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Councillor Alick Shaw Leaves The Labour Party

Statement From Wellington City Councillor Alick Shaw


Labour Party Wellington City Councillor Alick Shaw has announced today that he can no longer be accountable to the party’s Labour Local Body Committee (LLBC). He says he remains totally committed to the Labour Party and to the principles that sustain his commitment to it. But he says the LLBC is now attempting to exercise undue control over his actions as a Wellington City Councillor and the actions of the two other Labour Party Councillors in a manner, which he believes, would damage Wellington City and its citizens. In this statement, he describes the LLBC’s actions as “possibly illegal and certainly in contravention of the intention of the Local Government Act” and explains why it has become necessary to take today’s action.

I have been active in the New Zealand Labour Party and, more broadly, the New Zealand Left continuously since 1966.

In that time, my views have evolved somewhat, just as views have in the Party. For example, having run a successful business in the 1980s and 1990s, I believe I have a greater appreciation of the role of business than I did in 1966, and I support the reduced role of the state in the provision of goods and services within the New Zealand economy. A substantial degree of economic freedom is integral to political freedom. I am unashamedly pro-business and I believe in competition not protection. Unlike some on the Left, I see that globalisation and free trade have the potential to benefit New Zealand. This evolution in my thinking over 34 years is hardly unique. It mirrors evolution in Labour Party and Social Democratic thinking in New Zealand and around the world.

What have not changed are my core principles. The staunchest possible opposition to imperialism and racism – that spurred my early interest in politics through action against the Vietnam War and apartheid – has remained unchanged over 34 years. I remain an unequivocal opponent of weapons of mass destruction. I welcome the political consensus on these issues that has emerged in New Zealand over the last two decades.

I also strongly believe that the State has a vital role in regulating economic activity and relationships between employers, employees and unions in particular. I believe that the State should fund and provide health and education services for all and that adequate housing at a reasonable price is a right of all New Zealanders. The reforms of the Labour-Alliance Government in these areas over the last ten months are overdue in New Zealand and should be welcomed by all of us who have fought for them over the years and decades.

My commitment to Labour Party principles such as these saw me agree to devote myself to the Party by standing against Richard Prebble in Wellington Central at the 1996 General Election. I regret that an underhand deal between ACT and the National Party prevented me from delivering that seat to the Party in 1996 but was proud of the contribution Wellington Central made to Labour’s overall vote. I worked hard for and welcomed the Party’s success in 1999.

In 1998, I agreed to become one of the Party’s seven candidates for the Wellington City Council. We were a diverse group of people who reflected a wide range of the shades of opinion within the Party. We respected one another’s differences and agreed to a policy programme.

The 1998 Wellington City Council elections saw the Council split into at least four groups. Wellington Alive was a loose group set up to support Mayor Mark Blumsky and is seen as being on the political Right. Sue Piper, Leonie Gill and I were elected to reflect Labour Party thinking. Alliance and Green Councillors were elected, as were various independents.

Councillors Piper, Gill and I thought very carefully about reaching an arrangement with the Alliance and some of the independent Councillors, which theoretically would have given us a majority on Council. Agreement might easily have been reached on issues of status, such as who would chair particular committees. That was not so on issues of substance. We did not feel that we could rely on some of the independents on policy issues and some were individuals that would have been inappropriate to place into leadership positions in the city.

Consequently, consideration was given to operating as a Labour Party caucus of three, reflecting our collective and individual judgement on particular issues, vote by vote. For the most part, this is how we have operated since 1998. The three of us have voted with Alliance Councillors and with Wellington Alive Councillors on different issues. We have also voted differently among ourselves.

We were concerned, however, that this would not give us the influence with other Councillors that would enable us to deliver any of our policy programme. We therefore managed to reach an arrangement with Wellington Alive that delivered us fewer “status” wins but greater certainty that Labour Party principles could be promoted.

This arrangement was discussed with other Labour candidates, the then leadership of the LLBC and was actively encouraged by the then President of the Labour Party, the late Michael Hirschfeld. The arrangement delivered:

 Commitment to Public Housing
Prior to the arrangement, council houses and flats were rented out at 80 percent of market rents, and there was a significant risk these would increase to 90 or even 100 percent of market rents. The arrangement has delivered rents at 70 percent of market rents. The arrangement has also stopped discussion on selling council accommodation.

