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.