Six ur­gent pri­or­i­ties for the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion to im­prove the lives of Auck­lan­ders.

Six ur­gent pri­or­i­ties for Auck­land.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — MATT ZWARTZ / IL­LUS­TRA­TION — DARON PAR­TON

1. Hous­ing & home­less­ness

It’s at cri­sis point, and it’s the big­gest Auck­land is­sue fac­ing the next gov­ern­ment. Hous­ing — and there­fore home­less­ness — is the gold-medal win­ner of this city’s so­cial-prob­lem Olympics: its links to other is­sues such as child poverty and the widen­ing gap be­tween rich and poor el­e­vate it to the top of the podium over trans­port and in­fra­struc­ture.

The Na­tional-led gov­ern­ment has con­sis­tently de­nied any cri­sis ex­ists. You know, kind of like how Blam Blam Blam sang in “There is No De­pres­sion in New Zealand” that there are no sheep on our farms. It’s the dic­tionary def­i­ni­tion of de­nial. In Fe­bru­ary, the Sal­va­tion Army’s State of the Na­tion re­port laid out the facts: Auck­land’s pop­u­la­tion grew by 181,500 in the five years to September 2016, and us­ing the 2006 Cen­sus av­er­age of three peo­ple per dwelling, we need 60,500 more homes to meet de­mand.

Yet only 39,627 new-home con­sents were is­sued, leav­ing a sub­stan­tial short­fall.

Work and In­come gave out 8860 emer­gency hous­ing grants to 2600 Auck­land fam­i­lies in the last three months of 2016, fork­ing out $7.7 mil­lion on mo­tel bills, al­most four times the bud­get for the en­tire year. At cur­rent spend­ing rates na­tion­wide, the 2017 bill could climb to $50 mil­lion. Auck­land Coun­cil es­ti­mates there are now more than 23,000 home­less, up 3000 from four years ago, made up of peo­ple sleep­ing rough, in cars, in emer­gency hous­ing, couch surf­ing, and liv­ing in “un­in­hab­it­able” build­ings such as garages and sheds.

Mean­while, the av­er­age house price in Auck­land came closer than sci­ence to dis­cov­er­ing anti­grav­ity, ris­ing 83 per cent (from $553,196 to $1,013,632) be­tween 2013 and 2016. In the same pe­riod, mean rents climbed from $468 to $544, forc­ing oth­ers deeper into poverty.

What has to change?

The next gov­ern­ment must first demon­strate re­solve by ap­point­ing min­is­ters to the rel­e­vant port­fo­lios who have the abil­ity to ef­fect real change. Auck­land’s rise to the fourth-least­afford­able city in the world, with house prices 10 times the me­dian in­come, hap­pened on the watch of the most medi­ocre Cabi­net in our his­tory, led by the hu­man wind­sock, John Key. The new Cabi­net must act to strongly dis­cour­age spec­u­la­tion, en­cour­age new con­struc­tion, and change the way im­mi­gra­tion cur­rently works.

To dis­cour­age spec­u­la­tion, we need a capital gains tax, a ban on for­eign na­tion­als buy­ing ex­ist­ing homes, and an over­haul of the tax laws that en­cour­age prop­erty in­vest­ment out­side the pri­mary home.

We need mea­sures to speed up con­struc­tion while the work to make more land avail­able ur­gently con­tin­ues. But Auck­lan­ders also need to em­brace medium-den­sity hous­ing. Build­ing ma­te­ri­als here are far more ex­pen­sive than in other coun­tries, and the gov­ern­ment must do more to cre­ate com­pe­ti­tion for Fletch­ers. Cru­cially, Auck­land Coun­cil must be al­lowed to in­crease its rev­enue to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture, ei­ther from the re­turn of the $200 mil­lion in GST charged an­nu­ally on rates, or through some other tax.

Fi­nally, Auck­land can­not con­tinue to sus­tain record im­mi­gra­tion, with 31,000 new ar­rivals in the past year. It is not racist or xeno­pho­bic to say so. The flow must ei­ther be con­stricted, or in­cen­tives (other than our traf­fic) cre­ated to help en­cour­age a pop­u­la­tion shift to the re­gions.

As well as the pos­i­tive so­cial ef­fects of in­creas­ing the sup­ply of af­ford­able homes, discouraging prop­erty as an in­vest­ment will free up mori­bund capital for more pro­duc­tive ar­eas of the econ­omy. Greater in­vest­ment in busi­nesses, for ex­am­ple, means higher wage growth.

The time has come for Auck­land’s hous­ing in­san­ity to end, and for bal­ance to be re­stored. Step to it.

