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Competitive Super City Sucks

Competitive Super City sucks

Citizens Against Privatisation submission to the Royal Commission of Inquiry

on Auckland Local Government Restructuring, as presented (subheadings added)

by Rose Hollins, July 7 2008

[The submitter was greeted by the Hon Peter Salmon, chair of the Royal Commission, David Shand (recent chair of the Rates Inquiry Panel), and Dame Margaret Bazley, and advised in their standard manner that the Commission had read Citizens Against Privatisation's written submission.]

My name is Rose Hollins and I'm one of two spokespeople for Citizens Against Privatisation - our other, Mered Barrar, has already appeared before you.

I want to start by greeting and acknowledging us ordinary people who are most of the population, our brothers and sisters of the working class in this rohe and to the north and south, ngā tāngata whenua, tāngata whaiora, tāngata whakaherehere, tāngata kaimahi, rōpū kaimahi, that is, the working people of this community and of the world, whether in work or deprived of work and livelihood. Tēnā koutou! Tēnā koutou! Tēnā koutou katoa!

I must first endorse the submission we just heard from Denys Trussell & Bob Tait, for Friends of the Earth NZ, and our obviously strong agreement with their arguments against privatisation and for greater democracy.

Introduction: Big Business Drives Ak Super City Process

Citizens Against Privatisation's (CAP's) written pro-forma submission, which opposes any restructuring of Auckland local government unless it's for greater democracy, is addressed to the Royal Commission, the government/government-to-be, our Councils, employers and landlords.

Why? Because your appointment by the Crown to deliberate on the future of local government here was the clear culmination of several years of unrelenting pressure on government by those who identify - themselves - as big business and the rich. And specifically as our Councils, employers and landlords. Who have certainly been organising in their own interests and who have a lot to gain.

Citizens Against Privatisation has documented this backwards and forwards from the abortive Four Mayors' - and two big businessmen's - secret Super City coup, as it became known, launched on Sept 7 2006, which nevertheless attracted the personal attendance of the Prime Minister and key Cabinet Ministers.

Stephen Tindall, known for The Warehouse, Sustainable Business Council and the private Growth and Innovation Advisory Board (GIAB), and Nick Main, a Champion for the Committee for Auckland and/or for the Metro Project Action Plan, were soon named as authors of the plan for this instant restructuring attempt, in a Metro Magazine article. Which also extolled the wonderfully disruptive presence of our friends Penny Bright and Lisa Prager merely by asking where the Mayors thought they got the right to take us over.

From the Horses' Mouth...

Metro Magazine isn't our usual reading. Any more than the vast majority of business organisations', from the Local Government Forum to GIAB, Business NZ, & the Metro Project, own documents are: their submissions to annual plans, media releases, Councils' agendas and minutes, Rates Inquiry terms of reference, National Business Review (NBR) series and Granny Herald's Super City business supplements; in all of which and more we've tracked this process, which are as far-left-wing as Metro - not at all! Does hearing it from the horses' mouth add credence? It's hard to see why not.

Of course by Sept 15 2006 the protests of all the unconsulted Councillors and the other Mayors in the region had resulted not in burial but revival of this dead duck coup, into an Auckland Regional Council (ARC) initiative for planning Stronger Auckland instead - before Xmas. Which really wasn't too different from the first effort - quite bad enough in its implications for us ordinary people - though it actually ruled out any Council boundary changes for a start.

But it wasn't bad enough for the 'step change' cheerleaders for a One Auckland, One Voice, city state with no business differentials any more, so it fell to the Minister of Local Govt, Mark Burton, to announce your Commission in the same media release as he encouraged StrongerAk, become the Regional Sustainable Development Forum, to continue work separately on the One Plan for Auckland, until the same finishing date as yours, December 1st this year. After the elections, for a new government to deal with.

When the Employers and Manufacturers (EMA Nthn), NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) and One Auckland Trust (Grant Kirby), united under their FixAuckland.com banner, rejoiced publicly at the great victory the announcement of this Royal Commission represented for their campaign, should us ordinary people have regarded them as deluded? Or as a very confident and powerful pressure group on a roll? Representing, in fact, the class that rules the rest of us.

NO General Studies of 1989 Amalgamation Here, No Good Results Elsewhere

The sole NZ study on the effects of the 1989 local government amalgamations, by Rouse & Putterill, has already been mentioned this morning, and you Commissioners have said you have a copy. It showed no proven benefits from amalgamation, in its narrow field of highway management by Territorial Local Authorities (TLAs aka Councils).

