Twice bitten, thrice shy


    I was reminded of a particular Gulf News cover in 2002 when John Banks, former Auckland mayor, businessman, MP for both National and the ACT parties and long-time shock jock radio host, announced last week that he is considering standing for a third term as our city’s mayor.  

    It was early in his first term as mayor and I had photographed John Banks, flanked by senior city officials, as he surrendered (with a flourish) half of Matiatia’s car park to Waitematā Infrastructure Ltd’s Stephen Norrie and Graham Jull. Parking charges were to be introduced the following week. 

    It was the beginning of the first, shameful push to develop Matiatia for, that time, WIL’s private profit. It galvanised the island to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to halt and, along with the cowboy city culture of his council’s planning regime, probably contributed to Mr Banks losing the mayoralty in the next election.

    His comeback three years later, while promising a more inclusive style, ended in the Royal Commission that panned the city council culture. Unfortunately, its recommendations were subverted after the change of government and used to develop a second super city model orchestrated by Rodney Hide, leader of the ACT party, of which John Banks was to become leader and MP for Epsom.

    Will he stand?  No doubt the grooming from his “powerful” support team is already in action and it would not be in the open if they hadn’t deemed it feasible or useful in the pursuit of power to do so.

    Are we really to be beglamoured by a team with links to global political strategists Crosby Textor (alumni include Don Brash, John Key, Boris Johnson and David Cameron) and Topham Guerin, a Kiwi company that promises “to help global leaders use cutting-edge digital tools and techniques to stand apart from the competition”? Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison is their most recent poster boy.

    We know the sort of advice that Crosbie Textor et al hand out could get the neighbour’s cat elected, mostly by a menagerie of carefully crafted diversions, character assassinations and a vice-like grip on the candidate’s language and photo opportunities.

    Left-Right labels are seldom genuinely useful in local government where jingoistic laissez-faire ideology and “the market” are profoundly inappropriate anyway.  Well-run cities are about stewardship of the commons, place-making and institutional respect for the rights and expectations of citizens. 

    We already gave Mr Banks the trappings of office and the keys to City Hall twice, and came out poorer, more bullied and more excluded from city priorities.  He found bothering with council meetings too much of a chore and leaving it all, including the council culture, to senior officials – most of whom weaselled into the new Auckland Council and its council controlled organisations – was a mess in anyone’s terms.

    In the same Gulf News on 30 May 2002 my editorial pointed out the inevitably unhappy lot of Cinderellas in the short term: scrubbing, scrimping and so on. 

    Predictably – in our relationship with Auckland City – we were always going to be pretty enough to marry the prince (or at least rich or notable enough to become a feted socialite). Nor were we a bad catch.

    We took a handsome trousseau into the 1989 amalgamation: masses of undeveloped farmland ripe for development, a works and services department alone in Auckland in turning a profit, the million-dollar wharf tax fund and revenues to dower our transport hubs at Matiatia and Kennedy Point, a fine set of halls and an active community happy to come up with solutions for everything from beachfront erosion to water and septic systems.

    However, as I wrote 17 years ago, Matiatia’s wharf parking was going west, the farmland had been turned into upwards of $70 million of rateable prime real estate generating a handsome rates revenue and the works department was sold off. The Owhanake subdivision had not delivered ratepayers either the land it needed (and thought it was getting) for a parking building at Matiatia (which was developed privately) or for the Oneroa wastewater treatment, although both had been discussed.

    By 2002, we still seemed to occur for Auckland City as a damned nuisance; always wanting food and enough clothes to be seen outside the house.  If it still feels like that, on both sides, it is in quite large measure because Mr Banks made it so.

     Liz Waters

    Subscribe and read Gulf News and Waiheke Weekender Online