Speech notes: Thursday, 29 September 2016:
Six years ago I was racing around the Orakei ward trying to out-campaign the establishment’s anointed council candidate. My campaign was pretty much a one-man band as people quickly observed, but I managed to gather the public on my side and for that I will always be grateful.
For me today’s primarily about acknowledging you my colleagues, my friends, family and members of the public for keeping my chin up, humouring me and encouraging me. Unlike Parliament where it’s so inherently tribal, being a Super City councillor can be a lonely place at times, but all the pluses have well outweighed any negatives.
My first real insight into how politics can work came nearly 22 years ago when as a newly-elected tertiary student president, I convinced the student committee of the day to pay me for editing a new student publication that I’d established no less. And even better it was the one vote from my first cousin on that committee that ensured I got the monthly pay cheque. At that point I fully understood the considerable opportunities politics presents!
It has been a lot of fun and a real privilege to sit among so many local government luminaries over the past six years, to be a part of Auckland municipal history with the amalgamation, and to watch our city prosper at so many levels. I’ve made speeches in different parts of the country and have met so many talented people.
I was proud to chair the inaugural Business Advisory Panel, the Planning & Urban Design Forum, and this term serve as deputy chair of the Ngati Whatua Orakei Reserves Board. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the committee work, particularly the annual budget rounds and the two Long Term Plans we collectively worked on in 2012 and 2015.
The exhaustive Unitary Plan process we’ve all just gone through gives us each a unique and pretty comprehensive insight as to where this region is heading in the coming decades. In the end I believed we landed in a quite an even handed place and I was pleased to support it. I was also pleased I wrote those articles in the New Zealand Herald and Fairfax late last year awakening the public’s attention to the out-of-scope changes that were being slipped through, hitting the Eastern suburbs the hardest. While throwing out those out-of-scope changes later was a small victory to democracy and good process – bigger than that I actually believe meeting the public’s demands in March has helped us secure the wider acceptance of the Unitary Plan more recently.
I am also pleased of the role I have played since day one on shining light on Auckland Council’s rising debt levels and annual interest bill, the significant rates for some areas, the importance of the UAGC and ensuring it was debated annually, the call to honour a nearly 20-year commitment of narrowing the business rating differential, and challenging the ever decreasing amount of detail we get around our operational budget. I have also taken annually to compiling and releasing the council’s wage and salary and staff numbers, and last year was unsuccessful at trying to hold the wage bill.
I also don’t make any apology for publicly holding the likes of the Mayoral Office, the IMSB, and our CCOs to account and calling them out on some of their spending decisions.
Remember the empty trams going around and around Wynyard Quarter at huge expense, remember the $60m on comms and marketing for the first two years alone, remember the $10.5m staff travel bill for the first two years, remember the Ombudsman investigating my complaint over the council’s secrecy on how much it pays individual legal firms, remember the fight over the V8s after the Hamilton fiasco, and remember the rubbishing I got when I dared to publicly suggest that the Waterfront and Auckland Transport would struggle to cope with the opening night of the Rugby World Cup. The $20m for whitewater rafting, statements about and letters to the Auditor General over the City Rail Link’s cost uncertainties and ratepayer exposure, that Motion of No Confidence, and of course the Living Wage.
My amendment this term which effectively kicked the Living Wage for touch was won 11/10. It has not only saved ratepayers millions of dollars but importantly it has protected jobs in competing businesses throughout the region. If this matter is ever raised again, all I ask is that the council takes its time and consults widely. It might sound great, but given Auckland Council is the biggest show in town it has significant and wide implications for others.
For now that’s history, but I do take comfort in the fact that those of us who over the years have questioned public policy, the silly spending, pushed for greater accountability, and raised genuine concerns publicly have without doubt helped ensure a more disciplined and prudent organisation and that is a great outcome for Auckland ratepayers.
The ability for councillors to be able to openly challenge the organisation and the mayoralty must be maintained. We have a ‘strong mayor’ model where he or she has executive powers, leads the budget, policy and planning processes, and decides the deputy mayor, committee makeup, and chairs. That is all and powerful and whoever is Mayor and whatever their majority, the political leadership needs to be constantly challenged to ensure ongoing accountability, transparency for Aucklanders, and ultimately better decision-making and a stronger visible democratic model. Ratepayers deserve nothing less.