There has now been exhaustive trawling and reviews of international studies on amalgamations, both for the Regional Sustainable Development Forum process and your Royal Commission. They show at best no proven benefits or savings, but also the trend to the opposite of economies of scale: that bigger costs more.

As noted in the McKinley Douglas study [for Local Government NZ], the UK has recently turned right around to start planning for what they call "double decentralisation" and very local control of community services, resulting from the bad experience there of much highly centralised restructuring imposed by the state for their rich and big business.

So why would local government amalgamation here be under consideration at all?

We know the answer, which seems not to be the focus of these overseas studies and could well be a reason no comprehensive studies of amalgamation have been done here, in 18 years: WHO pays? WHO has been paying more since 1989 and Rogernomics brought wholesale overhaul of economic structures in New Zealand - commercialisation and corporatisation, contracting-out and privatisation, hand in hand with almost total absence of legal defences for community interests, and Councils' business being conducted in commercial secrecy behind closed doors.

An "Internationally Competitive City" Sucks - Co-operation Rules!

The Royal Commission's website Questions & Answers inform us that you were established because the Government considered you could "Provide ... a broad and independent assessment of what is needed to achieve Auckland’s potential to be a truly internationally competitive city to live, work and do business". in.

Auckland as a "truly internationally competitive city" is anathema to us.

Our interest as ordinary people is in co-operation, locally, regionally and globally. Not competition. Any government's wishes on the matter are not ours. Why would ordinary working people here or anywhere want to compete, to drive down even more our already unliveably low wages? Or to further worsen our working and social conditions?

It's no comfort to us at all that this Commission has visibly welcomed the nightmare schemes of the Committee for Auckland and its Champions, for instance, who want to extend the reach of their City State and its dictatorially empowered Great Mayor of All, to encompass even the poverty-trapping remnants of what was once called social welfare. To have power and funding in one-third of the country to match central government's. Or that the Metro Project Action Plan and its Champions have put "labour market reform" for a "skilled and responsive workforce" near the top of their 31 Actions.

Even a NZ Herald columnist who supports a Super City was so enraged by this that he declared, "When the men in suits start using those sort of phrases, it's time for the workers to unite. And to come up with a more palatable vision of a future Auckland ourselves." Hear, hear, of course!

Vertically Integrated Water Services Swamped by Landslide of Community Opinion

It just so happens Citizens Against Privatisation already did, on a lesser scale, along with the Water Pressure Groups Auckland and Papakura, and water activists from Manukau and the North Shore, united in the People's Option Coalition against the Auckland Regional Water Review in 2001. When the Water Review refused to include our Option 4, the People's Option, we swamped their three commercial options with more than 4,500 postcards - to their total 2,200-odd - summarising our uncommercialised, re-democratised structure for water services in the region.

Which included properly adequate substantial Māori representation as of right, and mechanisms for real accountability to the community, of water watchdogs elected to run an efficient, co-operative, conservation-capable structure, at cost, with no obstructive business imperatives, no corporatisation, no contracting-out.

Our structure reluctantly had its flaws, with City Vision-Labour-inclined members who could not exclude SABUs, so-called Stand-Alone Business Units, where they existed already.

This wasn't so unusual for groups such as ours that have never been composed of liberal lefties, but reflect the community as it is, in all its energy, experience and ignorance - left, right and centre, and always of necessity organising defensively. Because we don't run the world, as things stand us ordinary people work our guts out to survive it. We'd expect a proletarian democracy to achieve vastly improved relationships for common wellbeing, way beyond such structures of capitalism fit only for exploitation.

The Water Review said it spent a quarter of a million dollars promoting itself. We spent nothing except heaps of heated meetings hammering out the best compromise we could construct, and much time and effort distributing the postcards that flooded back, all via Judith Tizard's Auckland Issues parliamentary office.

Our People's Option Coalition beat vertical integration of Auckland region water services then, hands-down, and that threat of centralisation which would set up our water services for privatisation went underground for seven years.

Now it's back, in your considerations, in the One Plan machinations - along with similar corporatised integration of everything from rates, to libraries, to roads and transport - and implicitly or worse as a public private partnership recommendation, in the Rates Inquiry Report. Back, as if it's already a fait accompli. Is it any wonder we know that the community is not listened to?

Terms of Reference say Royal Commission MUST Take Rates Inquiry into Account...

