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The future of Auckland

The future of Auckland

Speech
Hon Phil Goff
Mt Albert War Memorial Hall
Auckland.

I’ve asked you to come along today because there are some big decisions being made about the future of Auckland.

I want changes to Auckland. There’s no question there have to be changes to the way Auckland is run, so that Auckland runs better.

But the way the Government’s going about it is wrong.

National has handed the city over to Rodney Hide, and he is making changes that will make Auckland’s governance less transparent and accountable, and less responsive to Auckland.

And because those changes go in the wrong direction, Auckland is less likely to become the city it can be, less likely to offer opportunities, jobs and an exciting future, less likely to offer our families a world class place to live.

So today I want to spell out what Labour would do differently.

I am making clear and explicit pledges about the principles we will follow.

Before I go into the detail of those, I want to be clear about the city I want Auckland to become.

And I want to outline what is broken, and what the government is making worse in the changes it is imposing on Auckland.

I want Auckland to be a great place to live; a city that offers not just a brilliant lifestyle, but also the opportunity that comes with being New Zealand’s gateway to the world.

I grew up in this city. I have always considered it a great place to live.

And so does the Economist and Mercer Associates. They respectively rank it tenth and fifth best city in the world for quality of life.

I enjoy the harbours and the beaches, from the wild surf out West, to the inner harbour and the Gulf. Over Easter I took a quick break and went fishing off Waiheke. Caught a few, too.

Then we went tramping in the Hunua Ranges.

Thousands of others spent the same break enjoying the parks and the iconic landscape from Rangitoto and One Tree Hill to the Waitakeres and our volcanic cones.

The lifestyle is great and, generally, so is the climate.

But we also need to ensure this city is full of opportunity.

It has to be a city where any young Aucklander can grow up aspiring to a good job, with the income to buy a home and raise a family.

Good jobs that offer good incomes. Smart jobs where skills are rewarded and people who make an effort can enjoy the rewards.

The economy is the key ingredient in this recipe. A growing economy will provide the jobs our young people need.

Without economic growth we won’t have the wealth to invest in modern infrastructure, public transport, and an inspired built environment.

But if we don’t invest in infrastructure, in electricity supply, our port, telecommunications, transport and water supply, the city’s economy won’t perform at its best.

If we don’t build a great downtown and waterfront and a modern way of getting around the city, we won’t attract the visitors and skilled migrants we need.

It is a virtuous circle.

Auckland is a gateway for people, goods, services, ideas, data, and finance.

The population of an international scale city generates the creative and intellectual energy that drives a modern economy.

Economists say that Auckland’s economic output falls short of what it should be for a city this size.

We can make this city an economic power house. And it will benefit all of New Zealand.

We have to make Auckland succeed.

It is New Zealand’s portal to the world, the gateway for investment, tourists, and skilled migrants.

Just as other parts of the country provide the tourism experience, make the wine, or turn grass into milk, Auckland’s role is to be New Zealand’s international city.

And if we’re going to be New Zealand’s gateway to the world, then Auckland has to be a thriving urban centre as well.

I want to see Auckland ready to host major international events, and be home to an exciting cultural mix of nightlife, interesting neighbourhoods, arts and recreation.

I want my city to be a safe place to live, where any child can get the best possible start in life, and any person can live free from fear and risk in their own home; where everyone will find social services they need, and be able to participate in their community.

A city where you can get home after work in time to enjoy some family time, work on the house or get to the gym.

That’s what successful cities look like.

Auckland is not doing as well as it can at all that. We need to be better.

Labour set up the Royal Commission because it was plain that change is needed to the way Auckland is run.

We need a city where regional needs – environment, planning, infrastructure, regional amenities – can be determined coherently and provided for efficiently across Auckland as a whole.

We need best practice for provision of permits and consents not a patchwork system where different rules, time frames and prices apply from one part of the region to the other.

Economies of scale and avoidance of duplication can allow for efficiencies.

We enjoy the amazing advantage of a city nestled between two beautiful harbours, but Auckland has butchered the waterfront of both, and cut the public off from far too much of them. It’s failed to create enough public spaces in them and to enhance their environmental attractiveness.

After decades of traffic hassles throttling the city’s development, there is still isn’t a complete transport infrastructure and the Auckland air is more polluted than it should be.

I want Auckland to be able to offer everyone an affordable, quick and convenient transport system to get to work, and get out to see friends.

