Open the books. Open the doors. ‘Maiden speech’ to new Governing Body 1 November 2022
I wish to join the previous speakers in congratulating the mayor and my fellow councillors on their successful elections. I must express my thanks to the people of Waitematā & Gulf and from across Auckland who supported my own election. Some of them are here around the table.
I am grateful for having been extended the privilege of making a maiden speech today though I must point out having first been elected to the Auckland Regional Council more than 30 years ago, I’m hardly a maiden – in any shape or form. However I do appreciate the honour.
Though not a maiden my situation is admittedly unusual. And events over recent weeks demonstrate that true life sometimes can be stranger than fiction. Not many people would have predicted this a year ago. Least of all me. The question is why am I here? Well I was not I called back because my electorate was overcome by a wave of nostalgia.
No. The only reason I was called back at all is because Auckland Council is in crisis. That crisis is financial but it is also cultural in respect of the council’s image and its standing with the public.
And this is what the mayor pointed out in his speech in the Town Hall last Friday evening and on many occasions during his long and arduous election campaign.
The counter narrative that the council is doing a pretty good job and all would be well but for covid is not valid and not justified by objective reality. We first must admit that there is a problem before we can really fix it.
And let be clear it is not one part of the organisation that is failing, not one CCO – not one company – the whole Super City entity is failing – across the board,
And rather like the dying fish analogy, failure I should point out starts at the head, the Council. And so fixing the organisation, resolving the crisis must also come from the head.
I don’t believe the people of Auckland have been served well in the reporting of the Council’s financial crisis. The news media tends to focus too much in my view on personalities.
However, I must credit Bernard Orsman of the NZ Herald for his journalism in an investigation piece that came out last year. The article was called ‘Super Rich in the Super City– the companies pocketing $10b of ratepayers money’.
This revealed, that $10b from the ‘Super City’ over ten years went to 20 favoured corporates, mainly Australian owned construction and public transport companies but including of all things a local recruitment company. The article states ‘Figures provided by the council group under the Official Information Act show Auckland Transport accounts for about $7b of the $10b spend. Auckland Council $2b and Watercare $1b.’
‘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.’
According to this report some $7b of that ratepayers’ money, 70 percent went to AT.
There is a saying ‘Things will get worse before they get better’. That seems to be borne out by the headlines in yesterdays’ Herald.
The first relates to the extraordinary profits earned by the construction company Fulton Hogan. The headline read ‘Fulton Hogan staff take up shares as dividend jumps 46%’ As the lead in put it, ‘The company continues to rack up impressive profits…’.
I recall Fulton Hogan was number 2 in the list of the top 20 corporates which were the beneficiaries of that $10b. During the first 10 years of the Super City, Fulton Hogan earned $1.5b. One can be sure it’s quite a bit more than that now.
The second headline read: ‘Auckland Transport axing of almost 1000 bus services to reduce cancellations described as cynical’. The story goes on to identify the cause of the cancellations a lack of bus drivers due to the inability of AT’s contractors to provide wages and conditions sufficient to attract bus drivers.
I suspect these two stories are connected.
By the way, presumably these 1000 bus services were budgeted for by the council, so one wonders what happens to that money?
In the past Auckland was criticised for not investing enough in public transport. Well for at least 15 years the people of Auckland have been paying more than their share to achieve ‘world class public transport’. But there is every reason to believe we are being sold short.
So to return to my point, the Council is not only failing financially, in the eyes of the public it has a culture problem.
In that remarkably joyful ceremony in the Town Hall last Friday evening, the meeting that we are continuing today, all the elected members solemnly swore as a condition of our right to hold office to uphold the Local Government Act (2002) and the Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act (1987). I do question how well we monitor the upholding of our collective promises.
What I found during the recent election campaign was that the one aspect that most irritated, indeed antagonised the public was what many considered false or fake consultation, where the public are constantly asked to ‘have your say’ but almost inevitably, despite public submissions, the council or CCOs have their way. I received more complaints about this than rates increases.
Yet public consultation is treated very seriously and in detail in the Local Government Act section 82. ‘Principles of Consultation’.
Despite the explicit requirements of this section of the Act regarding provision of information, as a member of the public I found it impossible to obtain background information on the proposed transfer of regional parks into the DOC managed Hauraki Marine Park. The information sought was a legal report. Being declined it after considerable delay I was obliged to go to the Ombudsman and to this day the matter is subject to wrangling between the Council and the Ombudsman. That’s not good enough,
Which leads me directly to the other Act we swore to uphold, the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA).
As well as what I believe is ‘gaming’ of the requirements of the Act, its public transparency provisions are simply by-passed by the Council and Local Boards by the routine holding of behind closed-door workshops.
Up on the 26th floor of 135 Albert Street, outside the main door of committee room 1 there is a sign on its own metal stand, so routinely used it is there permanently. It says ‘Confidential – Public excluded.’
It is evidently there to ward off any member so interested in their local government that they manage to get through the security gates on the ground floor, into the security lifts and up to the 26th floor and the committee one room door.
Now clearly there are occasions when the council must exclude the public for genuine commercial or legal reasons but there is an open process to go through to justify that set out in Part 7, section 48 of LGOIMA.
So, as well as opening the books, the doors also need to be opened.
Under Mayor Brown’s leadership this must be a reforming council.
For the city/region we love Auckland this meeting which is the 12th anniversary of the establishment of Auckland Council must be a brand new start. We cannot fail.