GUEST BLOG: Mike Lee – That budget and why I voted for it



Putting up the rates is nothing to write home about but I have written this at Martyn’s request.  Last Thursday, as I did the previous four years, I voted to support the council budget, or Long Term Plan as it is called.  Though this time I confess I was sorely tempted not to. While the basic rate increase was a modest 2.5%, a so-called transport ‘levy’ of $100 per ratepayer was banged on by mayor Len Brown at the last minute


While I believe serious money does need to be spent on transport infrastructure in Auckland, especially on rail, at the same time that money has to be prudently spent and not treated as some sort of corporate welfare for the private sector.  To this end, at the previous budget meeting in May I succeeded in amending the Long Term Plan to ensure an investigation into why Auckland’s privatised rail operations which I found costs $70m per year more than Wellington’s (for a similar numbers of passengers carried).  In contrast to Auckland, where the train services are managed by the French company Transdev, Wellington’s operation is public sector. Run by state-owned KiwiRail.  You can imagine the outcry from the business media and chambers of commerce etc., if the costs of the operations were the other way round.


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At last Thursday’s meeting the Auditor-General, Lyn Provost, told the councillors, that voting against and therefore torpedoing the Long Term Plan at this late stage would have serious legal and financial consequences. Without doubt it also would have led to a media meltdown. (Note well the contrived media hysteria about the list of phantom abstainers).  But this crisis would have been real, with he Auckland Council running out of money within weeks. The media would have almost certainly hyped ‘Auckland’s financial crisis’ for all it was worth.
   As I told the mayor to his face at the meeting, given his personal unpopularity and that of the council in general, a council fiscal meltdown on top of a ‘Housing Crisis’ would have posed an irresistible temptation for the National government to step in – just as it did and with much less reason, with the Canterbury Regional Council – and replace the mayor and councillors with commissioners.


Just for getting rid of Len Brown alone, would have made the Tories popular heroes (for the first few weeks anyway) with John Key’s poll ratings likely going through the roof.  Given my knowledge of what went on with the Auckland Transition Agency, the body that set up the Super City in 2009-10, the likelihood is that Key, English and Joyce’s hand-picked commissioners would have been given clear riding instructions on how to deal with the council finances.  Almost certainly this would have included ‘asset recycling’ – the latest jargon for privatization.  Almost certainly too, by the time the commissioners had completed their work, gone would be public ownership of Ports of Auckland and Auckland International Airport.  Also would be gone, given the National caucus’ particular loathing of these projects, would be the City Rail link, Light Rail and rail to the airport – off the table for my lifetime at least.   Nick Smith’s Special Housing Areas (SHAs) – a free pass for developers that suspend neighbours’ and communities’ RMA rights to object – would become the norm across Auckland.  I might be wrong about this but I don’t think so. This was the fate I believe was in store for Auckland if the councilors had voted at the last minute to cut off the council’s funding.


Unfortunately as the deputy mayor & another councillor were away on holiday it all came down to a single vote. I made the call to vote in support. It was not the populous option and I didn’t feel good about it (in fact I came away feeling I had just spent the day down in a sewer) – but I sincerely believed – and still do – that it was the right thing to do at this time for Auckland and for democracy.
In closing my speech in the debate I told the chief executive that he and his management team needed to ‘take a good long look in the mirror’.  ‘Auckland Council needs to change – or it will be changed.’  To be frank, given that immediately after the meeting the senior managers went off to a celebration party, it seems my admonition didn’t have that much effect.  Frankly the council is unlikely to change.  Therefore it will have to be changed.  But better that change comes from the people of Auckland in a democratic election – rather than from John Key and his government.


Mike Lee is a councillor and one of the liberal lions of Local Auckland Politics


  1. what a sorry account, threat of capital flight or sacking democratically elected bodies and individuals regularly pops up in these types of scenarios

    Mike Lee has done good service since the old Alliance days in holding back full privatisation, but the supercity is really only set up to be run on a business model with the CCOs etc, so unless there is a huge uplift in popular participation and voting it will only degenerate

    Brown deserves opprobrium, not for his personal life, but for being captured by the business forums and not having any backbone when he deserted the wharfies

    Len’s successor though will have worse in store for them, for what will the right offer apart from selling the Ports and anything else that could be an earner? And newsflash; they will cut services and increase rates! And they will continue the Brown era trend of business rates dropping as a proportion.