2. Trans­port & in­fra­struc­ture

Auck­land’s traf­fic, and how record pop­u­la­tion growth will strain in­fra­struc­ture in the fu­ture, is a burn­ing is­sue.

Our traf­fic trou­bles are now cost­ing as much as $2 bil­lion a year, crush­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity in the process. Around 120,000 new ve­hi­cles were reg­is­tered in Auck­land in the past three years, while the av­er­age speed on our mo­tor­ways dropped from 64km/h in 2014 to 55km/h in 2016. Around 25 per cent of the city’s main roads are con­gested at peak times, up from 18 per cent only two years ago.

Na­tional has pledged $2.6 bil­lion in new spend­ing, af­ter years of ob­fus­ca­tion and ob­struc­tion on ev­ery­thing from the City Rail Link to a re­gional petrol tax.

Labour has also promised heavy in­vest­ment, including light rail to the air­port within 10 years, a project op­posed by Na­tional. That would pro­vide Auck­land with a piece of trans­port in­fra­struc­ture en­joyed by prac­ti­cally ev­ery other ma­jor city in the world.

Largely miss­ing from any of the dis­course is the need to re­duce the amount of traf­fic in any di­rec­tion. Spend­ing bil­lions on new roads doesn’t fix the root cause, which is peo­ple com­mut­ing in the first place. With su­per­fast in­ter­net, on­line chat tech­nolo­gies and video con­fer­enc­ing, the rea­son so many busi­nesses re­quire their staff to

be con­stantly phys­i­cally present in the city re­mains baf­fling. Why can’t we in­cen­tivise peo­ple to work more from home or from their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, re­liev­ing pres­sure on the whole sys­tem?

If the de­ci­sion is to con­tinue end­lessly ex­pand­ing the as­phalt, then also in­com­pre­hen­si­ble is the gov­ern­ment’s re­cal­ci­trance about Auck­land Coun­cil’s abil­ity to raise funds through a re­gional petrol tax, congestion tax, or tolls — all of which could dis­cour­age the thou­sands of sin­gle-oc­cu­pant cars on Auck­land’s roads. The next gov­ern­ment must get over this anx­i­ety about the coun­cil rais­ing rev­enue from sources other than rates. The coun­cil must find a way to in­cen­tivise peo­ple into ride shar­ing.

Our fresh­wa­ter sup­ply is threat­ened by ma­jor “rain­fall events” such as the Tas­man Tem­pest ex­pe­ri­enced in March. These are pre­dicted by cli­mate mod­el­ling to in­crease in fre­quency. Water­care’s $1.7 bil­lion plan for new ma­jor drainage pipes should be fast-tracked, and sup­ported by the new gov­ern­ment.

The coun­cil’s vi­sion is for Auck­land to be the “world’s most live­able city”. There’s an apoc­ryphal story about John Len­non be­ing asked if Ringo Starr was the best drum­mer in the world. “He’s not even the best drum­mer in the Bea­tles,” Len­non said. Our traf­fic en­sures Auck­land isn’t even New Zealand’s most live­able city. Fix­ing our traf­fic prob­lem and em­pow­er­ing the coun­cil to do more fi­nan­cially are ur­gent pri­or­i­ties.

3. The widen­ing gap be­tween rich and poor

New Zealand used to be one of the world’s fore­most so­cially pro­gres­sive democ­ra­cies, with egal­i­tar­i­an­ism and the prin­ci­ple of equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity at the very heart of our na­tional val­ues. We en­acted world-lead­ing poli­cies, from giv­ing women the vote to the cre­ation of so­cial wel­fare, go­ing nu­clear-free, ho­mo­sex­ual law re­form and same-sex mar­riage.

Thirty years of neo-lib­eral eco­nomic pol­icy have not made New Zealand a bet­ter or fairer so­ci­ety. That is a fact. In 2015, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics

New Zealand, the top 10 per cent of house­holds con­trolled 60 per cent of the wealth, with the top 5 per cent con­trol­ling around 45 per cent and the top 1 per cent con­trol­ling 22 per cent. The bot­tom 40 per cent of house­holds con­trol just three per cent.

A 2014 OECD re­port found New Zealand had the big­gest in­crease in in­come gaps of any de­vel­oped coun­try in the two decades from 1985. Bill English, Fi­nance Min­is­ter when the re­port came out, dis­missed the find­ings as “noth­ing out of the or­di­nary”. The same re­port found our ris­ing in­equal­ity had cur­tailed eco­nomic growth by at least 10 per cent.

