Mike Lee campaign launch speech

If anyone had said a year ago, 6 months ago, even 3 months ago that I would be standing here today, I would have said, “They’re crazy”.

When I first started getting requests to come out of retirement to stand again for council my response was ‘thanks but no thanks’.

However, after being lobbied by so many concerned Aucklanders deeply concerned about the state of Auckland Council and our city – it became clear to me I couldn’t in all conscience dismiss them. These people know how things work and can see the city heading towards major trouble.

Clearly there is a veritable tsunami of trouble on the horizon, and its heading our way,

What changed my mind I guess, are the same reasons which motivated people to keep on calling me, despite my initially turning them down.

These reasons though interconnected essentially cover 5 points:

,Auckland is facing the biggest crisis in the history of this city – This is a looming financial crisis in which the council is teetering on the brink of virtual bankruptcy – with dire consequences for Auckland ratepayers.  If nothing is done that there is the real prospect of the sale of what’s left of our income earning assets, port and airport, and the prospect of unprecedented massive rates increases following that. 

This the result of years of profligate spending, and financial incompetency – or worse. While it looks like a local authority (albiet a very large one) and has names like a local authority, eg ‘mayor’, ‘councillors’ etc the Super City is essentially a massive ‘operation’ that takes enormous sums of money from Auckland ratepayers, in order to benefit a few favoured corporates and of course the council/CCO bosses.

As a recent NZ Herald investigation found:

 ‘The Super City has become a $10 billion gold mine for multinational corporations and big local companies. The model of contracting out most of the work of Auckland Council has fed about $10b of ratepayers’ money to 20 companies since the inception of the Super City in 2010.’ 

Dominating the list of diners at this $10bn trough as you would expect are offshore Australian construction companies Downer Construction and Fulton Hogan, but also HEB construction and rail operators Transdev both French, the Australian parks contractor Ventier and of course multinational Fletchers but what was completely surprising to be found in the top twenty is a recruitment company, Madison Recruitment.

To pay for all this Council (and here I quote from the last Council annual report so the latest numbers will be higher) rates and charges now amount to (in round figures) $5 billion per annum compared to $2bn at the start of the Super City in 2010/11. 

That’s more than double.

Total liabilities – mainly debt but including hedging etc is $16 bn up from $5 bn and council debt per household is currently $30,000, up from $11,000 at the start of the Super City. 

Staff salaries now close to $1bn per annum as opposed to $440mn at the start of Super City,

And of course we recall one of the promises justifying the imposition of the so-called Super City on Auckland by the National government was cost efficiencies.

This financial crisis leads me to the subject of

Three Waters and the council budget

Despite widespread public opposition to the Labour government’s ‘Three Waters’ scheme the council has gone ahead and effectively sold Auckland’s water infrastructure, dams, wastewater treatment plants, reservoir land etc., That’s $10 billion of ratepayers assets…. sold to the government for a mere $508m. 

I’m not going to touch what’s going to happen to those assets, or even focus on this disgraceful fire sale itself – but the ‘why’?  And the ‘why’ is even more troubling. 

At the behest of Mayor Goff, the council is using one quarter of this $508m received from the government to cover up an enormous financial hole in the council budget. 

As economist Bruce Cotterill recently wrote in the Herald

‘In other words, he  [Phil Goff] proposes to apply the first tranche of the Three Waters proceeds, some 25 per cent, from the sale of long-term assets that have taken more than 100 years to accumulate, to the operating deficit in the next year. Even those with the most basic understanding of simple accounting will tell you that such actions are a no-go. 

Cotterill added

This is like selling the house you’ve spent a lifetime saving for, spending the money on a quick overseas trip and coming home with nowhere to live.’

The second point I want to discuss relates to the corporate culture within the council.  First of all the use or rather mis-use of information.

They say ‘INFORMATION IS POWER.

Well, this council has developed a corporate culture where important information is routinely kept secret , or else is rationed, processed, or spun to suit the predetermined outcomes of the bureaucrats and the CCO bosses.

Time and again the council ignores or perhaps just doesn’t understand its statutory obligations set out plainly in the Local Government Act to consult in good faith. More often than not, if the clearly stated views of the public conflict with the council’s pre-determined intentions, the council just goes right ahead and does what it wants to do anyway. There are numerous examples of this.

