Life and Politics

Occasional comment on politics and the media in New Zealand

Tag: Auckland Super City Council

Tax reform Key’s big challenge for 2010

by Jake Quinn

Could 2010 be a year of opportunity for the major parties of New Zealand politics or simply more of the same?  In a series of posts asking the big questions of the major parties, Life and Politics takes a look at the challenges ahead, beginning with the governing party.

National has the chance to cement its place as one of the most popular governments in recent history.  Alternatively, it could make some crucial missteps – most likely around its ‘broadening of the tax base’ agenda – while extinguishing much of the political capital it’s been stockpiling since coming to office in 2008.

Key has been compared, for some good reason, to Keith Holyoake.  Holyoake was PM for a few moments in 1957 and then from 1960 to 1972, before later becoming Governor General.  Like Key, Holyoke was renowned for his ‘consensus building’ approach.  In plain English this means he was less ideological in his actions than might otherwise have been expected and that he had ‘a great deal of time’ for public opinion.  He, so says Historian Barry Gustafson, had a knack for picking the public mood and taking his caucus with it.

Mr Key, too, could to be accused of having such a knack. But he hasn’t always won the battles.  The story goes that the Māori seats on the Auckland Super Council were never really about the Act Party and their clever little stunt to resign Rodney’s Local Government portfolio if the seats became a reality.  But the Battle was always one fought inside the National Party.  Key, they say, really did consider the seats an option.  He hinted to the news media that they were on the table.

He noted the public mood, which while split on the issue, was the closest ever to a majority supporting guaranteed Māori representation – so he thought, why the hell not?  But this internal battle he did not win.  Why? Well the only issue in recent history that has so united the National Party is that those Māori seats in Parliament should go, so it is unsurprising that his caucus, and more importantly cabinet, weren’t going to have a bar of it – especially not for Auckland, which is seen by most as NZ’s key political battleground.

So what are the issues that in 2010 Mr Key will have to battle his colleagues over?  Tax reform must be top of the list.  Some commentators have suggested that Key, the great currency trader and market man, will want sweeping, revolutionary change.  No way.  There will be some in his cabinet that will want to reduce overall taxes, they always have.  But Key understands that the public appetite for major cuts to public spending that would result from such cuts just isn’t there, so he will resist.

Many of his colleagues will oppose the very taxes that would sufficiently broaden the base (freeing up space for cuts to income and corporate rates) such as capital gains taxes, land and plant taxes, inheritance and death taxes and any other tax that targets the wealthy elite, even if the theory backs it creating growth.  So Key will have a battle on his hands, but it won’t be with the public.

If he’s smart (and wants to hang onto his centrist voter support) he will back some of the above measures for broadening the tax base, but without making the tax burden any heavier on the average or low wage earner.  Such changes would see capital flow from unproductive assets like housing to the share market, where it is able to provide the incentives and resources to create new industry and jobs.

To do this he must really shake the money tree, and that involves hitting the old money where it hurts.  Land, capital gains and pollution taxes must lesson the burden on income and corporate rates, as we must tax that which cannot move.  This, bringing his colleagues and the public together on effective tax reform, will be our PM’s biggest challenge for 2010 and his legacy rests on its success.


Auckland City Liquor Laws and Aaron Bhatnagar’s Facebook Democracy

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

I love listening to Sean Plunkett when he’s playing with his interviewees. It’s the radio equivalent of watching a cat toy with a mouse it’s just caught – it’ll let it go for a bit, but quickly re-catch it. Of course, Plunkett (like the cat) is always in control. To his credit, he takes the same line with the right and the left, which, in my opinion, makes him New Zealand’s top interviewer.

Classic example yesterday morning was his interview with Auckland City Councillor, Aaron Bhatnagar.

Basically, the Citizens and Ratepayers dominated Auckland City Council wanted to limit the opening hours for licenced premises outside of the ‘social’ districts (such as Downtown, Parnell, K Road etc). This drew a quick response from several suburban pubs and bars which said that they’d probably go out of business if they had to close up at 11pm. Respectful, civilised places like the Villager and Gee Gees, where nice, upper-middle class folks go to discuss polo results and how to get their children into Kings, as opposed to the booze-fuelled watering holes at the Viaduct where the early twenties frequent and vomit outside in the wee-small hours.

