THE YEAR THAT

Chris­tine Fletcher, 62, re­calls a po­lit­i­cally tu­mul­tuous year

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Chris­tine Fletcher

With­out a ma­jor­ity, I had to con­vince coun­cil­lors to make these ex­tra­or­di­nary de­ci­sions.

In late 1998, when I was MP for Ep­som, I won the Auck­land may­oralty. The Na­tional-led coali­tion was frag­ile and I didn’t want to be re­spon­si­ble for caus­ing a gen­eral elec­tion. Had I re­signed at the time, I would have.

So I did both jobs and ex­tracted sev­eral things Auck­land had long wanted, in­clud­ing re­de­vel­op­ment of the old Auck­land Hos­pi­tal. I was elected on a re­think of Brit­o­mart, a com­mit­ment to se­cur­ing rail cor­ri­dors, an Auck­land Fes­ti­val, waste re­duc­tion, and a cul­ture of open­ness, trans­parency and cre­ativ­ity. It was a tu­mul­tuous time. Be­tween Cit­i­zens & Ratepay­ers, Labour and City Vi­sion there was no clear ma­jor­ity on coun­cil and it was my cast­ing vote on ev­ery­thing.

I could see the in­fra­struc­ture Auck­land needed and knew we needed seed­ing funds. As a Min­is­ter Out­side of Cab­i­net un­der Jim Bol­ger I was charged with over­see­ing a re­view of the as­sets of the Auck­land Re­gional Ser­vices Trust. I re­signed my port­fo­lios of lo­cal govern­ment, women’s af­fairs and cul­tural af­fairs be­cause a doc­u­ment was leaked to me show­ing Cab­i­net — that is, not me — was work­ing on a share giveaway, which was ba­si­cally pri­vati­sa­tion and a loss of those as­sets. I put my­self on the back bench, did a lot of lob­by­ing and we voted down the Govern­ment’s leg­is­la­tion and kept those funds for Auck­land’s in­fra­struc­ture.

Af­ter a re­ally good party the night I won the may­oralty, the lawyers came at 6am to tell me I would not be able to ful­fil my com­mit­ment to re­think Brit­o­mart be­cause of con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions. For a year I had to con­tinue to say we would hon­our the plan while pri­vately bet­ting that the de­vel­oper who made the deal with the pre­vi­ous coun­cil could not come up with the funds and pre­par­ing al­ter­na­tive plans. That was an enor­mous gam­ble, but in the end he couldn’t raise the money and the deal fell over.

Be­ing MP and mayor was use­ful. It meant we were able to make faster progress on procur­ing the rail cor­ri­dors. But on a per­sonal level it took a large toll. I was work­ing all hours avail­able to me. I re­quired and ex­pected a lot from my­self and the oth­ers work­ing around me. The first public mea­sure­ment of me was putting up the gen­eral rates by 10 per cent — in or­der to com­ply with leg­is­la­tion I had in­tro­duced in Par­lia­ment re­quir­ing coun­cils to fully de­pre­ci­ate and prop­erly main­tain as­sets. You can imag­ine that didn’t meet with strong ap­proval.

But I would do it all over again be­cause I think it was a turn­ing point for open­ing up the wa­ter­front and public trans­port.

With­out a ma­jor­ity, I had to con­vince coun­cil­lors to make these ex­tra­or­di­nary de­ci­sions. We took them to Great Bar­rier and camped out for a night when we were do­ing the re­design of Brit­o­mart. Some of them had never had ac­cess to the Gulf or the is­lands within it be­fore. I like to think that was a turn­ing point, where I got peo­ple work­ing in a col­lab­o­ra­tive way.

And on the fun side of things, we put the Pride Pa­rade in place and launched the Auck­land Fes­ti­val. Those are taken for granted now and they were a priv­i­lege to lead — but a huge amount of work.

As told to Paul Lit­tle.

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