We need a modern, electric rail network extending to the four corners of the city, including a second harbour crossing, a central city loop and a link to the airport. And effective bus ways where rail cannot reach.

I want families to be able to live in healthy homes, with access to great public parks and places to enjoy.

And we need a city that meets its social challenges and achieves a cohesive society rather than one divided between poverty and affluence.

Currently in parts of our city we let children grow up in desperate need of more care, and more opportunity. There are some suburbs where kids are being hospitalised for bronchiolitis, the classic disease of poverty at four times the national average.

It’s appalling that there are communities in Auckland where unemployment has climbed back over thirty per cent among young people. That’s the kind of city where crime is nurtured and fear takes root.

Last year we recorded the highest ever crime rate in Auckland - and a rise in violence of over nine per cent.

So we need change in Auckland.

That’s why I supported the Royal Commission recommendation for a new unified Auckland, and a council that would be able to work with central government to allocate resources and make decisions that achieve the city Aucklanders want.

Here is the problem:

When the National Government received the Royal Commission report it saw Auckland differently - not as community, but as a corporation.

So it has gone about creating the city in a way that isn’t transparent, that isn’t accountable, that isn’t responsive to its communities.

That will never work. When decisions have been imposed from above, Aucklanders won’t feel a sense of ownership over or commitment to the new city.

The National led government has squandered an opportunity to take Auckland into the twenty first century, with everyone moving forward together.

There was tremendous good will and high expectations when the Royal Commission delivered their report.

One year later, two-thirds of Aucklanders say they feel the Government has ignored them. And a clear majority don’t want to be part of the super city. What went wrong?

They got off to a bad start when Rodney Hide and John Key released a thirty six page pamphlet setting out their own agenda, just two weeks after the Royal Commission released its own 800 page report.

Then they rammed through the first super city bill under urgency.

It is a major constitutional change to our system of local government and they didn’t even allow a select committee process to give Aucklanders a genuine chance to have their say.

They claimed Aucklanders had been consulted by the Royal Commission - but we didn’t get a say on the alternative to the Royal Commission’s plans that the government put into law.

The government was utterly dismissive of how Aucklanders felt about what was being proposed. The first bill rammed through under urgency removed the right Aucklanders had under the Local Government Act to approve or reject a forced amalgamation in a referendum.

The second bill did go to the select committee.

But it soon became clear that important decisions were being made behind closed doors.

John Key dropped the Royal Commission’s recommendation of Maori seats after Rodney Hide threatened to resign – preempting the select committee which was in the process of public submissions on the issue.

Now we have a third bill currently before the select committee .

It sets up powerful council-owned companies to run most of the Council’s business.

The government has overridden the right of Aucklanders to determine how council businesses should be run.

The Government is right now recruiting the boards and executives of these CCOs even before the select committee has reported back to Parliament on the rights and wrongs of the structure the bill sets up.

Under the Bill the majority of local government operations will be behind a veil of commercial secrecy: no public meetings, no agendas or minutes published.

The transport agency with a board of hand picked appointees will be able to make by-laws, but the local boards elected by the people will not be able to.

The odds are stacked against the super mayor and councillors being able to hold these mega-companies to account.

If the real decisions in key areas are to be made by the chief executives of these CCOs, the elected Mayor will simply be a figurehead and the CCO Board Directors will be more important than elected councillors.

What is more the dream of Auckland being able to speak with one voice will be gone. The government’s plan replaces eight councils with one ... and seven companies.

They’ve been set up so they can be sold or raided with privatisation of the assets meaning that we will be sending the profits of the companies and Auckland’s wealth overseas.

It turned out one of the reasons the second bill was pushed through under urgency was that the Minister of Local Government was about to go on a taxpayer-funded trip overseas, visiting fun parks and attending a family wedding. Real hypocrisy from a man who claimed to be Parliament’s perk buster.

They are treating Auckland with contempt. Their process has been bad in principle and bad in practice.

Look at how the people of Rodney have been treated. The Royal Commission proposed putting the whole of Rodney into the new super city. The Government announced it would cut Rodney in half and only bring the southern part in. And then 24 hours before the second bill came back to the House they changed their mind and brought all of Rodney in.

And the processes and lack of real consultation were just as bad in Papakura and Franklin.

Bad process leads to bad outcomes.

That’s why the super city model the Government is imposing on Auckland is fundamentally broken.

They cannot even tell us how much this whole thing is going to cost.

The best estimate for the cost of the transition is nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.

They tried to tell you the changes would bring down your rates - but you are going to pick up the tab for the changes.