I’m sure Aaron’s a really nice guy when you meet him (in fact, I have it on good authority that he’s a top bloke), but the changes to Auckland suburban liquor licencing were draconian, to say the least, even drawing fire from his National Party mates like David Farrar (although Farrar was very vague about who was responsible for the changes), so to his credit, the changes have been abandoned.

In yesterday morning’s interview, Sean Plunkett toyed with Aaron for a full five and a half minutes (Phoebe wanted to turn the car radio off it was so painful, but I insisted that we continue listening). At one point, Plunkett implied that Bhatnagar has been got-at by the hospitality lobby, which Bhatnagar tries to deny:

(4:10) Aaron: What we are saying is that there are significant public concerns about this, but just in the hospitality industry, but from the public as well.

Sean: How many public submissions did you get on this?

Aaron: Sorry?

Sean: What, can you just name some of the community groups besides the bar owners and the hospitality industry who were upset at it?

Aaron: Oh, absolutely, um, well, we’ve had, um, to name off the top of my head there were, I follow Facebook, and um, online consultation is a great forum for seeing what the mood of the public is, and I think there were something like 4,600 people who had joined a Facebook group to protest, and when you actually see all the people there and the comments they make, it’s actually a very good barometer for…

Sean: Do you think that Auckland City should be run by sort of Facebook polls?

Aaron: No, I actually think that there are many ways in which politicians can get feedback, and I’m proud that I use online feedback to gauge the public mood.

I hardly ever join Facebook groups (I have over 100 outstanding group invites, so stop inviting me) after being let down by a guy proclaiming that he would call his son Batman if a million people joined his group. I have also been invited to fan groups of the ‘Cool Side of the Pillow’, as well one proclaiming that David Bain’s trail-by-media got the wrong verdict (oh the irony). There are so many Facebook groups, and they are so easy to set up (let alone join), that they have lost all effect as a political lobby in my opinion – if they ever had any effect in the first place, that is.

While I agree that the changes to the law should have been canned, Bhatnagar really should have built a more solid rationale for his change of heart than “the hopitality lobby were going to be inconvenienced and a group on Facebook convinced me”. Something simple like: “Auckland is a big city, and we’ve come to the realisation that one-size-fits-all doesn’t really work across our diverse communities” or “we’re exploring other avenues for dealing with this problem”.

But the way Aaron left this, the perceived problems surrounding inconsistency of liquor licencing laws remain unsolved. Bhatnagar and his Citizens and Ratepayers pals have put this into the ‘too hard’ basket, and defaulted them to the Super City council. Bhatnagar is deluding himself thinking that regulating liquor laws across the Super City going to be any easier. For example, where I live in Waitakere City is under the jurisdiction of the Waitakere and Portage Trusts (more commonly known as ‘The Trusts’), which restrict where alcohol can be sold, and puts the profits back into the community. Aligning Waitakere’s licencing laws with the laissez-faire licencing laws of Rodney District and Auckland City is not going to be easy.

Is this what’s going to happen from now until local body elections next year? Anything that’s slightly controversial is going to be palmed off to the new body? I guess this is one of those dead rats that Bhatnagar and his boss, John Banks, probably could do without swallowing, especially if Aaron wants to get the nod from the National Party to be their candidate in Epsom in 2011.

The Curious Case of the Rodney District

by Jeremy Greenbrook-Held

The Auckland Local Governance committee has released it’s submission this afternoon. David Farrar has a good summary of the findings here.

I made a submission to the committee (it can be seen here if you’re interested). The crux of my submission was:

  • I broadly supported a stronger regional body from the northern boundary of the Rodney District to the southern boundary of the Franklin District.
  • I proposed a London-style local borough model, or, failing that, stronger Community Boards.
  • I was opposed to councilors being elected at-large, and wards retain their current boundaries (within reason).
  • I supported dedicated Maori seats on the Auckland council elected from the Maori electoral roll.

I can’t say I’m particularly pleased with the select committee report, nor am I especially disapointed. There’s a few progressive victories (no at-large councillors) but there are a few points that are disappointing (no dedicated Maori seats).

And then there is the situation with the Rodney District.

I grew up in the Rodney District. My parents still live there. It was a great place to grow up, not so great when you have to commute to Auckland (or, worse, Manukau), and apparently a great place to retire.

