Robust debate essential

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    We live in an era of intense algorithmically driven polarisation, a choose-your-own-reality which makes consensus building extremely difficult, Spinoff columnist Duncan Greive said in the aftermath of this most intriguing of council elections.

    Even within relatively aligned blocs there are deep fissures, such as the right’s inability to pass meaningful resource management act reform, or the divide between Labour and the Greens on taxation, he said, noting that there are few issues that can pull together a divided electorate.

    The future of Auckland’s port appears to be one of them, he said, with Mayor Wayne Brown’s having already told ports chair Jan Dawson, that Bledisloe Wharf, the world’s most spectacularly located carpark, should be vacated and made accessible to the public as soon as possible.

    His port plan was about all we in Auckland knew of Wayne Brown’s track record and his runaway election win almost certainly mandated the change on an issue that’s been gridlocked for decades. He has already got the three most crucial stakeholders aligned, collectively representing central government, local government and mana whenua, along with both the left and right of our politics.

    Polls say it’s also supported by four out of five Aucklanders, the port’s owners.

    Brown’s widening mandate also taps into a sense from all sides that radical change in the sclerotic bureaucratic culture and power structures favouring a handful of big, mostly Australian industry players had to happen. The alternative would be a bloodbath that would lose Auckland ratepayers their big opportunity to reclaim the sprawling 55 hectare site and its massive revenues, only to find the opportunities that open up already hocked off to what officials call “preferred suppliers”.

    I find the new mayor compellingly quotable, possibly because he is telling senior officials truths that, as Greive said, “might more normally be expected from ordinary constituents with too much time on their hands”.

    What’s different is that this is the mayor and he’s listening and acting; already engaged with both MP Chlöe Swarbrick – who is well versed in Waiheke’s problems and aspirations – and the prime minister, who was also no stranger to the island in her earlier parliamentary career.

    We are also seeing him emerging as a go-to and constructive leader on national issues including Three Waters. Other New Zealand cities regularly have leaders publicly advocating with Wellington but it’s a sight we haven’t have seen for a decade in Auckland.

    Waiheke’s new local board will be sworn in at an inaugural meeting this Thursday at 4pm at the Ostend Hall. Neither the mayor or chief executive are expected to attend (though who knows) but the city’s local boards are front line community democracy and have been already been targeted for improvement and empowerment by Mayor Brown.

    They are also the city’s repository and access to institutional local knowledge. Local boards learn (or don’t) from mistakes and have consequences to learn from. Inclusive collaboration gets them through, or not.

    In council news this week, the public has only until next Wednesday to have their opinion on the long-delayed draft Reserve Management plan for the Rangihoua sports reserve in which it says it has decided that the Waiheke Golf Club should not expand beyond its current footprint. Story and local comment is on pages 6 and 7.

    Waiheke has stumbled along under the top-heavy, pig-headed bureaucracies of Auckland City and, 12 years ago, the revised Auckland Council (which essentially rearranged all the same senior officials in different deckchairs).

    Officials aren’t entrepreneurs.

    Or businessmen schooled in the hard knocks and real life where customers have choices and banks pass or fail their efforts.

    In our Waiheke experience, senior officials collect rates and their salaries and ignore attempts at collaboration to find nuanced solutions in different demographics. In the city their numbers have blown out – expensively – under mayor Phil Goff who started his political career in Rogernomics ideology with its crippling antipathy to institutional knowledge or meaningful civic engagement.

    We are watching Auckland Transport imploding this week, trying to make a virtue out of necessity over radical reductions in bus services, on top of the news in recent weeks of the pending madness of closing rail lines for eight months this year and next. For what is usually routine maintenance with modern equipment that can upgrade 16km of track a day. Pick and shovel progress was pretty good too.

    Meanwhile, in the last three months, I’ve amassed a foot-high slab of mostly AT-generated paperwork aiming to cut Waiheke’s carbon emissions by levering people out of their cars. It calls for pre-emptive (educative) reductions in parking opportunities, tinkering with speed limits and removing residents’ roadside vehicle habitats no matter what, or however light a family’s groceries become.

    This while buses ‘not in service’ trawl our tiny roads and appear and disappear from both Mātiatia and Kennedy Point in that bus driving nirvana that’s free from either passenger encumbrances or ferry timetables.

    The coming local government term will contain opportunities for constructive truth-telling to power and we will all be better for it. • Liz Waters

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