Politics, Panuku and Paying the Living Wage.

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Standing for elections takes courage, a whole lot of energy, and money – often one’s own. It can be tiring, banal, humbling and fruitless. It can also be exciting, fun, heartening, rewarding – and successful. We do it because we want to make a difference, in the spirit of ancient democratic principles hard fought even in modern times and societies, in reaction to incumbents’ perceived failings, and/or because we think it bestows power, status and wealth. It’s a tense process and it is always difficult to unseat an incumbent. The challenges are significant. Given the obstacles, I congratulate everyone who has put their names – and reputations, and often their nerves and personal finances, on the line.

But the challenges of running in an election are nothing compared with the endurance and fortitude required to maintain idealism and to effect change in political office.
So while candidates around the country will be now recovering from victory or defeat, the real work lies ahead. They now have to deliver on their promises, meet the demands and expectations of people who didn’t vote for them, as well as those who did. They have to be all things to all people, and to all sectors. They have mountains of reading to do, often droll all-day and late-night meetings to attend, pay that often fails to match the scope of the job, and the vagaries of social media which requires full public self-promotion and the risks of inauthenticity, and abuse.

But most challenging of all, is the mismatch between the impressions of power bestowed with public office, and where the power really lies. Politicians come and go, but the ‘scope of the possible’ is informed by power relations that are more immutable. Bureaucracy has its own inertia and timeframes; it’s conservative, it can expediate or thwart political intentions. It can delay, obfuscate or empower through important agenda setting devices and budget allocations.

The structure of Auckland Council with its ‘Council Controlled Organisations’ (CCO’s) makes the exercise of elected representative power, even more difficult than most. The CCO’s have their own mandates and agendas, their own bureaucracies (which duplicate Council costs), their own flash offices, their own imperatives.

Note the news last week that Auckland Council’s property development agency Panuku, paid 38 of its 223 staff reward bonuses on top of high salaries. Staff costs for Panuku were over $20million, Director’s fees were almost another half a million. Between 2017/18 and 2018/19 the number of staff paid over $100k went from 66 to 78. The Chief Executive was paid remuneration of $640,000, including a bonus of $80,000. Another staff member was paid up to $520,000. One was paid up to $420k, two were paid up to $390k, one was paid up to $350k….and so it goes on. (See the Panuku 2018-19 Annual Report, page 84 for the whole eye-watering list). Compare that with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the seventh highest paid leader in the world, who has to run for office, is accountable to all New Zealanders, and who is paid $471,000 a year. The Mayor, now Phil Goff again, is paid around $300,000 a year, and Councillors, somewhat over $100,000.

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The bonuses paid to Panuku’s staff have come under fire – rightly so. Paying performance bonuses on top of exorbitant salaries was ‘justified’ by Adrienne Young-Cooper, Panuku’s Chair and “professional company director”, herself paid $71,000 for attending six meetings, because staff achieved key ‘gateways’ including a budget surplus, funding for projects in Council’s 10-year budget, the development of key council properties and selling ‘surplus’ Council land. Let’s remember that Panuku’s are highly political decisions – what’s ‘surplus land’ to Panuku is often highly valued open space to communities, whether they be streamside informal parkland in Glen Eden, marinas and associated spaces in Gulf Harbour and Westpark, or community market spaces and carparks in Takapuna. Then there was the questionable deal where the central city heritage Civic building on 5000m2 was sold to a developer for only $3million in a decision described as ‘scandalous’ by long-time (and maybe now deposed) Councillor Mike Lee.

Before the election in response to media attention, Mayor Phil Goff said he wanted the practice of paying bonuses to Panuku staff to end, and would ask staff to provide legal advice to see if and how it could be stopped. Good luck with that. While the payment of monstrous salaries to CCO staff is exacerbated by the payment of bonuses when they are simply doing their job, a questionable job at that, the corporatized model leaves little power in the hands of elected representatives, and little accountability. Not only is the Panuku practice of paying bonuses wrong, but the CCO model is a thwart to democracy, equality and justice too.

