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The Auckland Parliament Option

RAM media release 24.11.06

The Auckland Parliament Option

All elected mayors, councillors and community board members across the Auckland region are being contacted about a RAM submission on local government reorganisation that will be presented to the Auckland Regional Council this Saturday.

Local body reorganisation is being linked to the waterfront stadium fiasco.

RAM stands for Residents Action Movement. We are a broad coalition formed to contest regional council elections. There is currently one RAM councillor, Robyn Hughes, elected onto the ARC from Manukau City.

We disagree with all three of the local government reorganisation "options" on the table at present.

RAM is asking elected representatives to respond to our proposal for a new option, which we're calling the Auckland Parliament option.

As the name suggests, it calls for the establishment of an Auckland Parliament composed of all existing mayors, councillors and community board members.

Democracy demands an Auckland Parliament

Grant Morgan
for RAM (Residents Action Movement)

24 November 2006

The waterfront stadium fiasco exposes the democratic deficit that is sidelining elected representatives of the Auckland region's citizens.

Ministers of central government seem intent on colonising the Auckland waterfront despite a huge "No!" from the region's majority who oppose the stadium on the grounds of location, design, cost, lack of consultation and other factors.

The "community consultation" supposed to happen under the Local Government Act 2002 has been effectively replaced by the serious arm twisting of councillors behind the scenes.

This disgusting state of affairs, which could be called many names but never "democracy", is in part a product of the region's Balkanised local bodies. A patchwork of eight councils and a swarm of community boards has no institutional power to resist a centralised agenda set in Helen's Beehive and corporate boardrooms. Divide and conquer is the name of the game.

Reorganisation of Auckland local government

Running parallel with the stadium-you're-going-to-get-no-matter-what-you-say issue, but with a far lower profile, are radical moves from "on high" to reorganise local government across the Auckland region.

This reorganisation is being pitched in marketing language ¬ often ambiguous and always promising. However, the overall thrust of all three "options" on offer is to reduce the power of elected councillors and community board members over the policies, assets and functions of local government.

More powers will flow to senior bureaucrats, government appointees and other unelected apparatchiks.

Undemocratic trends of recent years

This will accelerate the undemocratic trends of recent years, such as:
• Under National government pressure, the region's public bus service was sold off to corporate profit-makers whose extravagent ticket price rises and demands for council subsidies are becoming a major scandal.

• Labour government legislation now bans the regional council from starting up its own bus fleet if it operates on the principle of public service rather than commercial profits.

• Labour government legislation opened the way for Transit, in alliance with big business, to begin a pressure campaign to impose unpopular road tolls on Auckland citizens while turning a blind eye to the region's Third World public transport.

• Labour government legislation has put passenger rail under the control of Auckland Regional Transport Authority functionaries who are required to disregard the operational preferences of elected local government representatives.

• Labour government legislation has put the publicly-owned port company under a corporate-dominated Auckland Regional Holdings board which is required to put commercial profits ahead of public service.

• Under National government pressure, stewardship over the region's water was taken away from the regional council and split up between territorial councils whose water companies must put commercial gains first.

• With Labour government approval, a Mayoral Forum is accumulating unprecedented political power into the hands of the region's seven territorial mayors and the regional council chair at the expense of councillors and community board members.

• With Labour government approval, the Employers & Manufacturers Association, Chamber of Commerce, Heart of the City and other instruments of corporate Auckland have gained a stranglehold over council decision-making ¬ as shown by big business string-pulling in the waterfront stadium proposal.

All current options increase democratic deficit

Such undemocratic trends should alert citizens to be very concerned about the latest proposals to reorganise local government in the Auckland region.

How would citizens respond if they were bluntly asked: Do you want more local government power passing into the hands of an unelected elite? Since the answer is so obvious, the language used to sell the radical restructuring has to be so slippery.

None of the three current "options" for local government reorganisation address the democratic deficit. Just the opposite. All of them would, to one degree or another, erode the electoral principle in favour of unelected power. Today's parliamentary restrictions on democratic accountability by the boards of Metrowater, Auckland Regional Holdings and Auckland Regional Transport Authority would spread to many other areas of local government.

The Auckland Parliament option

Clearly, we need another option. That's why the option of an Auckland Parliament is being put forward for public consideration by the executive of RAM (Residents Action Movement).

A powerful institution like an Auckland Parliament, which involves all elected representatives of the region's existing councils and community boards, could defeat the divide-and-conquer strategy long employed by central government and its corporate and bureaucratic allies.

The baseline principle of an Auckland Parliament would be a revival of electoral democracy.

The main elements of an Auckland Parliament might be:
• All of the region's elected mayors and councillors and community board members (about 290 in total) would form the Auckland Parliament.

• All members of the Auckland Parliament would have an equal voice and vote, with a simple majority deciding all disputed issues. This would run counter to the present undemocratic hierarchy of dictatorial mayors, important committee chairs, mostly ignored councillors and invisible community board members.

• The Auckland Parliament would sit every three months for a session lasting up to a week. Members would decide the overarching strategy, policy and administration of the region's local government.

• All existing structures of local government (seven territorial councils, one regional council and a raft of community boards) would remain in place, although the Auckland Parliament may make influential decisions on overarching matters.

• Since exactly the same elected representatives of councils and community boards as we have now would comprise the members of the Auckland Parliament, there would be no extra salary costs. And since the Auckland Parliament could slice away costly duplication of administration across the region, it should be a political reform that more than pays for itself.

• The Auckland Parliament could begin the political process of wresting control of the region's assets, institutions and policies away from unelected bureaucrats, corporate executives and central government.

• If a strong majority of the region's citizens and their elected representatives back an Auckland Parliament, we won't have to wait for central government's approval or enabling legislation. After all, the Mayoral Forum was established without any specific legislative authority. This precedent can be used to establish another forum that's far more democratic ¬ an Auckland Parliament.

Others invited to become co-sponsors

These are RAM's suggestions. We invite other Auckland citizens, especially the elected representatives of councils and community boards, to become co-sponsors of the Auckland Parliament option if they support the broad concept, leaving aside any divergence over details.

An Auckland Parliament could become the voice of democracy wanted by most citizens!


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