No Place for Democratic-Socialists in the Undemocratic Neoliberal Government of the Auckland Supercity.

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MIKE LEE is the closest Auckland has come to a socialist leader since Mayor “Robbie” (Sir Dove Meyer Robinson) back in the 1970s. As Chair of the Auckland Regional Council Mike made sure Auckland’s municipal resources remained in Aucklanders’ hands. Not surprisingly the neoliberal powers-that-be (in both their centre-left and centre-right incarnations) hated him.

It is most unlikely that their opinion of Mike has changed – not since his recent revelation that, since its formation in 2010, the Auckland “Supercity” has transferred roughly $10 billion from the pockets of residents and ratepayers into the bank accounts of mostly foreign-owned corporations.

As Mike rightly points out, it was to facilitate just such a colossal transfer of wealth that the Supercity was created. Its whole structure was carefully designed to disconnect as far as possible the Council’s democratic components from its day-to-day decision-making machinery – the stuff that really matters. In particular, the pivotal “Council Controlled organisations” (CCO’s) were deliberately and elaborately insulated from “interference” by Auckland’s elected representatives.

This left the City’s twenty councillors with nothing much too do except read policy papers penned by city bureaucrats, attend interminable committee meetings, and bank the $100,000+ per annum they “earn” for representing their fellow citizens. No, that’s not a mistake. Winning a seat on Auckland’s “Governing Body” immediately puts you in the top 5-8 percent of income earners.

Is it any wonder – given the financial reward – that it is not really in the interests of Auckland city councillors to be seen to do either too much, or too little. Indeed, it could be argued that councillors’ re-election chances are enhanced if the voters struggle to recall them doing anything at all. Certainly, a propensity to do nothing is what the Supercity prizes most highly in its political leadership. Councillors are not supposed to do anything. Councillors are there to disguise that fact that the people who do everything haven’t been elected by anybody.

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That the Supercity would effectively neuter local democracy was pointed out to Aucklanders at the time of its creation. It was calculated that people living in the Greater Auckland area would go from having roughly one councillor for every 15,000 residents to having one member of the “Governing Body” for every 70,000 residents! This did not, however, appear to bother Auckland voters unduly. Local government just wasn’t sexy. In fact, it was so unsexy that only around half of those eligible to vote in Supercity elections bothered to return their postal ballots. That their indifference might be facilitating a colossal transfer of public wealth into private hands gave them not the slightest pause. So long as their rates didn’t rise too sharply, they simply didn’t care.

Suggestions that the maintenance of infrastructure and the provision of services and amenities (water, waste disposal, public transport, libraries, art galleries and other cultural experiences) would all be improved by a radical democratisation of the Supercity were met with a near universal “meh”. So deeply ingrained is the idea that public ownership is always less effective and efficient than private provision, calls for more politicians, taking much more responsibility for the delivery of Supercity services, were dismissed as batty. When it comes to politicians, the broad public consensus is – the fewer the better.

Very few New Zealanders are aware that large cities overseas are governed by councils made up of 50, 60, sometimes as many as 100 councillors. Bodies of this size allow the people’s representatives to accept responsibilities that, in New Zealand, have long since been farmed out to local government bureaucracies. Overseas, powerful council committees are able to hold bureaucrats accountable for their failures. In cities like Paris and Berlin, complaining to your local councillor actually works. Try complaining to a member of the Governing Body of the Supercity and all you can be assured of is mounting frustration.

Unless, of course, you were lucky enough to know Mike Lee. Some years ago, my daughter had a problem with Auckland Transport. I immediately go in touch with Mike, at that time one of the two Councillor-Directors seated on the CCO’s Board. Within hours I had action – from the CEO, no less. When it came to effective and efficient, Mike was the man. I was bitterly disappointed, but not a bit surprised, that when Phil Goff was elected Mayor of the Supercity, one of his first acts was to remove Mike from the Auckland Transport Board of Directors.

Nor was I surprised when the supposedly “centre-left” City Vision fielded a candidate against Mike in the 2019 Supercity elections. The Labour/Green apparatchiks behind City Vision  had grown tired of being shown what a real democratic-socialist looks like. He was defeated.

