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Overview Of The ARC


Overview Of The ARC

'It¹s time to RAM the ARC!'

Opinion piece based on speech at RAM¹s meeting with ARC 6.4.04

by Grant Morgan RAM spokesperson

Most citizens have been treated very badly by the ruling faction of the Auckland Regional Council. That¹s the belief of RAM ­ Residents Action Movement.

The ARC¹s actions have been so unfair and dictatorial that RAM sees them as economic and political crimes against the grassroots majority.

The strategic clause of the Local Government Act says (in full): ³The purpose of local government is ­ (a) to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and (b) to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities, in the present and for the future.² (s.10)

The law speaks of decision-making that is ³democratic². This word comes from two Greek words: ³demos², which means ³people², and ³kratia², which means ³rule². Put together, ³people¹s rule².

But ³people¹s rule² has been the last thing on the minds of ARC chair Gwen Bull and her ruling faction. That¹s why they turned their backs on the biggest Rates Revolt in New Zealand history.

The Rates Revolt was a spontaneous upsurge from the grassroots. It wasn¹t called into existence by any one individual. No individual can honestly claim the credit for what was, in fact, the creative impulse of the masses. Even so, special mention should go to John Drury, chair of Orewa Residents & Ratepayers Association, who started the protest petitions which 40,000 signed.

Most of those taking part in the Rates Revolt were law-abiding citizens with no history of political activism. What made them refuse to pay their ARC rates and, by so doing, challenge the law?

The many answers that rates boycotters give to this question flow into two intertwining streams: first, economic injustice, and second, abuse of democracy.

Last year, the ARC hit grassroots homeowners with rate rises of 50%, 100%, 200%, 300% and more. People were left reeling from these extortionate rises, which are best described as economic thuggery by a political machine.

Meanwhile the ARC¹s ruling faction had axed the business differential, giving a rates holiday to the corporates. Some big firms walked away with over $1 million each, courtesy of the ARC¹s generosity to an already privileged business elite. This was the main reason why homeowners¹ rates went through the roof.

Sandra Coney, a dissenting ARC councillor, used her own rates bill to show that five-sevenths of the increase was due to axing the business differential.

It¹s not surprising that corporate lobbyists, like Business NZ and the Employers & Manufacturers Association, sing the praises of the ARC¹s rating policy.

According to Mrs Bull, it¹s ³fair² for the richest corporation to be rated on exactly the same basis as the poorest homeowner. Yet flat rates, like flat taxes and flat charges, always hit the grassroots majority much harder than the privileged elite.

And businesses cancel out their rates with GST refunds, tax rebates and cost-plus pricing, while receiving many more benefits from council services than homeowners.

At its height, the Rates Revolt embraced at least 100,000 non-payers, one-quarter of all residential ratepayers across greater Auckland. A political earthquake of such force can only erupt when the vast majority of citizens are driven by a sense of outraged injustice.

Clearly, the vast majority felt that the ARC¹s ruling faction were not acting in a democratic manner to promote the well-being of their community, contrary to what the law states.

Has that sense of outraged injustice gone away? No, it hasn¹t. As of 19 March 2004 there were still 66,000 non-payers, according to an ARC reply to my official information request. And that was over a month after the ARC had sent a bullying letter to non-payers threatening ³action² in ³seven days².

In fact, the ARC has yet to make any decision to take ³action² over unpaid rates. Legal proceedings could have started over three months ago. Each delay exposes the weak position of the ruling faction. They fear another wave of protest if they start picking on anyone.

And even if the ARC does take a ³test case² to court, the October council elections will intervene before the legal process can be finished. If, as seems likely, the poll delivers a RAM-led ARC, we would immediately stop any court cases. And RAM will offer legal help to any ³test case² and organise mass protests.

Last year, in a bid to defuse the Rates Revolt, Mrs Bull promised to ³review² the ARC¹s rating policy in 2004. Has anything changed? No, nothing at all.

A few weeks ago, Mrs Bull and a majority on the ARC voted to support exactly the same rating policy as last year ­ including no business differential. That¹s now the ³proposed method² in the ARC¹s draft plan for 2004-5, due to be finalised on 28 June.

At the same time, the ARC¹s ruling faction have gone into overdrive to show they¹re ³consulting the people². In the latest ARC newsletter Region Wide, Mrs Bull promises that ³we are prepared to make changes if that is the widely expressed view of the community².

But the dice is loaded against a single ³widely expressed view² emerging as a competitor to the ARC¹s ³proposed method² of rating. That¹s because the ARC offers us three ³variations² to their one ³proposed method². In other words, the ruling faction want public opposition to be split three ways, so giving their preferred policy an unfair advantage.

While two of the three ³variations² would restore a business differential, it¹s been set at such a low level (only 1.5 times the residential rate) that it goes nowhere near reversing last year¹s rate hikes.

So the ARC¹s ³variations² are really a crafty combination of sham concessions and divide-and-rule. The ruling faction are hoping to make themselves electable in October without putting right the injustices they¹ve inflicted on grassroots ratepayers. In effect, it¹s taxpayer-funded election propaganda by the besieged group running the ARC.

All the evidence shows that the ARC¹s ruling faction are hostile to people¹s rule ­ the essence of true democracy. They have practiced undemocratic decision-making to promote the well-being of a corporate elite. That¹s why RAM calls them ³corporate politicians².

RAM, which grew out of the rates boycott committee, is the political voice of the Rates Revolt. Unlike our political rivals, RAM is a broad people¹s coalition organised region-wide around a Grassroots Manifesto.

In October¹s council elections, RAM is standing a full team against all ten of the ARC¹s corporate politicians. (We¹re also supporting the three ARC councillors on our side ­ Sandra Coney, Paul Walbran and Mike Lee.)

A RAM-led ARC will deliver: € ECONOMIC JUSTICE. We will reverse the rate hikes and restore the business differential. € TRANSPORT SANITY. We will stop the Eastern Motorway and promote public transport. € GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY. We will expand democracy by inviting grassroots organisations into the centre of ARC decision-making.

Albert Einstein, the world¹s most famous scientist, liked to say: ³Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which the problems were created.²

The formation of RAM gives the grassroots the best chance ever to create a new ³framework² for the ARC. It¹s time to RAM the ARC!

NOTE: Also available as a Word document - just email back. Free for publication so long as author acknowledged.

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