    “Minto for Mayor” had it–slash the $100,000 plus brigade, free public transport and Auckland a living wage city–will anyone else have the guts to put up such a real left programme and candidate? With the usual multiple candidate scenarios the left would be amiss not to take another punt. It worked in Spain (so far).

  2. Good article. Very interesting to find out that Auckland’s privatised rail operations which I found costs $70m per year more than Wellington’s (for a similar numbers of passengers carried). In contrast to Auckland, where the train services are managed by the French company Transdev, Wellington’s operation is public sector. Run by state-owned KiwiRail.

    Yep just like the ratepayers some of the councillors are also between a rock and a hard place.

  3. Perhaps someone could answer this question: Len Brown said in a radio interview that although some properties would be paying overall an extra 20%, there were some that would pay less rates. Can anyone tell me which and how many properties will end up paying less?

    • Rodney, (JK electorate) rural I think will pay less. That is because you get nothing, not even rubbish. In a usual misleading complex way although you are supposed to get less rates there is some rival clause so they actually can’t cut the amount of rates by what they say they are going to.

      Maybe Mike Lee knows more:)

  4. Good to read this from a real person who is in AC. It definitely confirms my suspicions that AC was formed to sell off assets until Brown and a left of centre council was elected.

    And having only the Heralds warped views on this fed by the Auckland Ratepayers Alliance/Taxpayers Union aka The National Party, I could sense their thinly veiled attempt to get rid of the current council anyway they can through whatever misinformation they can put out there.

    However I do have questions.

    Why do ratepayers have to pay private contractors to do core council work, rubbish, recycling, roading maintenance, parks and grounds maintenance, etc? Surely paying them a healthy profit margin is ridiculously illogical. I know the argument that they are specialists who can make “efficiencies” but I don’t believe in that any more than I believe in the Tooth Fairy. Why can AC not bring this in house and reduce costs.

    Similarly why are we paying a French investment company to run our rail system again with healthy profits going back to France? I could kind of understand if they were doing a first rate job but they aren’t! I realise there is some stupid legislation existing that says AT cannot own and run our ratepayer subsidised Public Transport but really, with shortage of funds why does this situation exist? Same with buses and ferries. These profits can go back into the PT system

    Why are we persisting with the honesty fare system on the trains? I know personally for a fact that the fare evasion is far far worse than official figures and yet it carries on and no one seems to care.

    Why are businesses having their rates lowered? Surely they benefit far more than an individual ratepayer householder?

    The public need to hear the other side of this argument and what AC can do to save money without cutting services.

    • “Why are businesses having their rates lowered? Surely they benefit far more than an individual ratepayer householder?”

      The Parisian Train system is heavily subsidised by local business, on the understanding that it is important to have a good public transport system to get workers to work.

      Businesses rates are pre-tax, the government don’t get their cut, and they don’t deserve one with their present stance on financing Auckland public transport infrastructure.

  5. What a load of rubbish just to try and save your own skin and cushy job. I don’t believe that Commodore Len Browniemarama didn’t know how the numbers were going to fall. Firstly the waste of money staff celebration party was planned before the vote and the latest copy of Our Auckland printed small monthly mag from the council came out the day after the budget vote with Len giving a thank you to all for the budget going through. Unless someone in the council is a clairvoyant then it looks dodgy.
    The other dodgy thing that Mr Lee might like to comment on is the empoyment of Bob Harvey as an Overseas Commissioner for council. Why was the job not advertised so the best person could get it. Why give a job to a 75 yr old who has stopped a younger person getting a job. How much is his salary. Because it wasn’t advertised surely Due Diligence was not done. It is just a job for a mate that Brown is embarrassed to say how much he will have his nose in the public purse for. Some say NZ is Corruption Free. I don’t really think so now.

  6. deputy mayor & another councillor were away on holiday – REALLY? at a time like that? Why does that not surprise me one little bit.

  7. all good and well – but i doubt anyone can even be bothered listening anymore

    ive bascially given up hope for auckland and its council – len brown will be known as the mayor who was so weak he let rodney hide box him into a corner and then said thank you

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