At Back Benches' Auckland special, a royal commissioner took aim at the local board structure and Len Brown got a major and surprising endorsement
It was cheek by jowl at the Northern Steamship pub last night for the Back Benches 'Super City' special in Auckland, and two moments in particular leapt out and deserve some coverage.
The quality of the turnout was as important as the quantity. Local Government minister Rodney Hide, Auckland governance select committeen chair John Carter and committee member Sue Bradford, Labour Auckland's spokesman Phil Twyford and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples were all on the panel. All the region's mayors, Bob Harvey, Len Brown, Mark Ball, Penny Webster and Andrew Williams were in the audience... Oh hang on, someone's missing. Yep, John Banks was AWOL. An interesting choice. As the only pro-whatever-the-government-comes-up-with-next mayor he's looking increasingly alienated these days.
But the man who made the biggest impact on the night was arguably David Shand, one of the royal commissioners who spent 18 months hearing and reading over 4000 submissions on reforming the way Auckland is run. He said simply that the design of the local boards was a "shemozzle". The commission had wanted to retain the spirit and character of the existing cities and so had recommended six local councils under the super council. The government has finally settled on 20-30 boards because, Hide says, it's heard the concerns of Aucklanders who want a say over their neighbourhoods.
A cynic might say it also maximises the power of the super council and mayor; 20-30 fragmented community boards scrapping over this local park and that lampost aren't going to challenge them in a way a city-sized council would. But it's a genuine problem stemming from the fact that the new structure is to squeeze three layers of governance into two. Now there's a regional council, city councils and community boards. With the super city taking the regional role and the government wanting to flatten the bureaucracy and focus energies on the big picture, one of the other two has to go. Do you prefer to preserve your city identity or your community identity?
Shemozzle sounds about right.
After my criticism of the New Zealand media for not noticing a decent news story if it's, say, buried in a feature, as as the case with the Herald on Sunday's revelation at the weekend that SAS members are already in Afghanistan, it happened again last night. A news story leapt up waving and screaming and everyone ignored it.
Dr Sharples was asked who he would endorse for the Auckland mayoralty, and rather than duck the question as other MPs did, he replied:
"I endorse someone who's had the experience, someone who understands the make-up of the Auckland people, and that's got to be Len Brown".
That's Brown's first major endorsement, and it comes from a member of the coalition government. Brown is essentially the Labour candidate, but just where his support will come from is one of the big political questions in Auckland.
Banks got 44,000 votes to win the Auckland mayoralty in the 2007 elections while Brown got 32,000 to win Manukau, so Brown has some catching up to do from the get-go. Can and will Bob Harvey deliver him the westie vote? Which way will the rural districts lean? The Maori vote, it seems, is headed Brown's way.
On one hand that's predictable; Banks wouldn't expect to have many fans within Maoridom. But on the other he might have hoped for a Maori mayoral candidate to split the vote. Not so, it seems, with Sharples backing Brown. And let's not forget, the Maori Party is now great mates with National which will, one way or another, back Banks. The relationship between Labour and the Maori Party has been somewhat strained, but Brown seems to be a potential bridge between the two.
I would have thought that the first major endorsement of the mayoralty race would have been news. But nothing has been reported. Still, well done to Wallace Chapman for asking the question.