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Tuesday, 15 September 2009


Like all legislation, Rodney Hide's second Auckland bill is like a child's colouring book. Nothing but a lot of black lines on white paper. Whether it can be turned into a masterpiece depends on how good the lines are. Whether it will be depends on how skilfully it is finished.

Some of the lines provided in this Bill are good, some are indifferent, some are inadequate, some have some nasty traps; some are clear, some are fuzzy, some are safe, some are perilous, and some will not exist until 2012.

How good the final picture will be depends on the 'artists'--the 21 elected and the 6000 employed. If they are not much bothered about keeping within the lines, if they are not skilled at choosing the best pencils and paints, if they are careless about using the most fitting colours, if they do not know how to be creative and sensitive about adding rich and appropriate detail to the expanses of white, we will get a mess. A crayon scribble.

Whatever happens we face years of uncertainty while Local-Board/Council negotiations are made, bugs are worked out, and the elected and employed find their way round the new structure (and the dishonest figure out how to manipulate it).

One of the biggest flaws, especially considering that Rodney Hide bangs on so much about 'putting the local back in government', is that the CEO of the new empire is responsible for hiring all the staff, and local boards cannot hire or fire. That will tend to create a homogeneous bureacracy. If local boards really are going to be responsible for keeping the local character they will find themselves up against the perpetual obstacle of the cookie-cutter mentality of that huge centrally controlled bureacracy. Local boards should fight for control of local staffing.

The requirement for local boards to sign up to a code of conduct, although it sounds nice in principle to make sure people watch their P's and Q's, can be a very nasty way of suppressing them. The present community boards are exempt from a code, which does not mean they behave like Dunedin university students, but it does mean they are not under the prohibition in Auckland City Council's code of being forbidden from talking to any member of the staff except through the CEO. That is a code for control-freaks who want to run things behind the scenes without much chance of being got at by the people's representatives.

Which makes even more telling Franz Kafka's profound comment on government: 'After the dust of revolution has settled there arises the slime of a new bureaucracy.'