Should there be any question of the relevance here, of the Rates Inquiry recommendations, can I direct you to "Matters to be taken into account". High in the Terms of Reference of your Commission, the Crown "declare(s) that ... you must ... take into account the implications of the findings of the Independent Inquiry into Local Government Rates for local government arrangements in the Auckland region".

As opposed to "you may investigate and receive representations" on all other "relevant matters" subsequently listed there.

Which seems to me to indicate that the very strongest stipulation of your deliberations is on the Rates Inquiry recommendations, above all the rest. Must, compared with, may, looks pretty clear.

However, in Sections 20 & 21 of your Outline of Issues (aka Call for Submissions), S21 asserts that regardless of relevant public views on funding of local government, apparently because you are "required to have regard to the findings of the 2007 Commission of Inquiry into Local Government Rates" ... the Commission "does not propose to address this matter in detail but to rely largely on the conclusions of that Inquiry".

But S20 above has already stressed, by highlighting the sentence, that "Submitters can comment on any matters relevant to the terms of reference that are not covered under the five issues we have identified."

Citizens Against Privatisation can't possibly address in any detail the very grave neoliberal implications for us ordinary people of the 96 main Recommendations of the Rates Inquiry, but we do accept from this our ability to comment on them as relevantly offered here.

Having the world re-arranged over our heads is not new, but given Rates Inquiry Recommendations 73 & 74:

73 That section 82 of the Local Government Act 2002 be amended to limit council discretion in the means of applying the consultation principles.

and

74 That the current consultation processes be replaced by more selective and streamlined consultation arrangements.

We think that it may be now or never if we are going to speak up at least, before even the current inadequate and ignored democratic processes vanish altogether.

Rates Inquiry Recommendations NOT the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

So let me tell you that we have noted the Rates Inquiry Recommendation to abolish business differentials, a mega-$million further shift of the burden of funding community services, off businesses that profit from infrastructure, onto households that merely live by means of it.

And on into flat and user charges, inevitably, to protect the rich from paying "more than their share". To the cost of low-value, low-income households and most of all, to the cost of renters who can't afford to own the roof over their heads. That the Recommendation is that this abolition take five years, no doubt because, it's such a huge transfer of funding. But that this remains completely uncosted nevertheless within the Rates Inquiry Report, as far as I was able to see.

We've noted too the promotion there of public private partnerships, PPPs, especially for roads and water; and the thin end of a wedge - via rightly unrateable Māori land - that could eventually lead logically to poll taxes, with the apparent launch of a novel concept of local body funding divorced from property values. Just the thing for Michael Barnett [head of Ak Chamber of Commerce, Metro Project, ARC Councillor] and Alasdair Thompson [head of EMA Nthn] to dream on.

A recent study of similar Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs), in the UK showed, in six internal financial projections, investors recouping 12 times more than they invested, and public agencies paying up to twice as much as necessary for 700 PFI developments. In the case of one hospital, equity of 100 pounds was projected to earn 89 million pounds in dividends over 30 years. No laughing matter for us and our essential services. Or the would-be new industry owners.

We spelt out in our submission to the Rates Inquiry our analysis of the ongoing shift of the rates burden from big business and the rich onto us majority poorer people. That there was no need to look for an alternative to rates because Councils had already found them, or, more precisely, been legislatively provided with them:

targeted, flat, and user charges. So that in this region, as much as 80% or more of rates on low-value homes are not progressive property-valued rates at all, but flat and user charges.

Back in 1998 or 1999, I and others were there in the Auckland City Council chambers, delivering 21,000 or 15,000 - depending which year it was - pro-forma submissions for abolition of MetroWater in the Annual Plan, when Alex Swyney, now of Heart of the City, delivered his successful submission for big business in the CBD [Central Business District] that has since seen their rates lowered automatically by $2million to $3million every year, transferred onto household rates. We know what we're talking about.

[Here, the Hon Peter Salmon interjected to tell the speaker she had taken 20 minutes already, and that they appreciated how much work we had done in the community but really could not see the relevance of hearing more.

Rose Hollins replied that the Commission needed to have regard to these illustrative examples of community resistance in the light of their deliberations on restructuring the region [again] over our heads...

Chair Salmon asked how much longer she would take, and being told, five minutes, suggested that the remainder be summarised.]

The Community Can and Will Fight Back

We expect that the community will defend itself, as it always has, to the best of its ability, against all these impoverishing plans as they arrive. We don't expect that we will necessarily defeat any of them. Which is another reason why I'm here, now.