At a time when so many families are worried about having something left over after all the bills are paid, how can the National Government load another quarter of a billion dollars onto the ratepayers of Auckland?

And last week, after promising that central government would meet the cost of Auckland’s new electric trains, Steven Joyce is now saying National will foist that cost on Auckland ratepayers - a sign perhaps of other things to come.

This government is keen to make decisions affecting Auckland from Wellington and then impose the cost on Aucklanders without letting them have a say.

The government has been too quick to centralise power in the hands of a few, instead of all of Auckland.

They have been too quick to impose an expensive commercial solution, too quick to impose the boardroom instead of trusting the ballot box.

The next Labour-led government will fix the mess this Government is making and get our city back on track.

If there is one thing I have learned in politics, it’s that elected representatives need to listen closely to their communities, and trust them.

The fundamental difference we will make is we will trust Auckland more, and work with Auckland to sort out the balance between the super council, the local boards and the organisations that control assets like water and transport.

Labour will give power back to local communities.

Labour will legislate to enshrine real decision making powers for local boards.

And we will review the ward boundaries and talk to communities about whether single rather than multi member wards would better ensure that all communities are fairly represented and feel their voice is being heard.

We will restore to Auckland the power to make its own decisions about the structure and powers of the seven council-owned companies that will manage three-quarters of the rates revenue provided by Aucklanders.

Why shouldn’t Auckland decide what goes into its council controlled companies, and what stays out? That’s what happens in every other city in New Zealand.

Four government departments including Treasury advised against setting up the transport agency as a council controlled company and proposed running it in-house instead. They said the Government’s plan lacked transparency and accountability to the ratepayers.

Labour will restore transparency and accountability to the Auckland Council.

We will give the power back to Aucklanders through their elected council to determine what structures they want for Council operations.

It is probably right for some of these assets to be held in CCOs. And it’s also true that different councils over time will have different views about what should be in and what shouldn’t.

Auckland not Wellington should make this decision.

A real concern I have about the government’s plans is that it is a set up for the ports, airport shares, and even the water system to be sold.

Rodney Hide would be happy to see them sold. He actually admits it, while John key and Bill English tell that to their party members and mates in private but tell a different story in public.

They are sweeping away the legal safeguards against privatisation. The third super city bill repeals the requirement to hold a referendum before the Ports of Auckland can be sold.

The ARC has warned that by transferring Auckland’s assets to council owned companies a future council could sell off strategic assets like the port or the airport shares without even consulting the public as is currently required under the Local Government Act.

Put that alongside the Government’s plan to turn over our water infrastructure to private companies for up to 35 years and you can see the clear privatisation agenda.

Labour believes Aucklanders don’t want to see their community assets sold off.

Labour will restore and strengthen the safeguards in law against the sale of assets.

We will legislate to ensure all Aucklanders have a say in a binding referendum before strategic assets can be sold.

Super cities are created from strong communities.

Sooner or later you have to trust the people.

That’s where National has gone off the rails in the super city.

Labour will put the local back into local government.

Local boards will have real decision-making powers. We will make sure council and local boards are responsive to their local communities.

We will review the ward boundaries and single or multi member wards to make sure that all communities are fairly represented.

Labour will make the decisions together with Auckland and we will back those decisions with the resources they need.

Whether it is building a 21st century transport network, or working to end poverty in Auckland, the next Labour-led government will work alongside the Auckland Council in a genuine partnership.

I will invite the Mayor of Auckland to attend Cabinet committees for significant decisions relating to Auckland.

That will give Auckland, where a third of New Zealanders live, a direct voice around the cabinet table before a decision is made rather than simply imposing decisions made without adequate Auckland input.

Not the reported views of Aucklanders as interpreted by the Wellington bureaucrats, but the democratically elected mayor, directly influencing the big decisions on Auckland as they are made in Cabinet.

We can make Auckland a truly great city.

But it will take a faith in democracy that gives everyone a fair go, and a say in the future of their communities.

It will require institutions of government that are transparent and accountable and dedicated to the public good.

It will need a city that holds on to its assets, invests in them and builds them up, and doesn’t sell them off for short term gain.

It will take a Government that is ready and willing to work hand in hand with the Auckland Council to make the big investments and the big decisions that will make Auckland great.

I am committing Labour to creating that city.

And as the government enacts the final stage of its Super City plans, we are setting out a stronger, more accountable, more responsive and more principled alternative plan.

ENDS


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