In only September this year, the final stage of implementation of Auckland Council’s Living Wage strategy came into force. RNZ reported, without irony, that the decision ensured that now “all council staff earn enough to support themselves and their families”. The lowest paid Council employees now earn the underwhelming $21.15 an hour. Calculated at an hourly rate to simplify things, at 40 hours a week, Panuku’s Chief Executive earned about $308 an hour. Phil Goff said he’d extend the Living Wage to all contract Council cleaners if re-elected.

So while the democratic principle of one (adult) person, one vote gives us the semblance of equal access to power, that power and wealth remain inaccessible and unjustly distributed, and no-one’s even talking about deconstructing the CCO system that castrates politicians, dwarfs their income, undermines their accountability to their voters, and short changes the workers on the ground.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Yip ,and Craig Lord Bought this to light for me not Tamihere , not Goff , as well as many other things that Auckland are being extorted for on a daily basis -millions. MSM only covering 2 candidates put 65% of the voters off , no surprises there. While others out there struggle to pay their rates , the chief executive earns over half a million in wages. Auckland is sick

  2. Christine I am 75 this year and find life got harder every year since 2008 and now us retirees are the forgotten legions that are never given any thoughts to how we are not coping under this every day increase living costs.

    I paying taxes all my life since beginning work part time at the NZ Post office sorting mail when I took an after high school job in 1959.

    It is unfair that any Government fails to consider the retirees well being now as we are not all ‘well off elders’ as the media always portrays us falsely as.

    • You paid taxes to the Canadian govt for a number of years perhaps other govts too Cleangreen? Don’t pretend you were in NZ all your working life, you are getting the same super as someone who actually worked all their days in NZ!

  3. Worse is yet to come. The upcoming review of local government has had its terms of reference set by bureaucrats. One item is the removal of social provision by local government if that provision is provided by central government. This was included as the person setting the terms felt it was improper for local government to be involved in areas they felt should be left to central government.
    This double provision has often been an important backstop when ideology in government meant that such provision of a service or community support was withdrawn. This is on top of the requirements for councils to consider the well being of their communities being removed under the last National government. Shamefully Labour have not rushed to restore this. There is wide spread anger growing over CCOs and the structure of the supercity in Auckland. Labour need to start looking after their constituency before the election. Agreeing to review this would be a vote winner. I know of many who are seriously considering not voting for the first time ever. It has nothing to do with scandals or business confidence.

    • “removed under the last National government.”

      So much social harm was caused during those nine long years.

      “Shamefully Labour have not rushed to restore this.”

      The present govt just needs more time.

  4. yes Kheala our country and our most vulnerable suffered so much social harm under the national party which is why we don’t want them back in power they are all about the rich and themselves, they are all about divide and conquer we all know profits don’t trickle down that is a load of bullshit it trickles up. And we saw homelessness, begging, people dying prematurely from poor or no medical treatments or medications to give them quality of life. National care more about the roads when we can’t live on roads. The national party foster selfishness and an every man for himself approach not what we need in our country.

  5. yes Kheala our country and our most vulnerable suffered so much social harm under the national party which is why we don’t want them back in power they are all about the rich and themselves, they are all about divide and conquer we all know profits don’t trickle down that is a load of bullshit it trickles up. And we saw homelessness, begging, people dying prematurely from poor or no medical treatments or medications to give them quality of life. National care more about the roads when we can’t live on roads. The national party foster selfishness and an every man for himself approach not what we need in our country.

  6. yes Kheala our country and our most vulnerable suffered so much social harm under the national party which is why we don’t want them back in power they are all about the rich and themselves, they are all about divide and conquer we all know profits don’t trickle down that is a load of bullshit it trickles up. And we saw homelessness, begging, people dying prematurely from poor or no medical treatments or medications to give them quality of life. National care more about the roads when we can’t live on roads. The national party foster selfishness and an every man for himself approach not what we need in our country.

  7. The panuku in Panuku Development Auckland derives it’s name from the proverb which recognises the ‘Unseen energies of land and sea’, seemingly a fitting analogy for the backroom salary dealings of this outfit. Another translation for panuku is golf putter, and the triple entendre is complete.

