THE YEAR THAT
Christine Fletcher, 62, recalls a politically tumultuous year
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.