However, to pretend that the current boundaries reflect community needs and desires would be foolish. Residents in Kumeu and Helensville in the south-west of the district have very little in common with residents in Wellfords and Walkworth in the north or the Hibiscus Coast in the east. Indeed, for a long time there has been an underlying resentment in Western Rodney having to pay rates to a council in Orewa – this came to a head with the lightening consultation regarding the council rezoning a commercial area in Kumeu as industrial. A few years back there was talk of the Western Ward seceding from Rodney and joining Waitakere City, and to be honest, in my opinion it would have been a more comfortable fit.

However, I’m not entirely sure what the select committee had in mind when they proposed that the north part of the Rodney District become part of the Dargaville-based Kaipara District and Northland Region.

As I stated in my submission, it’s important that the Auckland Council retain it’s rural hinterlands to the north and south. This would allow space for the council to control urban sprawl within their boundaries. This is particularly important in the north where there is almost continuous suburbia from the Harbour Bridge to Orewa. However, the proposed boundaries have put the rural area to the north of Orewa largely in the Kaipara District, and given the chance to develop a natural urban area within their boundaries and within commuting distance of the Auckland central business district, I imagine Kaipara is going to take it.

It’s incredibly important that Auckland’s urban sprawl doesn’t go on unabated. The ability of the Auckland Council being able to control this has been delegated to a council based in Dargaville.

Opportunity lost I guess.

Labour tables Maori seats SOP, Boscowen gets lucky

by Jake Quinn

Labour has used its ‘Maori Caucus’ to table an amendment guaranteeing Maori seats on the new Auckland council, based on the model observed in Parliament:

The Supplementary Order Paper, lodged by Mita Ririnui, proposes that Maori seats on the council be established in the same way as the Maori seats in Parliament.

This means the number of Maori seats on the new council would be allocated according to the number of Maori on the Maori roll, Parekura Horomia said.

They draw on the experience of Maori seats in the Bay of Plenty (which are widely seen as effective) as an example:

“I introduced a similar piece of legislation in 2001, establishing Maori seats on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council which now has three Maori seats. It was pleasing to see yesterday that the Environment Bay of Plenty Chairman John Cronin said the Maori seats there were working well,” Mita Ririnui says.

In other news (and in a swift bout of terrible timing), John Boscawen’s member’s bill has been drawn today.  The bill aims to define the level and nature of force which it will be acceptable in ‘correcting’ children.  The ballot has displayed an eerie ability to pick extraordinarily relevant (in terms of timing) bills in the last few months. 

The timing of this one could be pretty serious though, if National decides to go with it.  John Key has thus far stared the smackers down by not making any changes to the assault on children legislation, may his principled and rational stance continue.

Disappointing Maori seat backdown

by Jake Quinn

And it’s a back down because before last week, the prevailing opinion was that Key would strike a deal with Sharples, based on the overwhelming support at the select committee for having Maori seats, and pull through on some kind of deal that included them for Auckland’s new super council.

Key signalled for months that the seats were on the table.  Hide pulls his ‘principled stunt‘ and to be fair to him it does match his principles (the poor bastard would have had to take the very bill through the House that brought the seats into being), and suddenly the game changes.

One gets the feeling that Key just couldn’t take cabinet with him.

But Key doesn’t need Hide as a minister, he’s got the numbers any way he looks, what’s more, Hide has made it clear he won’t being down the government (not that he could, what this really means is that Hide won’t pull his parties support on confidence and supply thus forcing the Nat’s into the unenviable position of having to rely solely on the Maori Party).

So why the change of heart?  Key is so far ahead in the polls he doesn’t need to worry about a gap on the right opening up, and in any case they’re are all still votes for a National-led government, so what changed.

The only explanation is that his colleagues had let him meander on with his friendliness to the Maori Party, but when push came to shove, Bill and the old school just wouldn’t have a bar of it.

New Zealand needs to remember that just because Mr Key is a decent bloke, he’s still surrounded by some pretty conservative old cronies, the same lot who stood by and defended this horrid bloody speech.

Key to hammer first nail in Nat-Maori coffin

by Jake Quinn

NZPA reports this morning:

Cabinet is set to make a decision about Maori seats on a new Auckland super city today – likely ruling them out and averting a ministerial resignation… A decision to rule out Maori seats would mean Mr Hide would not have to fulfil a promise made last week to resign over the issue.

