Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A ‘super city’ really is the last thing needed in this region

Rodney Hide may be gone after the November election but his plan to force other councils to follow the Auckland ‘‘Super City’’ experiment lives on.

If National and ACT get a second term I am worried that a review of local government could see Wairarapa communities such as Masterton, Carterton, Greytown, Featherston and Martinborough, and even coastal settlements like Castlepoint, Riversdale Beach and Ngawi controlled by a large, Wellington-dominated super-city council.

With ex-National leader Don Brash leading ACT any hope of the Wairarapa retaining a strong independent local identity under a KeyBrash regime is probably history. It would be naive to believe that the forced amalgamation of rural and urban councils into the Auckland ‘‘Super-City’’ is a ‘‘unique oneoff’’. It was the first step in a master plan for the whole country.
And we should note that if ACT disappears from the political scene, which is equally likely, then ACT’s amalgamation policies could live on through National as a willing partner to ACT’s amalgamation plans.

Rodney Hide delivered his plan as a minister in the National government. Look at the Government’s record on local government. There was much talk about Aucklanders being allowed to speak with one voice and the ‘‘local’’ being put back into ‘‘local government’’. But local voices were drowned through the consultation process and the local voice was reduced to toothless community boards. Some 75 per cent of property, formerly owned by ratepayers, is now placed under the control of hand-picked, unelected corporate boards. Even now in Auckland we can see the beginnings of the private ownership by the wealthy few of Auckland’s water infrastructure.

The changes in Auckland mean all water and wastewater functions are now managed by Watercare Services Ltd and all transport functions ( except, for the timebeing, motorways) are managed by Auckland Transport. Several other large council-controlled organisations also manage regional facilities, economic development, property development, the waterfront and investments. It is now apparent that amalgamation is accompanied by its hidden agenda – the plan to sell off publicly-owned local government assets.

New Zealand has an appalling experience of privatisation. The sale of New Zealand Rail and Air New Zealand went so pear-shaped that the state had to buy them back. Air New Zealand is again being prepared for sale and, given recent experience, will have to be bought back again at great public expense unless we can stop it.

The sale of Telecom stands out as a failure in terms of developing our telecommunications system. And let us not forget the handing over of our banking system to the Australian banks. The Auckland Super City is a failure that destroys local representation, dilutes democracy and delivers ratepayers’ assets into the hands of the wealthy. Why should the people of the Wairarapa believe this master plan for local government will be any different here?

The disappearance of local bodies must contribute to a loss of identity, especially with youth. It will damage our independence, our sense of identity and opportunities for us to stand up, make a difference, and be proud of it. The more disempowered people feel, the more neighbourliness dies and street crime increases.

In reality the voice of the Wairarapa would be lost in any super city. I’m committed to fighting hard to retain Wairarapa’s independence and voice and standing up against the Government’s proposal to make our wonderful region part of a super city that will destroy our uniqueness, not to mention Wairarapa’s voice.

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