Ram Raid

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    Last week, 15 percent of our Gulf News team were contacted by probably the same pollster asking survey questions about the public consultation on Auckland Council’s budget woes for which submissions were soon to close.

    Both reported emerging from the experience alarmed at the caller’s heavy-handed monologue about the need for Auckland Council to make budget cuts and economies across the city’s local boards, communities and legacy institutions like the library and zoo, as well as selling the council’s airport shares to balance its budget. Fiscal holes, and all that.

    If she hadn’t been online earlier that day researching the issue, one of them said, she would have been afraid for the future of her home and livelihood. Instead she fired off an official information request.

    To be fair, some of the answers came back fairly quickly. Yep, it was a survey agreed to by an emergency council meeting in January, part of the half-million-dollar public consultation process seeking a mandate to claw back money from every corner of the city operation.

    Ethnicities were cited and the 52 percent of Pākehā descent were typically over-represented in such submission processes, officers said. So here we are with an “industry leading market research company” commissioned to design and conduct the survey of 4000 ratepayers to ensure the survey’s independence, the agenda said at the time.

    The questions these 4000 people were primed with won’t be disclosed until June but if they are anything like the questions in the online submission form, they heavily assert the necessity for asset sales including the council’s extremely valuable legacy airport shares and cuts to services at every level.

    All of which begs the question: why the strident alarm from council officials? We were in the same situation a couple of years ago when an $800 million fiscal hole had to be plugged, and it was. It’s probably why we are looking so shabby.

    Everything that Aucklanders have sweated to create for themselves and their descendants over nearly two centuries is at risk – libraries, museums, green spaces, airport shares that are rapidly appreciating in value even as air travel returns. This week, the council’s $60 million arts funding was also tossed in the pot.

    Nothing is said about applying forensic accounting to the work of the city’s financial advisers, operations heads and top and middle management that expands almost magically to match rates or, in the case of the Eke Panuku asset management CCO, revenue from sales of assets.

    We don’t want to ‘submit’ on whether we want rates increases or asset sales or more council debt to fill the hole. We want the council – which wields terrifying power over our lives – to stick to the budgets they make such a song and dance about. We want to be paying workers, not paper shufflers and ladder-climbers and multinational corporates (known euphemistically in council circles, as ‘preferred suppliers’). We all know the names. Just a pity those billions mostly stream out of the country to Australia.

    Completing the submission process these last few weeks, it has been obvious we are watching an almost hysterical, ideologically-based ram-raid on the city’s assets from which communities and individual citizens may never recover. The either-or questions were leading and will have overwhelmed many people. Almost nothing in the officers’ briefings is palatable so the experience was of choosing between evils. Unfortunately, that has been my very long-time experience of Auckland Council as a democracy-deficient conglomerate designed on a free-market ideology and sinking under the weight of its own callous inefficiency.

    So ‘yes’ to the last question: “What else is important to you? Do you have feedback on any other issues?”

    I want value for Waiheke’s $30 million or so in rates and revenues to the council and for the council’s total revenue to be spread evenly across all demographics. Swimming pools and clean beaches for everyone, whether in Manukau or Mission Bay, supportive community life within walking distances, great public transport, clean water and sanitation and sensible, generous housing solutions for everyone.

    Also stewardship of our assets – bricks and mortar, the arts and culture, caring community services, affordable village halls and parks. And well-informed citizens making generous decisions for themselves and for others.

    Then we can have a go at environmental awareness and climate-crisis solutions.

    Officials should stop thinking they have all the answers, or that we even want them to think they have all the answers. We need inclusivity, stewardship of the assets that belong to all of us and timely and wholesome decisions close to the problems. In other words, a firm social footing to be going forward with into the climate emergency.

    With that revolution and a solid community base sorted, we can tackle what’s coming together. I submit that is the council’s mandate. • Liz Waters

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