28 COMMENTS

    • Heh, CT’s columns are rather like that anecdotal tourist that struggles to remember–do we drive on the right hand side of the road, or the left? so to be safe sticks more or less to the centre line.

      I have been aware of Chris since the 80s when he was involved in the short lived Distribution Workers Federation umbrella group for retail, logistics and transport workers–which in effect devolved into the National Distribution Union which is now FIRST Union. There was uproar from some when he began writing for popular business papers. It was seen as selling out by some, tolerated by others. Chris saw it as extending Union reach, and possibly his employment prospects.

      And he did good service in New Labour, and TV commentary for a number of years. His book “No Left Turn” remains a good resource. He has Christian beliefs, student/academic beginnings, a v. good memory and research skills, and a propensity to argue positions he may not actually hold–I call him a classic long distance columnist who needs to get paid like any worker–not many get to make punditry an earner.

      Like many of his and my generation, the man “is not for turning”. So you have the choice to read his pearls of wisdom or not. I still do because he is above all readable, and comes up with many “yes, I remember that…” moments quoting the twists and turns of NZ political history. But he makes some appalling blunders like supporting the motley crew in Free Speech Coalition, and his long time support for NZ First. And he gets it dead wrong sometimes like his literary spat with Paul Buchanan. He is a contrarian, with a left brand, and as long as he remains so he will receive acid and praise in some combination.

      Anyway nice tribute to one of the last of the old guard of the Bruce Jesson years in Auckland local Govt. Mike Lee. The Supercity is indeed a monetarist travesty that the “Chicago Boys” would have been proud of–thanks largely to the avaricious and munters and alienated of Auckland.

      • The “Free Speech Coalition” may be principally populated by hypocrites but free speech is something worth fighting for. Chris is right about that. We also need to take the “spat” with Paul Buchanan seriously.
        If you allow me, I will repeat the comment I made in relation to the dispute with Buchanan:
        We have all done Chris a disservice. Let’s look at the issue in context. The colonial political establishment is divided in the face of a looming crisis. On the one hand we have the free marketeers of MFAT who wish to find and maintain a modus vivendi with China and on the other the Five Eyes loyalists in the military and intelligence community – of which Paul Buchanan is a member.
        In all probability the current story about New Zealand military exports to unsavory regimes was leaked to the media by those in the Five Eyes camp, despite the fact that most, if not all, of these regimes are in league with the Five Eyes. To the Five Eyes loyalists, any stick with which to beat MFAT is good enough.
        Now Chris is one who believes that in politics the only choice we have is between the greater and lesser evil. In one sense he is right, in another he is wrong, but we don’t need to traverse that question here. He considers those elements of the New Zealand state which are blindly loyal to the concept and ideology of the Five Eyes to be a greater danger to the well being of the nation than the free marketeers of MFAT, the dairy industry and so on, and on that I would not disagree with him.
        I believe that the same reasoning underlies Trotter’s vehement opposition to the creation of a Treaty of Waitangi respecting “partnership state”. Chris, you and I all know the names of those senior Maori in the service of the Crown who work hand-in-glove with the security and intelligence apparatus. We also know (or should know) that the concept of treaty partnership provides an opening to the destruction of democratic institutions, which the New Zealand security forces and their Five Eyes partners will be quick to seize upon.
        That also explains why Chris does not follow the rest of the left in urging greater powers of surveillance to be used against right-wing extremists. He sees, quite rightly, that such powers will ultimately be used by the Crown against our own people.
        So while I come from a very different position to Chris, I have to allow that his arguments, and his warnings, and not without merit.

        • Are you suggesting a treaty partnership state would result in a coup? Trotter accepted your summation of his position so he is simply accepting of the old boys club way of doing things. Do you and he have no imagination to think there are alternative ways of leading a country and behaving in society. Naive you will say, no doubt, but simply carrying on with same ole same ole is getting us nowhere fast.

