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Democracy At The ARC

Democracy At The ARC

RAM will expand grassroots democracy

Opinion piece based on speech at RAM¹s meeting with ARC 6.4.04

by Grant Morgan RAM spokesperson

In last year¹s draft plan, the Auckland Regional Council proposed axing the business differential ­ meaning a rates holiday for big business at the expense of most homeowners.

The ARC organised many forms of ³public consultation² on the draft plan. These revealed majority opposition to ending the differential. Out of 592 written submissions, for instance, only a handful of corporate lobbyists backed the proposal.

But the ARC went ahead anyhow ­ and sparked a massive Rates Revolt.

The council¹s ruling faction defended their policy process by saying they had ³consulted the community², as required under the Local Government Act.

This Act, passed in 2002 by the Labour government, is supposed to promote ³democratic² decision-making in the interests of community well-being.

The minister of local government, Chris Carter, was asked to ³review² the ARC by Elaine West, chair of Auckland City Residents & Ratepayers, who organised the first regional Rates Revolt meeting. Her appeal was co-signed by Barry Wilson, a lawyer, who is president of the Auckland Council for Civil Liberties.

But Mr Carter refused to intervene, saying the ARC had followed the ³consultation principles² set out in the Local Government Act.

In effect, the local government minister was claiming that ³consultation² equals ³democracy². Yet events have proven otherwise.

The ARC¹s ruling faction did ³consult². Not getting the answer they wanted to hear, however, they forced a wildly unpopular policy onto the grassroots majority ­ to the cheers of a corporate elite.

But serving a tiny minority at the expense of the vast majority is not ³majority rule² or ³people¹s rule², which is the essence of real democracy.

Mr Carter¹s words expose the limitations of Labour¹s law.

Clearly, the grassroots cannot rely on the existing law for protection. We have to rely on ourselves to change things for the better.

The expansion of grassroots democracy is probably the most far-reaching policy of RAM ­ Residents Action Movement.

RAM is the political voice of the Rates Revolt. In October¹s council elections, a RAM team will be standing against all ten councillors responsible for the ARC¹s unfair rates.

Our draft Manifesto pledges that a RAM-led ARC will form ³strategic alliances with grassroots organisations² such as Greypower, unions, community groups, churches, local iwi and ethnic associations.

These strategic alliances will place grassroots organisations at the centre of ARC decision-making.

When important new matters arise, a ³People¹s Assembly² will be convened by a RAM-led ARC based on our close ties with grassroots organisations. This will allow broad debates on which course of action serves the well-being of the vast majority.

A RAM-led ARC will limit rate rises to the inflation index unless a public mandate has been secured.

³This mandate must be a clear majority of the region¹s residents, not merely the sham of Œpublic consultation¹ that at present allows a rich and powerful business minority to dictate council policy,² says the RAM Manifesto.

The vast majority of people, who are now ³consulted² as a way of keeping them sidelined, will get a real voice under RAM¹s practical measures to expand grassroots democracy. We believe that people should be in charge of their own destiny.

That, of course, isn¹t to the liking of the ARC¹s corporate politicians.

At four public meetings hosted by RAM on 27-28 March across greater Auckland, a resolution was passed calling for ³the ARC to convene a People¹s Assembly, embracing a wide range of grassroots organisations, to debate the draft plan before it¹s voted on by councillors².

I emailed this resolution to all ARC councillors, asking them to call a People¹s Assembly ³to demonstrate the ARC is really serious about Œpublic consultation¹ on its draft plan². I offered RAM¹s help to get it off the ground.

Several days later, ARC chair Gwen Bull emailed back. She pointed to six ARC meetings where councillors and officials ³will be on hand to answer questions², and mentioned a ³questionaire² inside the ARC newsletter Region Wide.

While Mrs Bull didn¹t respond directly to the request for a People¹s Assembly, her reply amounted to a veto of the proposal. It seems that the ARC¹s ruling faction still prefer ³consultation² to ³democracy².

I ask the ARC to have a rethink. I ask that the ARC convene a People¹s Assembly to debate the draft plan.

Will the ARC say ³yes² to this democratic proposal?

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

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