  8. Could this be another reason why the public have lost faith in the system and refuse to partake?
    32%(?) of 1.1m eligible voters did bother to vote, kinda tells you something sucks?
    No yoof-quake … to be expected though.
    It does tell you one thing. The system isnt working for the majority of the population who are too busy getting on with life to pay for the machine to keep on rolling.
    Something has got to give, and I hope that is soon.

    • A couple regional councillors (no names) in a couple of my old areas are pro climate change while simultaneously being anti 1080 and pro commercial possum hunting. Y’know we on the left are just so ideologically underdeveloped that every just hits out on there own and we have this patch work of contradictory policy.

  9. The best post Christine Rose has written this year.

    Sadly less moral community minded people, not corrupted by money, are going into politics and there seems to be less and less interest in why there is so much salary difference (often up to 400% higher) between elected salaries and unelected salaries!

    Mayor and CEO salary should have pay parity, and councillors and council board members should have parity.

    In addition, all local governmenl salaries should be considerably lower than the PM so they can remain in touch with their electorate, or is the idea as we move towards a more corrupt society, the politician gets ‘extra’ payments on the side??? sarcasm.

    Panuku is a joke and just another way to steal public money in plain sight by the neoliberal brigade!

    Nobody seems to look at the obvious examples on performance pay in NZ and such as Theo Spiering averaging over 5 million a year while apparently meeting his performance targets set, which somehow has driven Fonterra down hundreds of millions of dollars in poor investments like Beingmate????

    Phil Goff is a joke, however it was obvious he would make it back due to gross stupidity. If Tamihere had a clue and bothered to campaign on something normal and not selling off the water and getting rid of the petrol taxes then he probably could have roused more people to vote and beat Phil Goff. Sadly advised by the right wingers he went wrong. The MSM ignored everyone else and there was such little information about the candidates.

    At the same time, the wokies and Nat lite Labourites, have likelypushed out Mike Lee by only a tiny margin (Labour vs Mana party style by running another candidate under a political umbrella and advising them to vote all for city vision).

    Then Labour wonders why in spite of the Natz harm to society Labour are not more popular and trusted and people are giving up voting…

    hmm have a look in the mirror on what Labour people stand for and believe in and it seems pretty close to the Natz… ineffective leadership, big salaries to fat cats and giving away public assets to the fat cats to be sold on by the fat cats who don’t seem too good at business https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/115579344/auckland-construction-firm-liquidated not to mention plenty in the kitty for white elephant underwater stadiums and 1 million in consultancy reports and now another consultancy report on whether they COO’s can be stopped getting performance pay.

    Yet, keep those consultancy reports and pigs in troughs going at Auckland council, half the rates is spent in salaries and reports because they need a consultant to hold their hands for any decision or advice, so ineffectual are they!!!!

    • I have huge sympathy with what you said.

      Just to add a little more, two points:

      First paying and equivalent to private sector wages is entirely wrong. That is because there is no risk with income. Nobody has to sell the services or risk capital, they just tax and raise rates. That’s what used to make private sector wages higher. Any fool can control expenditure, why pay high wages for that?

      Second. We are being held slave to the cult of expertise rather than common sense. Legislation and bylaws seem to encourage this and it comes at a cost. Far too much council work is arse covering, not delivering.

      Until we address the Local Government Act and prune compliance legislation we will continue to allow bureaucracies to plunder our pockets.

      • @Nick J

        The COO structure has the worst of both worlds. They have the ‘low’ public sector salary for the elected officials and the officials in the so called ‘public’ sector executives of the COO’s and councils are being paid more and at private sector job rates! They are not only paying once but twice, and for less risky work!

        As you said, the public sector jobs do not have the risk to have to make any money by innovation, when things go wrong they just tax more! (Although under neoliberalism things are getting so bonkers and corrupt and dysfunctional, that when the public sector are about to go bankrupt through stupidity and Greed, the government and public sector bail them out, aka banks during the financial crisis, or 29 million bailouts to private offshore companies by Auckland council… https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12137606

        The reason the Rogernoms and Neolibs seem to want to lower the educational standards in NZ and keep the brain drain active, (while pretending the opposite) is to keep the public asleep and illiterate and uncritical thinkers, so they can’t comprehend what is going on, to stop it.

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