      • @TM and Geoff (below)
        I appreciate his contributions, whether I always agree with them, or not, and we’ve probably mixed in the same circles. (We probably all grew up at a time when NZ’s population was less than half what it is today. We may have relatives or friends that have had, or still work in public service roles, including military, police or spooks, in academia and elsewhere. We may even have relatives or friends that have also been on the arse end of those in public service roles)
        So yes, keep his and others contributions coming – including Mintos and Buchanans.

      • Appreciate your new and long-term overview of the man. Being enthused by his writing for 30 years I sometimes miss the conclusions that can be made.

    • @j. “End of story” Pfft. So you say. You’re joking right? What the fuck’s lovely about watching people bed down under that awful, robot-stiffie anal-probe of a thing sticking up out of a casino? No class dahling.
      Auckland’s a funny, greedy, false-economy little town with less allure than don brash’s three day old G String. Auckland was really only built to allow narcissistic sociopaths to out prance and wank themselves while they syphoned off the money earned by others and by others I mean farmers entranced by national party hype and lies.
      Wikipedia;
      The National Party was formed in May 1936, but its roots go considerably further back. The party came about as the result of a merger between the United Party (known as the Liberal Party until 1927, except for a short period between 1925 and 1927 when it used the name “National Party”) and the Reform Party.[11] The United Party gained its main support from the cities, and drew upon businesses for money and upon middle class electors for votes,[15] while the Reform Party had a rural base and received substantial support from farmers,[16] who then formed a substantial proportion of the population.
      In hopes of countering Labour’s rise, United and Reform decided to turn their alliance into a single party.[19] This party, the New Zealand National Party, was formed at a meeting held in Wellington on 13 and 14 May 1936.
      Auckland’s a grouping of rich scoundrels. Goff’s a neoliberal labour escapee and it still has john banks’ sticky, sweaty little paw prints all over it and you know what they say about giving dogs bad names?
      Since agrarian primary industries are the source of AO/NZ’s export derived income then why, and how, Auckland ???
      ( By that I mean its politics and its inherent crookedness. NOT its people or its physical layout. )

        • All the big spending and tipping crowd swag different.

          New Zealand has millions of fans. Stay committed to all the sacred cash cows.

          Yall stay focused. No mediocre allowed.
          Let’s go.

      • “Auckland’s a grouping of rich scoundrels.”
        If you’re referring to the political structure of Auckland, I agree. But a majority of Auckland *people* are working class victims of rich scoundrels.

  1. I’m certain the sabotaging of Auckland’s long-term livable city prospects, along with its short-term prosperity, by both incompetent bureaucrats and self-serving bureaucrats, along with muddle-headed politicians, will continue unabated until the entire system collapses.

    If it’s any consolation, the same kind of sabotaging has been going on throughout most of NZ for decades, just not to the same extent because the number of debt-slaves and wage-slaves in Auckland is so much higher than elsewhere.

    What makes other regions generally more livable and have far better prospects than Auckland are the lower populations and the much lower preponderance to construct hi-rise out of concrete and steel, and cover vast areas of previously-productive land with concrete and asphalt. But that’s where the easy fast-bucks can be made -constructing hi-rise and covering previously-productive land with concrete and asphalt. Stealing from ratepayers take a bit longer and a bit more cunning.

    • “along with muddle-headed politicians”.. A system forced upon us under the direction of Rodney Hyde, and supported wholesale by the National party, plus it’s lackeys in the fourth estate, is the plaything of bureaucrats, and fellows off the list of party patrons, and enablers.. This was built for a tory mayor to head up.. John Banks in particular.. If Banks had won, Auckland would have been gutted at a much faster rate than it has been.. This was always going to work, when one considers that nationals support came mainly from the beneficiaries of the property bubble deliberately inflated. So a few hundred thousand working class drones being screwed to pay for the theft didn’t even raise a blip on the radar.. Not surprised? …. Aucklanders could vote in Eeyor the donkey, and things would just carry on as usual… It will take central government action to change this, but as with most of the damage done By Keys gang of wreckers, has been set up to make it as difficult as possible to fix.. All the while the news media undermining every step, and playing to the stupidity of the average Kiwi..

    • Exactly right!
      It is an understatement to say that the ‘reforms’ started in the 1980’s have made NZers serfs in our own country – daily millions of dollars flow off-shore to absentee landlords; and the family silver, the product of the toil of generations of NZers, is all but gone.