The council also all too often hides under the veil of confidentiality or the old standby ‘privileged legal advice’, information the public needs to know. 

So the people of Auckland are constantly bombarded with invitations to ‘Have Your Say’. And the while public may have its say regardless the council always has its way.

Not surprisingly at the last survey approximately only 20% of Aucklanders approved the council’s performance and a similar number trusted it. So therefore 80% of Aucklanders do not approve and do not trust the council.

In other words, the Super City is failing nearly all or most of the objective measures by which anyone could judge its performance. 

Point 3

Most people here are aware of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development, the latest open charter for property development sector. This as we know targets, our much-loved historic heritage quarters, those areas that back in 2013 that we worked to save – street by street – house by house – from the Unitary Plan. 

Despite 72 % of public submissions supporting retention and protection of Auckland’s historic townscapes, the quintessential heart of old Auckland, much of which in this Waitematā & Gulf ward, the government and the council have now made it clear they intend removing long established protection from a substantial part of these townscapes presently deemed ‘Special Character’. The intention, as we know is to replace these old villas and bungalows with intensified high-rise apartments and condominiums. This supposedly, to ease the housing shortage, which the government despite its promises has egregiously failed to solve in contrast to the amazing achievements of the original and can I say genuine Labour government of Michael Joseph Savage who incidentally was the local member of parliament here with John A Lee the member for adjacent Grey Lynn.

There is no way in the world these new apartments and condos will be affordable for ordinary first-time home buyers, despite the assertions of ‘urbanist’ intensification idealogues. Even more absurdly, these people, for example local board chair Richard Northey, are claiming intensification is needed because of the climate crisis! 

Logic would suggest destroying old wooden buildings thereby releasing embedded carbon and replacing these with new buildings of steel, concrete and paint would generate a whole new level of carbon emissions. The fact is when it comes to buildings ‘old is greener than new’. 

And let’s not be misled about the technicalities and minutiae around walking catchments and so on, what this is about is a nightmare rerun of Location, Location, Location. The vested interests who evidently have the ear of both Labour and national parties are not satisfied with just the provision of 420,000 extra dwellings for one million new people provided in the Unitary Plan. 

No, they want to site their apartment towers and condos on the best possible sites, inner Auckland and the northern slopes. And they don’t give a toss about the damage they will do to existing neighbourhoods; the quality of life and the property rights of long-standing residents,;and the historic fabric and sense of place of Auckland’s  much loved built heritage. The heritage that was handed down to us and is rightfully the legacy for future generations

Point 4.

This is the disaster which is now our central city notably Queen Street. 

Council idealogues have turned what was once vibrant Queen Street into a forlorn shadow of its former self, commercially depressed, raddled by crime and general shabbiness and dying the death of a thousand cuts.

In clumsy, amateurish and inordinately expensive attempts to make Queen Street ‘more liveable’, they are turning the once vibrant, bustling leading shopping street in New Zealand, into the proverbial ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’.

And while these anti-car idealogues have made it increasingly difficult for law-abiding Aucklanders to drive a car in Queen Street, they haven’t stopped ram raiders routinely driving through the front windows of Louis Vuitton and Smith & Caughey.

Inner city resident tell me the inner city is NO LONGER a safe place, especially at night and that’s appalling.

And despite the spike in crime, while government agencies are placing Australian section 501 tenants in inner city apartments, the NZ Police force at the same time have abandoned the inner city. Even the part time office in Fort Street, which was the replacement of the wharf police station has gone. How and why did the mayor and council let that happen?

And while we are on the subject of the central city, let’s look at Britomart, the CPO building, I was present in June 2016 when then prime minister John Key and then mayor Len Brown launched construction work on the City Rail Link, the project was meant to be completed and operational 5 years later in 2021.

If you go downtown today you will see the Britomart CPO building still draped in shrink wrap, the tunnels underneath the station itself are still nowhere near finished. And they are using this work as a pretext to end the Onehunga – Queen Street to Queen Street rail service. How much is all this costing? Who is in charge?

