Islands are again being swamped by a tsunami of party policy and a lust for power and territory--far larger than what hit us in 1989.

This Auckland adventure is a power-trip for a power-freak. There was no need to turn the world upside down to accomplish better regional government, which is what you are really talking about. What you want can be achieved under the present Act--if you had bothered to read it--with minor modifications. You only need to send in the tweaks, not the tanks.

For many years the Remuneration Authority has poisoned the grassroots of local government in New Zealand, particularly at the community-board grassroots. Now, in a third of the country, you are going to shoot it in the head. Because the head will be the Bureaucracy, not the People.

But we, the people, are not stupid. There is infinitely more brain out in the real world than in Parliament--certainly more than exists between Rodney Hide's ears. And there will be referendum on this--in November 2011, or 2014 if the majority takes longer to wake up. Your government ultimately will stand or fall on what you do to this third of the country.