Last year, Auck­land City Mis­sion pro­vided 14,000 food parcels to help feed more than 40,000 peo­ple (one food par­cel feeds an av­er­age of three peo­ple). Poverty is be­com­ing en­trenched and nor­malised. We’re used to see­ing peo­ple sleep­ing rough on our streets, or beg­ging for food or money, and per­haps it no longer af­fects us or moves us to com­pas­sion as it once did. We are ap­proach­ing an eco­nomic and so­cial cross­roads: down one path lies a fu­ture Vic­to­rian Eng­land with its classes clearly and per­ma­nently de­mar­cated by ac­cess to money. Down an­other path lies the fairer and more eq­ui­table so­ci­ety we’ve his­tor­i­cally as­pired to. The fear is that the win­dow for choos­ing our destiny is clos­ing rapidly.

Twenty-eight per cent of New Zealand

chil­dren now live in poverty, ac­cord­ing to Unicef ’s es­ti­mate. Poverty is de­fined as house­holds earn­ing less than 60 per cent of the me­dian na­tional in­come of $28,000 a year. That’s around 295,000 kids liv­ing in cold or over-crowded houses, not hav­ing enough to eat, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing lower lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion and health, and po­ten­tially be­ing put on the fast track to crime, prison, or sui­cide.

The Unicef acro­nym comes from the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s orig­i­nal name, the United Na­tions In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Emer­gency Fund, and this num­ber of young­sters liv­ing in poverty in a First World coun­try is in­deed an emer­gency. It’s an emer­gency for our col­lec­tive moral­ity, for our na­tional char­ac­ter and val­ues, and for any in­clu­sive fu­ture so­ci­ety we hope to build.

The Na­tional Party says its so­cial­in­vest­ment strat­egy will de­liver gen­er­a­tional change. Based on crunch­ing vast amounts of data to iden­tify the most vul­ner­a­ble, al­low­ing the state to in­ter­vene ear­lier, this is meant to guide us on to bet­ter pol­icy that will help lift peo­ple out of poverty. We say it doesn’t mat­ter how closely you iden­tify who’s at risk if you’re not go­ing to fix the un­der­ly­ing causes. We just have a clearer, more shame­ful pic­ture of the peo­ple we refuse to help.

The Na­tional gov­ern­ment has also re­fused to ac­cept a stan­dard­ised mea­sure of child poverty (pre­sum­ably be­cause it’ll then be forced to ac­knowl­edge the scale of the prob­lem). The next gov­ern­ment must agree on what child poverty looks like. Then we must set a na­tional goal of elim­i­nat­ing child poverty in­side 10 years. Non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions, gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, and the pub­lic must all be gal­vanised be­hind this vi­sion.

We can no longer have par­ti­san pol­i­tics over our dis­grace­ful poverty sta­tis­tics — they di­min­ish us all.

4. Ed­u­ca­tion & health

Auck­land’s ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor is in cri­sis. Chron­i­cally un­der­funded over many years and fac­ing a teacher short­age caused by an un­prece­dented down­turn in grad­u­ates en­ter­ing the pro­fes­sion due to low pay, stress­ful con­di­tions, and the cost or un­avail­abil­ity of hous­ing, the re­gion’s schools are fac­ing ev­er­in­creas­ing chal­lenges.

In the health sec­tor, more than 162,000 peo­ple, or 3.5 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, were seen by men­tal health or ad­dic­tion ser­vices in the 2015-16 year. There was a 600 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of days Auck­land’s adult men­tal health in­pa­tient units had no spare beds. Fund­ing for men­tal health has in­creased by $300 mil­lion since 2009, but many in the pro­fes­sion say it hasn’t kept even close to de­mand and the sys­tem is near break­ing point. Ac­ci­dent and emer­gency ser­vices are also strug­gling, with a seven per cent in­crease in vis­its at Auck­land City Hos­pi­tal and a three per cent in­crease in in­pa­tients in 2015-16.

Pro­longed poverty and an age­ing and grow­ing pop­u­la­tion are key fac­tors in the added pres­sure our hos­pi­tals and health ser­vices are fac­ing. Also, Auck­land is largely re­flec­tive of New Zealand’s wider health sta­tis­tics, where one adult in ev­ery three is obese, and a fur­ther 35 per cent are over­weight. Around 16 per cent, or one in six of us, have been di­ag­nosed with a com­mon men­tal ill­ness, such as anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion or bipo­lar dis­or­der, at some point in our lives. Up to six per cent of us, around 200,000 adults, suf­fered from psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress such as anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion in the past four weeks.

