Welcome to Bro’ Town (not)

Comment by Greg Treadwell

The huge support Len Brown received from the Maori and Pasifika communities in the west and the south has at last confirmed in political terms what we’ve known in social terms for a long time now. The hegemonic Pakeha grip on the isthmus is officially over. This election been aptly dubbed the “browning of Auckland” by even Brian Rudman in the starchy white New Zealand Herald. Of course, politics can and often does take a long time to catch up with social realities – for better or worse. What we can at least be sure of now is the remnants of Citizens and Ratepayers – and their supporters in the emerging supercity bureaucracy – are spread thin enough to ensure their hurtful, cabbalistic ways are contained. While C&R does have members on the city’s local boards (by my count 31 of the ticket’s 82 local board candidates were successful), only five of the city’s 20 council seats were won by the old right guard, so well-entrenched in preceding terms-of-office that they could simply stack the numbers up against anyone who disagreed with them and effectively silence most, if not all, serious opposition. Take, for example, the last Waiheke waste tender when C&R councillors awarded our precious waste tender to an overseas operation at the fatal expense of our hugely successful, environmentally progressive local trust-based enterprise. Duh?

While I’m realistic about the nature of politics – and it will not all be pretty or inclusive, despite a more representative council – it does feel as if we have, somehow, turned a corner.

Or have we? Here on the island it suddenly feels like a roundabout, to be frank. Just as the future appears to be opening up on the mainland, we look to be returning to a style of political behaviour many of us hoped was behind us. I was dismayed to hear that four of the five members of our newly elected board had decided to do the initial divvy-up of the various portfolios – including the jobs of chair and deputy chair – in a manner that excluded any input from the fifth. What about election promises to work together? That the fifth, excluded member was the outgoing city councillor for the gulf and clearly the island’s most popular politician (the vote differential between her and the next highest polling candidate was quite similar to that between Len Brown and John Banks, interestingly) smacks of the very C&R-dominated environment we so desperately need to move beyond. If anyone anywhere has been arguing (for years) for the need to move beyond the I-win-so-you-lose approach to local government, it’s Waiheke. If I read the island buzz right, islanders across the political spectrum are shocked at the speed with which this move to block-voting has come. The supercity has yet to even come into any sort of focus, for goodness’ sake. Yes, the political structures allow it. No, our board shouldn’t behave like that.

This front-foot approach strongly implies, as I read it, that whenever there is a tricky disagreement, it’ll be four on one. Imagine how demoralising that must feel to the winner of the election? Not being allowed to even argue for the portfolios you have worked on for three years (and in some cases more) is a sharp silencing indeed. Also poor form is the off-hand way the important connections the board has to the Waiheke Maori community were also dealt with without formal discussion as though they were simply another duty like road closures and dustbins.

Hell, if things keep going this way, this new board may yet make us realise that the last one was, in fact, quite good. Oh, dear.

Greg Treadwell is a senior lecturer in journalism and a former editor of Gulf News. He is in no way associated with OneWaiheke but does think it is rather cool.

10 thoughts on “Welcome to Bro’ Town (not)”

  1. Well spoken, Greg. I’ve been trying for a week to get my head around this stuff, and here’s my take on what has happened.

    First of all, let’s dispense with this left-versus-right baloney; I’m happy to see that your article didn’t dwell on it. What we have is not a right-wing takeover of the local board, but a Faye Storer takeover. I don’t remember anyone calling Faye a right-winger back when she was facing a C&R city council during the first Banks mayoralty. Faye is, first and foremost, a politician, in both the good and the bad senses of the word. On the good side, she knows how to work the system and get things done. Her approach to the Auckland bureaucracy is not to bemoan it, but to quietly figure out where the pressure points are. She has been credited with everything from walkways to the eviction of Waitemata Infrastructure Ltd from Matiatia.

    On the bad side, Faye has a politician’s sense of territoriality. Her very narrow defeat at the hands of Denise Roche in the 2007 council elections came just after an interestingly-timed revelation about councillors’ travel perks. There is little doubt in my mind that Faye, the politician, felt done in by another politician’s dirty tricks. Now, three years later, she has deployed some tricks of her own.

    It is good that John Stansfield took the initiative to reveal the coup, but I do wish he had done so as more of a factual report and less of a call to arms. His statement that the four other board members had met “several times without inviting Denise” set the terms of the discussion for the next several days, but seems not to have been true. It appears, instead, that Faye engineered her coup through telephone lobbying, one-on-one rather than gang-of-four. Yet John, in presenting Denise’s humiliation as the act of a right-wing cabal rather than as a personal vendetta, has weakened any chance we might have had that the takeover could be reversed. Jo Holmes, Don Mackenzie, and Jim Hannon have the votes to overturn, or at least to modify, Faye’s agenda, and some judicious one-on-one counter-lobbying might have brought that about. Now, however, they have little incentive to do so. The three of them have their backs up; they have been tarred with the same brush as Faye, and this description, I fear, may become self-fulfilling.

    The losers in all this, of course, are the people of Waiheke, including all five members of the local board. The inevitable presence of placard-waving protesters at the inaugural board meeting will guarantee that the new supercity will not take the board seriously. Faye’s victory will be a hollow one, as she will now preside over a powerless committee. Jo, Don and Jim will find out what it’s like to spin their wheels. And poor Denise, her position as outcast cemented by the acrimony of her own supporters, will find her next three years to be much like her last three — the voice, but not the champion, of the Waiheke way.

  2. Greg Treadwell AND Mark James in one day? The quality is getting amazing around here. Well said both of you. It is interesting that during the campaign there was no mention at all of old fashioned Left/Right politics. It simply wasn’t an issue which was very pleasant.
    All any of the candidates talked about was Waiheke, which is as it should be. Yet within hours of the results all we heard was stuff about right wing takeovers and the dissarray of the left.
    There’s probabaly an article waiting to be written on that very subject.

  3. I don’t believe there was a chance of any of the 4 doing anything but what they did. Jim and Don were on the same ticket, as were Faye and Jo, even though they didn’t name it that, it was obvious. Jim has since admitted they caucused in C&R fashion. They were seen in cafes meeting together in various configurations.
    I think this is definitely worse than the last board. The last board were 5 individuals. They never met socially, business was conducted in the meetings.
    This group will operate as you say, in true C&R style.
    Denise’s job will now be a tedious repeat of her last 3 years. It is exhausting to contemplate that unpleasant 3 year slog. Labeling her a minority was the humiliating thing. Supporters are needed for strength. She will start regular community engagement meetings which is one thing she does well, and will be the most access we will have.

  4. Well said Greg
    I believe Faye’s first “achievement” in this shameful debacle was the reasonable demise of a popular call for more community board powers on Waiheke.

  5. A great article Alan. The Gulf News really did exceed any expectations today!!

  6. Alan: Re the previous facebook post. Are you on facebook? I’d like to ask you if you’d like to be an Admin on the page to facilitate some discussion? Whilst I’m in full support of Denise (and incensed by Faye’s actions) I fear, given that local politcs isn’t really my strong point (have you heard my fluffy radio show?) i may be slightly out of my depth. I think the page will probably have some legs and I’d really like to make it (along with links to this site) a populist focal point of discussion and perhaps even action at the forthcoming ‘swearing in’ meeting.

    Let me know. Feel free to email me at simonmansfield@mail.com



  7. As they are not yet sworn in, how can we change the make up of the board? We seem to be forgetting that we can still change the outcome….I for one will not be doing nothing in the side lines. Great read Greg (I think maybe you are teh same chap who came ot see my wee cottage a few years back?)

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