Christine Fletcher: Auckland needs a mayor to stand up to the Government

OPINION

Too many people seem to think that the Auckland Mayoral elections are not important because “the mayor is just one vote”.

Though that may be true for other councils, in Auckland the enabling legislation has given the Auckland Mayor substantial real power.

The mayor has his or her own budget and staff and is responsible for the establishment of the entire governance and committee structure for the council, making all appointments for chairs and deputies who in turn wield significant power with the setting of agendas with the executive and associated remuneration.

A weak mayor will be tempted to appoint those whose main quality is loyalty rather than competence. This weakness is then reinforced by the creation of an environment discouraging the contest of ideas and healthy debate which is vital in a well-functioning democracy.

These risks have been exemplified by the departing Mayor, Phil Goff. In my view, Goff made no real attempt to unify the council and was happy to play favourites.

This lack of unity resulted in the council never being able to effectively stand up to a government that neither seems to understand the needs of Auckland, particularly around infrastructure and funding, nor the impact on this city of ill-thought-out and damaging legislation.

Recent examples of reviews and legislation on water, housing, and light rail to name just a few, suggest Auckland needs to provide much stronger advocacy by a passionate mayor who has the capacity and skills to draw together and mobilise the full council.

Aucklanders have watched Wellington pass mountains of under-funded legislation for decades, which even if well-intentioned pays little heed to its impact on Auckland.

The recent example of the National-Labour housing accord, which will dramatically impact on the character of our city, and the coming Three Waters regime are just examples of a long list of damaging imposts from Government that the council has failed to adequately oppose.

Housing is perhaps the most egregious example of government overriding the needs of Aucklanders. Everyone agrees that there is a housing crisis in Auckland, which requires that we address the real issues of affordability and infrastructure. Instead, we are delivered further changes to the RMA with a view to increasing supply just when Auckland signed off a unitary plan which achieved the creation of 30 years of supply and 900,000 sites.

As a result, Auckland already has a well-considered, evidence-based, community-endorsed growth strategy that supports housing choice and density close to centres and public transport.

One has to ask, how it is that Auckland’s voice is so weak that Government is able to blithely override our needs in this way?

I am sure Phil Goff will make an excellent ambassador, a role which, unlike the Auckland mayoralty, will actually require him to take his riding instructions from the Government of the day, cautiously delivering other’s instructions.

What Auckland desperately needs is a leader who is a free-thinking, independent, free of party loyalties, and passionate about Auckland; someone who will deliver the Auckland message to Wellington without fear or favour; and a leader who will encourage and facilitate a cross-party caucus of Auckland MP’s representing the demographic and economic importance of our city.

This is what is at stake in this year’s election – potentially our last chance to elect a mayor who will owe no party loyalty, entertain no backroom agreements with the government, have no fear of ruffling the feathers of the establishment and who will have a laser-like focus on serving the interests of all Aucklanders.

Mediocrity and trade-offs will not do for New Zealand’s largest city.

• Christine Fletcher is an Auckland councillor for the Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa and is not aligned with any mayoral candidate.

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