  2. I think this is a well timed article and hits most of the nails on the head.

    The only thing I have a problem with, is the idea that the people and the public were the ones who didn’t care.

    Absolutely NOT true, so many people tried to stop the Supercity but part of the new culture of the council and government is that consultation ‘is a process’ and the decision is already made before the ‘consultation process’ which is a rubber stamping activity begins. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/2874557/Auckland-super-city-law-passed

    Same with the unitary plan http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/8730623/Votes-go-against-plan-extension. SHA made housing more expensive not less https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/107794977/special-housing-areas-made-homes-5pc-more-expensive-research-says

    When Auckland Council do consultation they now game the system with surveys that only have a couple of options for people to respond to, so is not public consultation.

    Whenever the average person bothers to consult in NZ they are mostly ignored or pilloried for their views and labeled nimbeys or being ignorant self interested parties, until people are too frightened to even attend any public meetings. And it was the left that did a lot of it with the right wingers.

    So the right and the left got what they wanted, the supercity, unitary plan and the SHA, but wait, where are the cheap houses that were supposed to be built after 2013 – it’s been 8 years but seems to have made house building harder, poorer quality and more expensive!

    Why build any houses on existing land zoned for intensity when you can just re-zone land easily and make more money?

    Not just Auckland now, other are moving out of Auckland and expecting the council to re-zone the land for their private practises https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/122627525/youre-taking-our-jobs–huntly-locals-slam-opposition-to-giant-sleepyhead-plan?rm=a – the usual jobs and housing are promised, but like the supercity and unitary plan and SHA – empty promises that turn into a horrible mess that everyone else suffers from while the mess goes on for decades, while setting precedent to get more rich people and businesses having a go at land re-zoning not building on existing land zoned for it.

  3. NZ rich listers seem to be in charge of planning now while the tax payers and rate payers provide money for more infrastructure not actually the housing and infrastructure actually needed in the areas that people currently live….

    Once you get one, more arrive.

    Proposed Sleepyhead Estate may have new neighbours at Ohinewai
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/proposed-sleepyhead-estate-may-have-new-neighbours-at-ohinewai/K3C6DWRDWS6GUJHLRCPYGXUA5M/

    Developers and businesses are ‘rezoning’ nobody is building the cheap housing on the rezoned areas from unity plan and SHA that they ballooned through… because the money is all in re-zoning land.

    Re-zoning ponzi, where you ‘influence’ the outcomes that are not supposed to go a head and are NOT planned for while everyone else in the area suffers!

    the only builders now, are often those doing visa scams, where you get the extra money from bulldozing through the foreign labourers who seem to be paying $50k per person to get here. Nice money! But the taxpayers have to pay for all their housing and health care and schooling and roading and infrastructure…. the Ponzi marches on.

  4. @ Chris. There seems to be a common thread of hate for Council controlled organisations running through a variety of posts to this blogsite in the recent past. In this latest price you complain about the undemocratic nature of CCO’s while at the same time complaining about the enormous amount of ratepayers money being given to overseas companies. I submit to you mr trotter that the answer to stop the bleeding of that amount of money lies with those very same CCO’S. The vital point that many here seem to avoid or be willfully ignorant of is the fact that these organisations exist to provide services like rubbish collection, three waters, parks, libraries, leisure facilities, all core functions of council. The issue is the neolibral obsession with contracting these services out, rather than them being undertaken by council as is their core responsibility. Without CCO’s there would be no other choice but for public money to be given to overseas companies, privitising the profit whilst in almost every case socializing any loss and always leading to increased cost and decreased service levels.