The City Rail Link project which I originally championed as the chairman of the ARC has gone from costing $2.4bn in 2011, to $3.4bn in 2016, to $4.4bn in 2019 and is set to blow out even more. Guess who they intend to get to pay for all this?

It’s not clear when the CRL will be finished as the completion date keeps on disappearing into the distance. Both the council and the government which jointly own CRL Ltd have been grossly incompetent in managing this. But don’t hold your breath that anyone will be made accountable for these massive cost overruns and endless delays in completion. 

And if that’s not bad enough they are trying to foist on us a truly unhinged light rail to the airport scheme (trams in a tunnel [another tunnel!!]) which has gone from $3bn to $6bn in 2018 and now to $14.8bn and according to Treasury could cost as high as $29bn. 

Let’s not consider the $29bn – surely that’s just unthinkable. But by way of comparison, to illustrate the sheer incompetence of the people driving this scheme, there have been a number of light rail builds in Australia – Sydney comes to mind. 

However, the most recent to be completed was in Canberra – 14km in length, that’s 2/3 the length of the proposed Auckland scheme. The Auckland project currently costed at $14.8bn amounts to around $395m per kilometre of track. A world record I believe. By comparison the 14km Canberra project came in at $375m – that’s not per kilometre – that’s for the whole project.

Fifth Point. Regional Parks and the Hauraki Gulf

Regional Parks and the Hauraki Gulf are probably the two most precious and beloved aspects of the Auckland region – Our natural heritage.

Earlier this year we got to learn of a scheme initiiated by the co-chairs of the Hauraki Gulf Forum Pippa Coom and Iwi rep Nicola MacDonald, backed by the council, to transfer 21 of our regional parks into the DOC controlled Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, while at the same time these people were lobbying the government to abolish the marine park! (and evidently the government is listening!). The marine park, it is alleged, 21 years on, is culturally offensive to some Hauraki Gulf iwi – or so we are told. Be that as it may, a key objective of this scheme is to place the control of the entire Hauraki Gulf into the hands of a small, largely un-elected ‘co-governed’ authority. And if these people don’t like parks, the marine park, why are they so keen to get control of our regional parks?

Thanks to a massive public outcry led by the Friends of Regional Parks and the Gulf Users Group there were thousands of submissions came out in opposition to this scheme. At this stage it is not clear whether the council and central government are listening or what they will do next. 

The fallout from all this triggered an unfortunate incident covered in both Ponsonby News, Gulf News and the Listener  which gives us an insight to just how toxic and undemocratic Auckland Council has become.

I am referring to the attempted use of a code of conduct charge, against councillor John Watson. John reported on Facebook to his friends and the general public about what was going on – both the planned transfer of regional parks and the planned undemocratic Hauraki Gulf authority. The code of conduct charge  was not just about intimidation but also I believe to prevent this councillor blowing the whistle on what was going on to the public – in other words the code of conduct charge was a heavy handed attempt to cover up embarrassing truths.

Fortunately for John Watson and democracy, the code of conduct complaint brought by Pippa Coom and one other, Cath Handley was thrown out by an independent legal expert from Auckland University. 

Finally

I have traversed five reasons why I have been compelled to stand again but there is a 6th. And that is, I would not be standing if I believed the situation was beyond hope or redemption. There is still a chance to save Auckland. 

So I want to close here on a positive note to endorse the words of my colleague Puneet. We are standing under the brand of ‘Auckland Independents’ which is at this stage just an idea, because we believe it is time for local government politicians in Auckland to start putting Auckland first – to pledge their prime loyalty to the people of Auckland, the ratepayers of Auckland – and not be taking orders from party bosses acting on behalf of the government in Wellington. 

. We pledge to work with other elected members of the Governing Body and the new mayor, and the local board to turn the ship around and get Auckland back on course.  To restore democracy in spirit as well as form and to BRING BACK ACCOUNTABILITY.

We must never forget, as one international commentator once put it, ‘that the things that are wrong about Auckland can be put right by the things that are right about Auckland.’

That’s why today…. I am offering my candidacy to the people of Waitematā & Gulf.

I make plea that you join me, join us in this campaign to send a message that will be heard loud and clear not only at the higher levels of the 135 Albert Street tower but also as far away as the 9th floor of the Beehive.

Thank you for coming, and thank you for listening.

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