Putting to one side the incredible level of spin in the above paragraph, for that is worth another post entirely.  It is likely that should Key say no to the seats, that this decision is not based on Hide’s resignation threat, but on clear polling data from Pakeha Auckland voters that they have no appetite for them.  If that is the case, Hide’s little stunt will work out well as ‘an excuse’ for Key’s decision.

It will however have other consequences.  It would be the first nail in the coffin of the National-Maori Party governing arrangement.  The Maori Party has, as of yet, chosen to play the long game adopting not to sink to Hide’s level.  Good on them.  National would be wise to do similarly.

The sustainability of future National-led minority governments is linked to their relationship with the Maori Party.  The Maori Party are likely to become the de facto kingmaker in many future governments and while National currently has the unusual pleasure of choosing its partner on a case by case basis (they can turn to either Act or the Maori Party to command a legislative majority – that is, they don’t need both), this will not always be the case.

After the next election it is likely that National will be in a position to form a government.  It is also possible that the right (National and Act) will get less total vote share than they did in 2008.  If this happens National will need the Maori Party (or some other centre party) to get the numbers on confidence and supply.  But will their bridges be burned?

Labour needs to do some serious work on its relationship with the Maori Party.  Perhaps the silver lining, should Key today adopt for no Maori seats, is that Labour and the Maori Party will have an issue which can unite them.

Update: from stuff:

Cabinet has ruled out dedicated Maori seats on the new Auckland super city.  Prime Minister John Key said ministers had given consideration to the issue, but decided against it.

Looks like I was wrong, I overestimated John Key and I really am quite disappointed.  I was thinking he might be different.

Sour note finishes tough week in politics for nats

by Jake Quinn

A TVNZ Mt Albert by-election poll released yesterday put David Shearer on a staggering %59, Melissa Lee on %21 and Russel Norman on %15.  I understand that this is consistent with other private polling.

PredictionsRussel will beat Lee on polling day because apathy will see both Nat and Lab voters stay at home (as the result appears to be a foregone conclusion), plus the leftist protest vote will go to Norman instead of Shearer now that they’ve seen the poll result that Shearer is “safe”. Shearer will still win comfortably, but not by anything like this margin.

A strong victory for Shearer and Labour in Mt Albert is a strong endorsement of Phil Goff’s leadership of the Labour Party and will see questioning of his leadership off the agenda for sometime.

Today’s Herald leads with an Audrey Young piece about the poll capping a bad week for National and explains: “Labour may even increase its majority in the seat this weekend, which would be a big boost to the authority of new leader Phil Goff within the Labour Party.”

It was also interesting to hear John Key backtrack on his odd endorsement of John Banks for Super Mayor of Auckland. NZPA reports: “A spokesman from Mr Key’s office said this morning there were no endorsements for any candidates and it was up to the people of Auckland to decide who they wanted as mayor.”

This is yet another example of botched political management from John Key and his staff. How could the words “Can I start by acknowledging the mayor – more importantly the Super Mayor of Auckland city – John Banks,” be seen as anything but an endorsement?

His “arch-nemesis” (please read inverted commas as an indication of sarcasm) Paul Henry was kind enough not to ask any tough questions about this on Breakfast this morning, rather he ended his piece with “it’s [the tough last week] character building, and you’ve got a good character”. Thank you Paul.

Thought for the day: Goff has got John Key and his “Minister for Ethnic Affairs” Richard Worth “by the texties”.

Herald supports Maori seats in Auckland

by Jake Quinn

It is both interesting and encouraging to see the NZ Herald come out strongly in support of Maori seats on the proposed Auckland Super Council. From today’s editorial:

The Herald has said previously, both in backing the royal commission’s proposal and in lamenting the Government’s rejection of it, that Maori, as a community of distinctive character and interest, warrant a place around the Auckland Council table. Dedicated seats, equally, are a means of ensuring Maori participation in local government.

Oddly, there are no references – at all – to the Treaty in the editorial.

The Herald feels John Key has backed himself, somewhat unnecessarily, into a corner: “The Government’s problem, following its thumbs-down for the seats, is how to orchestrate this sort of arrangement without appearing to capitulate.”

The editorial concludes: “After due consideration, it must surely find a way to include Maori representation on the Auckland Council.”