Citizens Against Privatisation has always worked across, as well as within, Council boundaries. We have used our rights to protest and make submissions with the community in any Council area and on central government plans or bills: against water privatisation in Papakura in 1997; Te Kauwhata landfill and jail in the Waikato; the Waikato pipeline inlet in Franklin; toilet pan charges in Rodney and North Shore, as well as successfully in Waitakere City in great co-operation with the NZEI teachers' union; against the establishment of Manukau Water Ltd, and of course for abolition of Metrowater and commercialised water in Auckland City.

Our efforts in solidarity with its workers in 1997 have kept the Waitakere City Vehicle Testing Station in Council ownership to this day, and to this day our work and community outrage which threw out the Water LATE Establishment Board also in 1997 has kept Waitakere City water uncommercialised.

With two community rock concerts and a three-week land occupation, Citizens Against Privatisation were instrumental in saving the remains of the Harbour Board land in Te Atatu North from the Council's gentrifying development body Waitakere Properties Ltd, followed by active support for the promise of [a non-'Plastic Fantastic'] Te Atatu Marae as part of the resulting Peoples Park. We have protested in solidarity with the ultimately triumphant people of Cochabamba, Bolivia, and rejoiced with South Africa's Anti-Privatisation Forum in their recent legal victory against pre-paid metered water.

All Three Royal Commissioners are Part of Our History

In July 1998 CAP members initiated the public defence of professional firefighters jobs, in the Community Support Network for Firefighters, which co-ordinated Community Defence Teams in rallying and regularly occupying up to 25 local fire stations in solidarity with firefighters, and against profits by insurance companies from nationwide privatisation and downgrading of our fire service.

The success of our community actions in co-ordination with the firefighters' union resulted in replacement of the privatiser Roger Estall with yourself, Dame Margaret Bazley, as chair of the Fire Service Commission.

We addressed you, David Shand, during the Rates Inquiry, and organised a public meeting in West Auckland, timed for the Rates Inquiry panel to attend, for the express purpose of providing an opportunity outside working hours for ordinary people to have their say to you. No Rates Inquiry consultation took place that was accessible for working people, because the panel declined to attend our meeting.

And of course you may recall, Judge Salmon, that you presided in the High Court over the case of Gladwin and Bright v Metrowater, ruling that water contracts were turned on entire with the tap, similar to Telecom contracts, and that water belonged under the Commerce Act.

Thereby making Auckland City's water services totally vulnerable to the General Agreement on Trades & Services (GATS), as well as cementing-in a profiteering, commercially secret water LATE for this city. Those two defendants were members, like myself, of the Water Pressure Group, sister organisation to Citizens Against Privatisation, of which Jim Gladwin was also a founding member.

Adoption of Submissions By a Councillor and a Council Workers' Union

Tony Holman, North Shore City Councillor and member of the Regional Sustainable Development Forum, has made eloquent submissions to you, including on the implications of trade agreements, and on the issues of democracy and the entirely questionable legality of a Royal Commission to rule on Auckland's future over all our heads.

We share his objections to your appointment to do that, and I commend to you his submission on these matters, which are expressed better than we can do. We ourselves have had much more than a theoretical understanding of the threat posed to public services by so-called free trade, since two of us in CAP took part in the 1998 hikoi to Wellington against the MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment) - which helped to defeat it.

From the point of view of those who still work for Councils, I'd also like to commend to you the submission from the Southern Local Government Officers Union, in Canterbury/Otago, for its eminently expressed democratic goodwill by Council officers of a kind we could all do with more of.

Not on our backs

We're not optimistic that your Commission will decide to do nothing, given the weight behind your brief, the parallel One Plan process, and the forces which are driving the process.

We've seen the anti-democratic, anti-social functioning of both local and central governments continue through multiple election changes, in Council areas across this region and beyond. It's no secret whose Single Voice would wield a One Plan and who would pay. Even Roger Kerr of the Business Round Table has the sense to recognise the paucity of this thinking.

The marvellous competitive visions of enterprising businesspeople who want to run not just our lives but our city and the region, one-third of the country, unelected, unopposable by any mechanisms in law - are obscene. They don't want to pay, but the less they pay, the more they want.

We have never objected to paying our share for our community services and infrastructure, and never demanded lower taxes or lower rates. But we do expect those who profit from those services and infrastructure to pay their share, to pay extra and to pay more. However, it is apparent that the less they pay, the more they want.

Not on our backs.

[Hon Peter Salmon, Chair, and Dame Margaret Bazley thank the submitter. No questions are asked by the Commission, and no background documents, supporting references, or follow-up studies for illumination of points made in CAP's submission are asked for.]

end


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