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Brown's Band-Aid Budget.
Who'd be a councillor?
What a saga it has been, the passing of Wayne Brown’s budget. A soap opera of leaked emails, bullying words, uninvited journalists, airport shares, and, no doubt, late night txts and phone calls.
Yesterday I watched some of the budget meeting live, not all of it, it was as long as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. What a strange insight it was into that world.
Now I’m quite keen on politics and will happily watch parliament live, for which I get a bit of stick from friends. And by friends I mean immediate family members.
But local politics, woah that’s a whole different kettle of fries. The adversarial nature of parliament lends itself to drama, one side vs the other, the government parties vs the opposition ones. You don’t get two tribes taking each other on in local politics. From what I could see there were multiple tribes, some councillors were in more than one group, and no group had a majority.
If anyone ever hears me say I’m thinking of going into local politics slap me, hard. I’d last about half an hour before being thrown out for throttling someone spending five minutes to say something they could’ve said in twenty seconds. All the while repeatedly saying they were going to keep it short. Readers of my recent newsletter on recommended changes to the electoral system may find some irony in this.
Now I should acknowledge that I’ve no idea whether it’s normally like this, or whether things were the way they were because of a) the cameras being present, or b) Wayne Brown running things.
Naively I’d assumed proceedings would be less confrontational, maybe even more co-operative, and certainly I’d hoped more productive, than what we see in the Beehive. They were not.
What I saw were a group of people who really didn’t seem to like each other much. Not in a combative way like parliament, but genuine dislike. As they spoke there were snide remarks about colleagues, campaign speeches to highlight their own role and things they’d done, sycophantic comments to the mayor from some congratulating him on not acting like a toddler, and passionate words on what they stood for from others.
Don’t get me wrong, I had sympathy for some of the councillors in there, they deserved a medal sitting through all that. But oh my goodness it seemed like a terrible way to try and reach agreement on matters as important as selling public assets, how much rates would rise, or how many millions to borrow. But I did feel for those individuals, the pressure must have been immense.
Mayor Brown tried to be jovial with people, in a performance that would have made the Office’s David Brent cringe. Still it was better than hearing him talking about amendments to amendments, that felt like I was in Jim Jefferies’ gun control routine.
At one point Cr John Watson pointed out that in the time the council meeting had been going the shares they were talking about had increased in value by $26m. He quipped that maybe they should carry on a while longer. There didn’t appear much enthusiasm in the room for that suggestion but the increase in value certainly highlighted the madness of flogging the family silver to pay the current bills.
Many of the councillors spoke about that. Of the imbalance between income and expenditure. Over time there actually has to be a serious conversation about either cutting spending, or increasing rates and/or borrowing. Paying the shortfall by selling the Airport shares is a one time only band-aid and they’ll be back there next year with the same problem, but without the shares.
Mike Lee spoke passionately about people not having learnt the lessons of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson. That selling income earning assets was a failed strategy and a race to the bottom. He talked about how they were letting down the people they were supposed to represent. About intergenerational equity not intergenerational theft.
Protestors interrupted proceedings, it wasn’t helpful or useful. As one of the councillors pointed out they were yelling at the wrong people. Part of me felt like saying to them if the communities you represent had actually got out and voted we wouldn’t be in this mess. The mayor, and some of these councillors here represent those who voted to keep rates low, not much use in complaining now.
In the end the budget passed. A compromise that no one seemed to like. There seemed real bitterness in the room, and genuine heartfelt sadness. Some had voted for something they didn’t want to support in the interests of achieving a compromise so people could still be paid and fewer services cut.
Others stuck to their guns and voted against it, one hissing that councillor Julie Fairey was a “cop out” for abstaining.
Who would be a councillor?
Those who’ve acted pragmatically in the interests of breaking the impasse. Who’ve swallowed the proverbial dead rodent, kicking the can down the road, will be criticised for not standing by the position they started with. I have sympathy for them, at some point someone had to compromise. But also for those who remained steadfast in their opposition to the sales, come what may.
Votes on earlier alternatives, seeking to retain full share ownership, had failed. Councillors who might have been expected to support them had not. The final vote for a partial sale went as follows:
For: Wayne Brown, Desley Simpson, Andy Baker, Chris Darby, Christine Fletcher, Shane Henderson, Richard Hills, Daniel Newman, Greg Sayers, Sharon Stewart, Ken Turner, Wayne Walker*, John Watson*, Maurice Williamson.
Against: Josephine Bartley, Angela Dalton, Alf Filipaina, Lotu Fuli, Mike Lee, Kerrin Leoni.
Abstained: Julie Fairey
*voted against airport share sale but for the remainder of the budget.
After two days of debate a budget was agreed that includes an average rates increase one per cent above inflation, and selling 40% of the council's ownership of Auckland Airport.
So that’s it then. Those shares are gone and they’re not coming back. More public assets moved to private ownership. A short term fix for something that needs a long term solution. A solution involving unpopular things that voters won’t like.
I’d going to end with a few words about Cr Shane Henderson. Readers may have noticed I’ve mentioned him in newsletters before as an up-and-comer to watch, and someone who really goes in to bat for West Auckland. I read one report which noted he was visibly upset following the vote, and I don’t doubt he’ll be doing it hard.
Shane - I don’t know if you made the right choice, but then you had a lot more information than observers. What I do know is that you’re a good man and the sort of leader this city needs. There will be other days like this in your career no doubt. Maybe on other days you’ll make different decisions. But you’ve done what you thought was the right thing to do for our city and people will respect that.
So don’t beat yourself up too much eh fella.
Who’d be a councillor?
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If you don’t normally watch the video at the end maybe give this one a go. Tim Minchin is magic.