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