The is­sue of men­tal health has be­come a mael­strom in our schools. Teach­ers and coun­sel­lors re­port in­creas­ing rates

We are ap­proach­ing an eco­nomic and so­cial cross­roads: down one path lies a fu­ture Vic­to­rian Eng­land with its classes clearly de­mar­cated by ac­cess to money.

of ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive dis­or­ders, ago­ra­pho­bia, de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, and sui­ci­dal ideation among stu­dents. New Zealand has the worst youth sui­cide rate in the de­vel­oped world, and sui­cide is now our third lead­ing cause of death. Again, ex­perts find many of the same con­tribut­ing fac­tors: poverty, gen­er­a­tional un­em­ploy­ment, in­suf­fi­cient or in­ap­pro­pri­ate hous­ing, abuse.

What can the new gov­ern­ment do to fix prob­lems of this scale?

A strat­egy is needed to im­me­di­ately get new teach­ers into the pro­fes­sion. The fastest way is to raise teacher salaries and pro­vide other in­cen­tives such as bond­ing, or some other re­lief from stu­dent loans. It’s ba­sic maths: record lev­els of teach­ers re­tir­ing, plus record­low lev­els of new grad­u­ates com­ing through, plus hugely in­creas­ing rolls equal a mas­sive teacher short­age. The new gov­ern­ment has to fix this prob­lem, or so­ci­ety will pay an un­prece­dented cost in 10 years.

There are calls for an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into the state of our men­tal health ser­vices, and this would be a good place to start, along with a com­mit­ment to proper fund­ing. The re­cent Peo­ple’s Men­tal Health Re­view rec­om­mended rolling out na­tion­wide men­tal health ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes and the re­in­state­ment of the Men­tal Health Com­mis­sioner to pro­vide in­de­pen­dent over­sight. We sup­port both.

5. Crime & drugs

Ac­cord­ing to New Zealand po­lice data, there were 40,999 “vic­tim­i­sa­tions” in the Auck­land re­gion in the year to May 2017. The to­tal in­cluded more than 10,582 acts “in­tended to cause in­jury”, 1075 sex­ual as­saults, and nearly 27,500 theft and bur­glary com­plaints. That many sex­ual and vi­o­lent as­saults alone is to­tally un­ac­cept­able for Auck­land, or any­where.

The good news is that over­all, crime was down slightly, by 66 com­plaints. But Auck­land still has five of New Zealand’s top-10 city precincts for at­tacks or sex­ual as­saults. These in­clude lower Queen St and its sur­rounds, where your chances of be­ing a vic­tim are six times the na­tional av­er­age. De­spite this, po­lice closed their satel­lite sta­tion in Fort St in 2013, declar­ing it was no longer needed be­cause “of­fi­cers are us­ing more mo­bile tech­nol­ogy”.

How does Auck­land fix such a peren­nial is­sue? De­spite ev­ery­thing we’ve been told over the years about smarter tech­nol­ogy cre­at­ing ef­fi­cien­cies, the best short-term so­lu­tion for clear­ing cases and bring­ing down the num­bers is — sur­prise — more po­lice. The gov­ern­ment an­nounced an ex­tra $503 mil­lion this year for an­other 880 of­fi­cers na­tion­ally over four years, but the Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion says with­out the ex­tra money, the force would have been in real cri­sis. We be­lieve it.

To re­ally swing the nee­dle in the di­rec­tion of a safer Auck­land with bet­ter crim­i­nal jus­tice out­comes, the next gov­ern­ment will need a plan for erad­i­cat­ing two of the root causes of crime: poverty and ad­dic­tion.

Al­co­hol is our worst drug, but metham­phetamine is eas­ier to vil­ify, and is eas­ily linked to all kinds of crime. New Zealand’s is­sue with this per­ni­cious drug and our his­tory of fail­ure in pre­vent­ing its growth mean now is the time for some rad­i­cal think­ing about how to com­bat it. We’re dream­ing if we think we can ar­rest our way out of the prob­lem, or pros­e­cute users out of ad­dic­tion.

We need an in­de­pen­dent drug task force to look at all of our drug laws, with rec­om­men­da­tions bind­ing on the new gov­ern­ment. Le­gal­i­sa­tion of pos­ses­sion for all drugs would be a good start, with the gov­ern­ment in­tel­li­gently reg­u­lat­ing and dis­tribut­ing them, on the le­gal ba­sis that the mar­ket would never be pri­va­tised. As well as cut­ting the gangs off from their fi­nan­cial oxy­gen and de­stroy­ing their power base, we could ac­tu­ally help users des­per­ate for treat­ment.

Ten peo­ple died from sus­pected syn­thetic “cannabis” use in Auck­land in July alone, while our drug laws drive the much safer real mar­i­juana fur­ther un­der­ground. It’s hard to be­lieve.