As has been assumed by many, it would seem inevitable that Key will capitulate and come up with a compromise through his dealings with the Maori Party.  The question now is how and when?

On Hikoi & Treaty: Govt poised to announce seats?

by Jake Quinn

Today thousands of Aucklanders, of different colours, backgrounds and political leanings, are marching against the National-led government because it has failed to act—in respect of the Super City Council structure—“in good faith, fairly, reasonably, and honourably” with the people of Auckland and with Maori in particular.

Like it or not our ancestors signed the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty gave the Crown the right to make laws in return for the promise to do so, so as to acknowledge and protect the interest of Maori.

National and Act, against the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance and without consulting anyone, let alone Maori, chose not to include any Maori seats on the proposed Council. They did this, in principle, because they oppose reserved Maori representation on our governing bodies.

While many find their rhetoric rousing; ‘racially divided state’, ‘one person, one vote’, ‘apartheid’ and what have you, one cannot escape that New Zealand is based on a partnership going back to 1840, and that ignoring that inevitably leads to a ‘tyranny of the majority’: a situation where because we have one group that out numbers the rest, pretty much all our elected people would end up representing that group – and that is not democracy.

On a cold Sunday morning it was pleasing to see TVNZ Q+A “host” Paul Holmes well out numbered—by his entire panel—on the topic of Maori seats. Sandra Lee, Therese Arseneau and Mayor Tim Shadbolt all differed in their reasons (from ideological to pragmatic, respectively), but all supported Maori seats in Auckland.

The word from Espiner yesterday was that Key was feeling “very relaxed” about today’s Hikoi, which could only have meant one thing: A compromise, as this site predicted a month ago, is on the cards.

This morning’s news however, that Key said “today’s Hikoi … is unlikely to make a difference, is premature and the wrong forum to raise concerns” shifts the focus back onto the Maori Party. The subtext of Key’s words is not that Maori seats in Auckland are off, but that “the National—Maori Party governing relationship, not the Hikoi, is the context for advancing this discussion.”

Nats must thread carefully over akl transition board

by Jake Quinn

With the monthly political capital meter at an all time low for the Key-led government, it comes as no surprise that Cabinet has delayed yesterday’s announcement about the make of up of the Auckland Transition Agency’s board – what would have been expected not to cause waves just weeks ago, is now going to be the next big test for Key.

The Auckland Transition Agency was established by legislation under urgency last week, to oversee the move to the Super City structure by next year.

A few weeks back, many observers assumed that the make of the agency’s board would have been relatively uncontroversial as National, under Key, was developing a reputation as being rather centrist and politically risk averse – spotting and following public opinion in a way that was characteristic of Key’s consensus building style.

However, coupled with a disaster week in the Mt Albert by-election campaign, where Key’s hand picked candidate Melissa Lee made a series of silly mistakes effectively ruining her party’s chances of winning the unwinnable (and seriously challenging Phil Goff’s position as Labour leader), the Rankin affair has effectively ended the new government’s extended honeymoon – which had been starting to develop into something of a ‘honey-gap-year’.

So the now skeptical eyes of the press gallery will be closely focused on the Auckland Transition Agency and its board, expected to be announced in the next week. They will be looking to Key to ‘make right’ and offer up a leadership team that doesn’t stink of divisive (like Rankin) or inexperienced (like Lee). If the headlines read “Rodney Hide’s Mates to Run Auckland” it may well be curtains for Key’s dominated of the polls.

Path set to Maori seats on Super City Council

by Jake Quinn

The NZ Herald’s Bernard Orsman writes today that “The Government is showing increased signs of flexibility on Maori seats and more local representation for the Auckland Super City council.”

Does this come as a surprise? Absolutely not.

A few weeks back I wrote:

I suspect that the government may not have included any Maori seats on Auckland’s proposed new super council simply so that it was in a position to be able to offer up a seat or two after post hikoi “negotiations” with its affable coalition partner.

It is also good to see Labour’s Phil Goff moving from just having “an open mind”:

PHIL Well that’s the Royal Commission’s argument for it, I’ve got an open mind on that, what I’m saying at this stage is that at least it should have been consulted on, it shouldn’t have been scrapped without any consultation.

To actually backing the initiative provided that it is “one person, one vote”. Whilst it would have been stronger to get out in front early with his support, it’s better late than never.