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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.

SELECT COMMITTEE ON AUCKLAND: SUBMISSION 1

My written submission to the Select Committee on the second of Rodney Hide's Auckland Bills.

LOCAL DELEGATIONS MUST BE DECIDED LOCALLY NOT REGIONALLY
Delegations Must Be Protected in Law

To ensure true local democracy the delegations to local boards in sections 13 and 15 of the Bill must be determined bottom-up not top-down. They must therefore not be handed down by the Auckland Council, because they would be subject to the same abuse that has crippled community representation under Auckland City Council. It has whittled delegations away till they are virtually non-existent. If the Auckland Council delegated them they would also be prone to the one-size fits all mentality, which would particularly impact small, far-off communities such as Waiheke. Big bureaucracies do not like exceptions.

Delegations from the Auckland Council should therefore be subject to the same democratic, independent statutory process as local body reorganisations. A reorganisation proposal can be initiated by an application validated by the signatures of 10% of the affected registered electors. It is then subject to submissions to the Local Government Commission, which hands down a ruling signed off by the Governor-General and gazetted. Because it is protected by law no council, councillor, mayor or bureaucrat can gainsay it or interfere with it.

A delegation proposal would work in the same way. A proposal would be put together by the community, detailing the delegations it wants. If that is validated by being signed by 10% of the affected registered electors it would go to the LGC as a formal application. Submissions for and against would be heard, and the LGC would then hand down its ruling. That would receive vice-regal assent and be gazetted. The Auckland Council would then operate accordingly. That would remove them from political and bureaucratic control and interference.

That is the only mechanism that will ensure that democratic local decision-making and action really is by and on behalf of communities, and that that remains so, because it will be protected in law.


REMUNERATION FOR LOCAL BOARD MUST BE SET AS LAID DOWN IN LAW
If local/community board members are to do the job set down in statute they must be compensated for the time required. Therefore Clause 7 Schedule 7 of the Local Government Act 2002, which lays down the mandatory criteria for local body remuneration, must be strictly adhered to. If the Remuneration Authority continues to ignore it, and instead uses its weird pool formula‘, which defies the law, it must be dismissed.

A community/local board job is a full-time job, so it should be paid at least $30,000. With the taxation claims that can be made for self-employed that would be adequate. No one should get rich, but they should be paid fairly, and ratepayers should get what they expect, which is impossible from part-timers.

As Thomas Paine pointed out in his classic book on democracy, democracy is representative government. But if the only people who can stand, and still eat, are those of independent means, government cannot be truly representative, which skews democracy and skews decision-making. It is a denial of natural justice, which New Zealanders are guaranteed under s27 of the Bill of Rights Act.

THERE SHOULD BE PENALTIES FOR BREACHING THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT
Legislation too often assumes that it will be administered by angels. Sadly, that is too often not the case. Therefore there must be teeth in the legislation. Section 238 should be clarified so that there is no doubt that it applies to councillors and council officers. Then communities would have a legal weapon against those who ride rough-shod over their democratic voice.


LOCAL BOARDS SHOULD DEVELOP LOCAL BUDGETS,
DETERMINE LOCAL RATES, and VET ALL LOCAL STAFF APPOINTMENTS
If local boards are not responsible for local income and expenditure they will be dead letters. Thames-Coromandel Community Boards do that. Waiheke and Great Barrier Boards should do the same.

Local staff should be under democratic vetting, via their boards. And all staff should live locally. Commuters can never understand the community they are working for.

For there to be good local governance there has to be local control of the staff. Not remote. If we have to put up with someone who ignores local wishes, and can get away with it because he/she is protected by the distant empire, local governance is knee-capped.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

AUCKLAND IS NOT LEGALLY A CITY

The flurry of amalgamations in New Zealand in 1989 got rather carried away, and when some of the country's 'cities' were createdthe small matter of the law was overlooked.

In New Zealand law, no district, no territory can be called a city, or its corporation a city council, unless it satisifies three criteria. It must have a population of at least 50,000. It must be a distinct entity and a major centre of activity in its region. And it must be predominantly urban. (The relevant bit of law, which was the same in 1989, is now in Clause 7 of Schedule 3 of the Local Government Act 2002, which can be read at www.legislation.co.nz).

Auckland 'City', Wellington 'City', Waitakere 'City' and Upper Hutt 'City' are not legally cities, because they are not predominantly urban, and there may be others. The Local Government Commission of 1989 obviously did not check to see if what they were creating complied witht the law.

When Auckland's 154.154 square kilometres was amalgamated with the Hauraki Gulf Island's 475.5 square kilometres on the 1st of November 1989, the new district was only 24.5% urban. No district that is 75.5% village-rural can call itself predominantly urban, so Auckland has not legally been a city for twenty years. Therefore every decision made over the signature, so to speak, of 'Auckland City' since 1/11/1989 has been illegal. Millions of rates notices, for example.

The Local Government Commission says Wellington is 70% rural, Waitakere is 78% rural, Upper Hutt is 92%. 92% baa-lambs, moo-cows, and blokes getting about on farm-bikes, and they called it a city! Big boo-boo, big legal mess.

The amalgamation of the Hauraki Gulf Islands with Auckland in 1989 was therefore illegal. It voided Auckland's city status. It also breached the fundamental of community of interest, because the law makes it very clear that for the sake of achieving good local government the predominantly urban and the predominantly non-urban must be kept separate. Chalk and cheese should not be put together. The two distinct types of community should not be ruled by each other.

That is why the Islands have had chronic problems with Auckland, caused by Auckland's inability to understand a village-rural-island district.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

JULY 16TH FOR THAMES-COROMANDEL SAGA

The next public stage in the application to the Local Government Commission to move the Hauraki Gulf Islands from Auckland City Council to the far superior Thames-Coromandel District Council is to take place at the Waiheke Island Resort on Thursday the 16th of July.

Details will be posted when the LGC releases them, which is expected to be soon.

ACC STILL SEES PINK ELEPHANTS AT MATIATIA

The presentations by council officers to the Community Board at our May and June meetings of their plans for Matiatia still show that as usual they just do not get it. All they get is the typical brain-damaged desire of certain councillors to make $7 million back on the $12.5 million it cost. But if they had had the vision to buy it six years earlier they could have got it for $2.5 million and been $3 million ahead without having to lift a speculative finger. They would not 'have' to spend millions of our money on a white-elephant investment.

The officers still plan, some day, to make Matiatia a destination, and they still tell us that we want that. No. Get it dummies: it's a bus stop for floating buses. A place to come and go through, not to go to.

All they should be building is at least 600 efficiently arranged carparks near the wharf--and soon. Forget your plans for 70 apartments, and cafes, shops, eateries, etc., etc., etc. Forget your marketing puffery, your 'brown axis, your 'blue axis', your 'green axis.' Forget a marina.

Forget everything except what the island wants. Put enough carparks at the foot of the valley, where we want them, then all that unsafe roadside carparking can be done away with. And keep the bus stops at the terminal. Shifting them way up the road is just as stupid as expecting people to park out near Patagonia because you refuse to provide parking where we want it.

That would be sensible. But instead their grandiose plans reduce the present 450 carparks near the wharf to 376. Otherwise the obese white elephant will not fit.

And don't start any upgrade to Ocean View Road from the wharf to Mako Street (which is now seeking a resource consent) till the island has said yes. Otherwise the officers will do what they want--i.e., what the white elephant wants. They will have built a fait accompli with our money.

It is called democracy. Doing what the people want...