 No More User Pays for Public Good Services
User charges for libraries, sports fields, swimming pools and other public good facilities have not been and will not be increased as a percentage of total costs while the arrangement Wellington remains in place. It is no secret that some Wellington Alive Councillors would otherwise have promoted a significant increase in the user-pays component.

 No Increase in the Uniform Annual Charge
There has been and will be no increase in this component of residential rates that some have compared to a “poll tax”. It is no secret that some Wellington Alive Councillors would have wanted to increase this component of rates.

 Continued Public Ownership of Strategic Assets
The arrangement has stopped discussion on selling of key council assets such as airport shares, the water supply and the library network.

 Public Good Considerations for Competitive Tendering
The arrangement has ensured that public good issues are considered alongside price when the council tenders for goods and services. Among the public good factors are an explicit commitment to staff, reducing the risk to the city and ratepayers, and the assessment of non-price attributes that Council units bring to the delivery of service to the public. These were far less important in the previous policy framework.

 The Greening of Wellington
The arrangement has led to the purchase of the Owhiro Bay Quarry and Telecom land on Tinakori Hill to help complete the Town Belt and provide green recreation spaces for all Wellingtonians to share and enjoy. The closure, purchase and revegetation of the Owhiro Bay Quarry brings me particular personal pleasure as does the ongoing work to develop a management plan for the entire South Coast of Wellington.

Despite these achievements, members of the LLBC have persistently attacked the arrangement as being against the interests of the Labour Party. They have demanded that the arrangement be abandoned.

This is despite them not identifying any specific concern on the basis of Labour Party principles. These people appear to be ideologically opposed to arrangements such as that with Wellington Alive, regardless of how such pragmatism can help promote Labour Party principles. This focus on the form of politics completely ignores the substance of what has been achieved. It appears to prefer the nobility of opposition to the political reality of delivering on Labour Party principles. Not even protecting public housing is enough for these members of the LLBC if it means working with the Right.

It is worth noting that there are many local authorities in New Zealand where arrangements have been made between the “right and left”. The difference is that in Wellington we have been open.

Now the LLBC wishes to control the voting behaviour of Councillors who belong to the Labour Party. Not only is this against the traditions of free thought, free speech and free action that are at the heart of the social democratic movement worldwide, the attached opinion by Phillips Fox suggests it may be wrong in law. The LLBC’s actions are possibly illegal and certainly in contravention of the intention of the Local Government Act. No government or major political party has challenged the responsibility of councillors to make up their own minds on the issues before them.

The LLBC plans to go even further away from Labour Party principles. Instead of running a Labour Party ticket, it plans to run or endorse a broad left ticket with the Alliance and the Greens. This reflects its increasing tendency to prefer the more extreme views of the Alliance against the more balanced policies of the Labour Party. For most members of the Labour Party and of the Alliance, there are big differences between what we believe.

Perhaps even more sadly, some people have turned away from the decency that should underpin social democracy. They don’t call those they disagree with “mistaken” or “wrong”. They call us “traitors” and arrange letter-writing campaigns against us.

Natural justice is therefore constantly denied in the Wellington LLBC. Neither the charge nor an opportunity to refute it is made available. There was a time in my life – when I was not part of the Labour Party – when I was involved with organisations that supported regimes which behaved in that way and that is why I left them. I have ignored this behaviour until now, but it has reached a crescendo of abuse to which I have not always responded entirely without rancour. I can no longer tolerate it.

Today I pledge my support to the Labour Party, the principles that underpin it and the Government of Helen Clark. I continue to be a Wellington City Councillor who belongs to the Labour Party. I continue to work closely with my Labour Party colleagues on the Council. But, from today, I refuse to answer to or to be controlled by this LLBC.

I do this to promote Labour Party principles, democracy and particularly so I can continue to act in what I believe to be the best interests of Wellington.

Alick Shaw
Wellington City Councillor

27 September 2000

Contact Alick Shaw on 025 816 837; 394 8833 or email alick.shaw@wcc.govt.nz

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