Auckland Council elections: Drawing a line in the sand

Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance is gunning for big-spending councillors.

A good deal of energy has been expended recently on the vexed political question of what to do when one’s elected representatives let voters down.

It’s currently absorbing debate in the UK where the political elites from both the Tories and Labour allied with the satisfied and prosperous classes to say Remain.

Those who have felt excluded from political debate and from prosperity gave them the one-fingered salute and voted Leave. Now the challenge facing the UK is how to exit and on what terms.

In the US, both the Sanders clan and the Trumpers want more from their leaders than they have been getting for many years; they, too, feel politics is a game played successfully by others to their cost.

Hillary Clinton is struggling to convince that she can challenge the status quo when she is seen so much to be a part of it and therefore part of the problem.

Closer to home the outgoing and unlamented Auckland mayor Len Brown must be rueing both his affair and his promise to maintain a tight control of rates because the same inability to keep faith with the people who elected him has destroyed his credibility as a mayor, as a credible financial manager and is now threatening to plight the chances of Auckland investing sensibly for the future.

Far too many people in Auckland have had enough and are in open revolt against the Auckland Council, the mayor and the system which has imposed a 9.9% average rates increase this year when inflation is barely ticking over at less than 1% a year.

Unjustified rates increase
So what’s the story? Mr Brown can’t adequately explain the increase, or justify the scale of it. He’s not standing again, and the public is grateful for that.

But most of the councillors who joined the mayor in backing the 9.9% average rate increase are standing, and the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance is going after each and every one of them "serious big time." They deserve it, too.

The alliance was founded last year, out of the shock, horror and astonishment at the sheer gall of the mayor and his cronies in proposing and then passing a rates increase at least 10 times the rate of inflation.

The 9.9% increase was an average; it was much higher in some areas – the average household in Mangere-Otahuhu and Kaipatiki had their rates bumped up by over 16% last year.

The alliance has come up with a pledge, and is asking mayoral candidates and council aspirants to sign it.

The pledge binds them not to support and to vote against rate increases or increases in council charges that result in household bills rising by more than 2% in a year.

Signing the pledge
Among the mayoral candidates, John Palino, Mark Thomas and Victoria Crone have either signed or have indicated they will.

Pointedly, Labour's Phil Goff has not. He has time to change his mind but don’t hold your breath. He’s a politician who doesn’t like being held to promises, and doesn’t want his freedom to manoeuvre to be reduced.

Fair enough in one sense. The challenges and therefore the solutions for Auckland are serious and complex.

But at the same time the Ratepayers’ Alliance is drawing a line in the sand. It’s saying that whatever the solutions might be, they can’t be about paying more to an inefficient, wasteful, beast like the Auckland Council, which is careless with ratepayers’ money, squanders it easily and so far has not produced enough of worth to justify getting more moolah to play with.

The council, and not just Mr Brown, has a serious credibility problem; many think it is too big, unwieldy, undemocratic, out of control and over-bureaucratised. Rather than gift it more money and power, they would prefer to reduce its power and influence.

In the meantime, having councillors who are pledged to rein in extravagant spending will be a good start.

With nearly 17,000 members, the alliance is now the largest political membership organisation in Auckland. It is leafleting the areas where the gang of nine councillors who voted for the 9.9% average rate increase are standing.

The Ratepayers’ Alliance wants those councillors to feel the righteous wrath of popular anger in the ballot box and intends to defeat as many as possible. Then the councillors will have learned the lessons that politicians in the UK and now the US are learning; don’t treat the people with distain. They will rise up and bite you.

John Bishop is the chairman of the Taxpayers’ Union

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