In a fairly news-packed week – redolent as it’s been with tragedy, fear and accumulated doom that’s discombobulating a great many of us – there is finally some light breaking through on several fronts.
There’s optimism to be found in a back-to-basics suite of central government political promises to round off the second term of New Zealand’s sixth Labour Government.
Beggaring coming generations and starving the country while producing food for 10 times our population in the name of market growth and wealth accumulation to those already comfortably off is beginning to look rather nasty.
We are not all mean-spirited jackasses baying for political blood, though that’s what it may have looked this last year.
So, let’s whip GST off food prices and unseemly profits off banks, resource the disadvantaged with a tax regime that makes the first $20,000 tax free and go a bit harder on those at the top. It’s hardly radical. There are precedents all around the world. Once we actually made those same precedents ourselves. It only takes political will.
Government and local administration equitable for everyone will harm no-one.
The second breakthrough in public attention this last week has been the undoubted message that yep, the supercity council is largely unfit for purpose but we can still count on friends, neighbours and kindly strangers for some pretty heroic stuff when the chips are down.
“Hotter, sooner, more extreme” screamed the Guardian Weekly front page in June 2022. Auckland’s two-term ex-mayor Phil Goff resoundingly ignored talk of climate crisis until his apparently overstretched budget made it essential that he garner a $1 billion climate war chest from ratepayers. To be spent, rather vaguely, on buses, cycle lanes and more trees. It was also to be implemented after he left office and had scurried off to fill a plum diplomatic post.
But the issue has been top and centre for Auckland coastal suburbs and communities, all with crumbling coastlines like ours, for decades.
So no, former deputy prime minister and celebrity Paula Bennett, Auckland did not get what it deserved when it elected a mouthy Northland businessman to rule the city for three years.
Frankly, we Aucklanders have been shorn of civic leadership for so long we grasp at anyone prepared to run a ruler over Auckland Transport, the ‘property’ Panuku arm and senior council management.
And this situation was created by Wellington during the previous National government that gave us nine years of vanishing democracy and a self-replicating and sclerotic bureaucracy designed by ACT politician Rodney Hide. Regardless of the toxic culture exposed by a Royal Commission of Enquiry, he mandated the retention of the entire bottom to top 6500 staff from the four legacy, and supposedly unfit, cities created by the 1980s amalgamation.
All of this is history, a warning against unfettered centralisation of local decision-making that should have weaned us off the fallacy that some omnipotent ‘they’ will save us when the bad stuff hits. There is a good chance they won’t even be trying.
Waiheke got off relatively lightly last week but had an advance run on the likely effects of brutal climate change five years ago when untended culverts and vastly expanding site coverage funnelled raging torrents down on to roads and neighbours and dammed a vast lake behind the transfer station.
There were also literally hundreds of coastal slips and major flooding in low-lying Blackpool. Despite which, large and expensive houses are still being approved by Auckland Council’s local planning operation for beachfront and even paper-road access, regardless of imminent sea level rises.
In the aftermath of Auckland’s fatal and catastrophic floods last week, media pundits were clamouring for yet another inconvenient Auckland mayor to withdraw in shame and, like Ms Bennett, calling for some elusive ‘better leadership’.
Mayor Wayne Brown has been in the job less than three months and the bureaucracy may not even have put him on the notification list. Media point-scoring commenced and he rightly pointed to the demonstratable fact that – facing an unprecedented natural disaster – communities and citizens showed up as resourceful and generous. As citizens elsewhere have done as other shocking natural disasters have rolled over the country in recent years.
He also announced an independent review of the response to the first hours of the Auckland floods, headed by former police commissioner Mike Bush who will look at how well Auckland Emergency Management was placed in the lead up to the severe weather and how well the various systems responded in the initial 24-48 hours.
Good. Mistakes are only mistakes if we fail to learn from them. Massive bureaucracies, usually neither agile or capable of admitting errors, never learn. But at this moment, there is even a discernible recognition that communities are a vital part of the equation.
• Liz Waters