As has hap­pened in Por­tu­gal, we must redirect the colos­sal waste of money we cur­rently fun­nel into en­force­ment and im­pris­on­ment — around $273 mil­lion an­nu­ally — into re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and ed­u­ca­tion.

Tax­ing our cur­rent drug use would con­trib­ute a fur­ther $245 mil­lion. With

We need an in­de­pen­dent task force to look at all our drug laws. Le­gal­i­sa­tion of pos­ses­sion for all drugs would be a good start.

$518 mil­lion made avail­able ev­ery year for 15 years, our pro­fes­sional health or­gan­i­sa­tions should elim­i­nate the P prob­lem once and for all. New Zealand needs true gen­er­a­tional change based not on pun­ish­ment and hypocrisy, but on erad­i­cat­ing the real causes. The truly vi­sion­ary thing Por­tu­gal did to elim­i­nate its heroin prob­lem was to of­fer wage sub­si­dies to busi­nesses em­ploy­ing for­mer ad­dicts, paid for from money saved in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

This ap­proach pro­vides for­mer ad­dicts with hu­man value and dig­nity, al­low­ing them to build mean­ing­ful lives and healthy re­la­tion­ships and to prop­erly rein­te­grate them­selves into so­ci­ety, thus elim­i­nat­ing the rea­sons they took drugs in the first place.

6. The paralysing lack of vi­sion

Sadly ab­sent from our elec­tion de­bate is the most fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of all: what kind of so­ci­ety do we ac­tu­ally want?

An over­whelm­ing ex­pe­di­ency has come to dom­i­nate New Zealand’s po­lit­i­cal think­ing, a stam­pede for the cen­tre ground where vot­ers are imag­ined to live. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties no longer com­mit to vi­sion­ary ideas and bring the peo­ple with them. There are no 10- or 20-year plans with roadmaps for suc­cess. Pol­icy is cre­ated in an ad hoc man­ner, and our pub­lic ser­vice has be­come re­ac­tive, scared it might of­fend a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter with some­thing as in­con­ve­nient as the truth.

This ex­pe­di­ent ap­proach was ex­em­pli­fied by John Key’s hugely ex­pen­sive and failed new flag project. Rather than us­ing the process to dis­cover and de­bate the core val­ues of what it means to be a New Zealan­der, and how these might best be rep­re­sented, we had a cos­metic process where we talked about colours, ferns, and laser beams; any­thing but chil­dren liv­ing in poverty, or wa­ter rights, or a gen­er­a­tion locked out of prop­erty own­er­ship, and how that sits with us as a coun­try.

The role of gov­ern­ment is to lead.

When a gov­ern­ment is pre­pared to ac­cept nearly 300,000 of the na­tion’s chil­dren liv­ing be­neath the poverty line, and re­fuses to ac­cept any kind of uni­ver­sal mea­sure­ment for the prob­lem, then we are in an in­tel­lec­tual, moral and spir­i­tual malaise. It’s no won­der up to a mil­lion peo­ple feel so dis­en­fran­chised from the process that they don’t vote.

Would in­creas­ing the gov­ern­ment’s term from three years to four en­cour­age longer-term think­ing? Maybe, but what’s needed more ur­gently is a move away from the failed poli­cies of the past. We need a real com­mit­ment to end­ing poverty, an end to our in­sti­tu­tional de­nial about its ex­tent, and a pas­sion­ate de­sire on the part of the gov­ern­ment to re­store the equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity that has been so eroded over the past 30 years.

We need tax re­form, but not in the form of tax cuts for in­di­vid­u­als. In­stead, we ur­gently need to deal with is­sues such as trans­fer pric­ing and base ero­sion. We need capital con­trols lim­it­ing the $4 bil­lion a year in bank prof­its be­ing sent over­seas, and reg­u­la­tions to pre­vent the ra­pa­cious profit-goug­ing by oil com­pa­nies. We need re­form of the prop­erty mar­ket to make it unattrac­tive as an in­vest­ment, so all that dor­mant capital goes into more-pro­duc­tive parts of the econ­omy, cre­at­ing busi­nesses and wage growth and in­creas­ing the tax base. For peo­ple who’ve dou­bled or tripled their wealth by own­ing prop­erty, be it through good luck or good for­tune, these ar­gu­ments of­ten aren’t easy to hear. But it’s a dis­cus­sion we must have as a coun­try, or run the risk of be­com­ing per­ma­nently im­pov­er­ished.

When Auck­land suc­ceeds, New Zealand suc­ceeds. But as the City Mis­sion says, our win­dow for mean­ing­ful change is rapidly clos­ing. The next gov­ern­ment must hold it open.

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