Si­mon Wil­son

The New Zealand Herald - - News -

This week an Auck­land City coun­cil­lor ac­cused his col­leagues and coun­cil of­fi­cials of be­hav­ing like Pol Pot, the 1970s geno­ci­dal leader of the Kh­mer Rouge in Cam­bo­dia.

Cr John Wat­son of Al­bany was talk­ing about a pro­posal to sell some coun­cil prop­erty. He said the coun­cil aimed to bring ev­ery­one into the cen­tre of the city, which was like the Kh­mer Rouge forc­ing peo­ple to leave the cities and work in the fields. Be­tween one and three mil­lion peo­ple died un­der that tyranny.

It was deeply in­sult­ing, most of all to Cam­bo­di­ans, to have the hor­ror of their history so triv­i­alised. It was also in­sult­ing to his col­leagues, who are not geno­ci­dal. As for the idea that coun­cil is cen­tral­is­ing all its ser­vices, that’s laugh­ably un­true.

Wat­son was talk­ing about a coun­cil plan to es­tab­lish three large hubs and 25 ser­vice-cen­tre “spokes”. The hubs will be in the cen­tral city and prob­a­bly Al­bany or West­gate, and Manukau. The spokes will be all over, so that 96 per cent of cit­i­zens will live near one. Cur­rently, fewer than half do.

The plan in­volves the coun­cil sell­ing 40 per cent of its prop­erty, much of in­her­ited from the prea­mal­ga­ma­tion coun­cils and un­fit for fu­ture pur­pose. It’s in poor re­pair, or in the wrong place, or just sur­plus to re­quire­ments.

The sale, over sev­eral years, will im­prove ser­vices and staff work­ing con­di­tions, and save $117 mil­lion (nearly 1 per cent in rates) in un­bud­geted costs. The en­tire ex­er­cise will be self-fund­ing, with the money from prop­erty sales re­turned to com­mu­ni­ties to en­hance the pro­vi­sion of ser­vices to them.

You might think that was all hard not to like. But at the same meet­ing, for­mer MP and now Pa­pakura Lo­cal Board mem­ber Ge­orge Hawkins said, “Any con­fis­ca­tion will be seen by lo­cal res­i­dents as the same as what hap­pened there af­ter the 1860 wars”.

What? Noth­ing is go­ing to be “con­fis­cated”. There will be no rap­ing and pil­lag­ing, no wan­ton de­struc­tion of homes and liveli­hoods. They’re go­ing to pre­serve his­toric build­ings and a pop­u­lar park in Pa­pakura. And there is no sug­ges­tion Maori land is at stake.

What were Hawkins and Wat­son think­ing? Why would any­one sully coun­cil de­bate with such hy­per­bolic non­sense? It’s tempt­ing to go with the sim­plest an­swer – they are be­ing fool­ish be­cause they are fool­ish. Sadly, though, there’s more to it than that.

A lit­tle back­ground. At coun­cil, most of the time, Mayor Phil Goff com­mands a ma­jor­ity with sup­port from the cen­tre-left and cen­tre-right. His coali­tion is loose. It in­cludes mem­bers of both the Labour and Na­tional par­ties and has to be

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