  5. Yeah well… ” Before enlightenment ? Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment? Chop wood, carry water.”
    ( Go Buddha! )
    Before we AO/NZ’ers can expect new things we have to stop doing the same things while expecting different outcomes. ( Go Albert Einstein! )
    That’s why voting must absolutely become mandatory.
    As most of you will know, voting is a choice whereas enrolment isn’t.
    Why is that? Lets see? We must enrol. Why? I think it’s simple. Big Business needs to know the numbers and the demographic vectors to pitch their sales strategies at us to keep the banks happy in their knowledge that we’re working ever harder to build their fiefdoms.
    Voting is of no value to Big Business and the banks. They don’t give a fuck about our rights, needs or desires. They just need YOU to keep being educated and working to keep earning to supply them with the money they need to fund their grotesque lifestyles of excess and waste.
    Think of it this way? The banks must know our age, head count and addresses because they can design pitches to influence our thinking while they, the banks, reach ever deeper into our pockets via the corporates they own and control in that sickly, symbiotic way.
    Which brings me to us voting. The banks will live in fear of us voting. When we must vote we’ll come to understand just how critically important voting is. When we MUST vote, we’ll get a greater understanding of the power of the vote and since 99% of us are essentially good souls then the status quo would reflect that. Instead of remaining a greedy little Laissez-faire south pacific shit hole of frightened, exhausted people being bullied by sociopathic narcissists with the banks on their side to tell them how to fuck us on the deal we’d evolve into a Portugal/Finland utopia. ( Go William S Burrows.)
    Watch this. No. Seriously. Watch this…
    It’s USA-centric but then so are we.
    Boingboing.net/
    “This no-bullshit video perfectly explains why corporations are “embracing” democracy”
    “When sleazy politicians blame corporations on taking sides – like Marco Rubio, who now accuses companies against voter suppression laws of being “woke corporate hypocrites,” or Mitch McConnell, who is suddenly telling corporations to “stay out of politics. Don’t pick sides” – someone needs to set the record straight. Which is exactly what political commentator Leigh McGowan does in this wonderfully clear and concise reminder of where corporations really stand.”
    https://boingboing.net/2021/04/14/this-no-bullshit-video-perfectly-explains-why-corporations-are-embracing-democracy.html
    If our system of government isn’t based around mandatory voting to ensure we maintain our democracy in a way that best serves us then what the fuck do we have instead? No wonder there’s poverty, homelessness and depravation in Gods Own Mate.
    We have to rebuild our AO/NZ. And that must start with the foundations and those foundations are built of mandatory voting.
    If anyone argues against that? Then they’re the fucking enemy of us all.
    Here’s that link again.
    Please ? Watch it.
    https://boingboing.net/2021/04/14/this-no-bullshit-video-perfectly-explains-why-corporations-are-embracing-democracy.html

    • Quite right. Call the Covidline 0800 358 5453 and see how much personal info they want from you, before they will tell you where to get a covid test. 5 or 6 pieces of info including ethnic group.

  6. You absolutely can not trust council and government figures anymore in their 10 year plans.

    In this case the ‘independent consultants’ were out by 5 million dollars on 7.7 million of spending to justify closing a community pool.

    The person who spotted the error was the swim coach.

    Nobody trusts the councils because this keeps happening.

    Christchurch council said it would cost $7.7m to keep a community pool open – but its calculations were wrong by $5m
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/124849895/christchurch-council-said-it-would-cost-77m-to-keep-a-community-pool-open–but-its-calculations-were-wrong-by-5m

    Not just the management consultants, their engineers don’t work either. You would think after the CTV building collapse and massive loss of life the councils would value quality in their engineers. But nope!

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/113226624/new-engineer-spotted-alleged-defects-in-christchurch-highrise-from-the-street

  7. Good commentary, Chris.
    But what you have not mentioned is that the 20 councillors were in fact given a large amount of power under legislation (aside from those given to CCOs), but in the first term of the SuperCity, it was all delegated away to the council officers on the pretext that decisions would take too long if they needed signoff from councillors. But while the delegation can be recalled on any matter, for any reason, it is not used because councillors are either unaware of the ability to recall it, or choose to believe officers when they incorrectly say that a particular matter is operational and therefore not within their decisionmaking realm. The same applies to all local boards.
    When it comes to CCOs, only Auckland Transport and Watercare are enshrined in legislation. The others could be dissolved by councillors and replaced by committees of council, if they so wished.
    By the way, Auckland Transport has the ability to delegate any decision to councillors or local boards (such as decisionmaking over local roads), but as far as I’m aware, has never chosen to exercise this.

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