In the last three years, with the organisation struggling in its wider public perception, I strongly believe it has becoming increasingly and unnecessarily involved in micro-managing its reputation. Dare I say, when it becomes harder for some media, organisations, and councillors to get information than other media, organisations and councillors, then a public organisation has become too political. I am hoping with a fresh mandate next month that this organisation becomes much less defensive, more trusting, and open to all.
I believe the mayor and councillors need to place greater emphasis and allow more time on the initiating and authoring of the Letters of Expectation we send our CCOs and the resulting Statements of Intents. That is the only way and the only chance we can really direct and control our massive CCOs. I have enjoyed sitting on the CCO Governance and Monitoring Committee. A small victory last year when approving our Governance Manual for the Substantive CCOs was to stamp out the suggested directive that ‘councillors WILL advise CCOs if they are approached by media to speak about a CCO-related issue’. Councillors should never be afraid of bringing the work of our CCOS into the political and public arena, and should never have to seek permission to do so.
One of the reasons I’ve been able to helpfully assist this council with its public relations so frequently over the years, is I have had a very strong local board serving the Orakei ward on local issues, projects, and services. In fact, the same seven people have served that board for the past six years, with some good local people now lining up to replace the four stepping down.
I want to acknowledge chair Desley Simpson, the relentless work she has done throughout the Orakei ward, and the respect she has garnered across the political divide and region. I wish her every success next month and beyond.
Locally I was proud to start the first term brokering a meeting between the St Heliers developer of Turua Street and concerned community leaders over those doomed art deco cottages. That went a long way to building some good will and for the community to better understand the developer’s case and plans.
I have been pleased to bring the Meadowbank Community Centre to the budget table year in year out and fight for a new centre to be funded, as well as advocate for budget to unleash the Tamaki Drive Masterplan. I’m hopeful both will be funded in the 2018 Long Term Plan.
I was also pleased to secure a commitment around assessing the feasibility of a future Selwyn Rail Station in Pourewa Valley, successfully support the Orakei Local Board in its advocacy over the council’s $60m purchase of Colin Maiden Park from the University of Auckland, as well as helped to secure a few local wins around the unitary plan and raise public awareness of its local impact.
I demanded assurances when it came to the likes of Special Housing Areas, local stormwater issues, and fronted the successful push-back on the Quay Street boulevard plan which would’ve only slowed commuter traffic. And I railed against the initial plan to get rid of domestic open fire places which has since been dropped. You can also blame for me for inciting the whole berm debate. Those were the days indeed!
When it comes to bringing the Orakei’s issues, priorities and projects to the Governing Body, the Orakei Local Board and I have worked well together – on message and singing from the same song sheet, which is not always a given for a councillor and local board.
Orakei’s 10 suburbs are well served by some strong residents’ associations who I want to acknowledge and three great BID areas or business associations: Remuera managed by Laura Carr; Ellerslie managed by Megan Darrow and St Heliers managed by Wendy Caspersonn. Our BID leaders regionwide do a lot of work in the community on our behalf and council’s relationship with them needs to strengthen.
I want to also acknowledge the hardworking local MPs I’ve worked alongside: The late Allan Peachey, Simon O’Connor, Rodney Hide, John Banks, David Seymour, Paul Goldsmith and Sam Lotu-Iiga.
I have remained committed to the centre-right and so let’s just say these MPs have been relatively easy to work with. I have also worn my heart on my sleeve at local body election time, always there for the greater cause and always prepared to publicly support the centre-right candidates from the mayoralty down.
Thank you to the Executive Leadership Team, council management and Democracy Services in particular for support over the past six years which has dramatically increased for councillors since 2010.
I could now go around the table and talk you all up but I will just single out three people:
Dick Quax fought his hardest race over the past three years and has won. And this is the gold that Dick really needed to win! His philosophical outlook yet determined attitude to just get on with his work and life has been admired by us all, and the people of Howick. We look forward to the 50th anniversary of Montreal and many many more with you Dick and Sir John Walker.
Denise Krum has also had to face some worrying health issues in her immediate family not to mention changing personal circumstances for herself. All as a brand new councillor. But testament to Denise’s strength will be reward the good people of Maungakiekie-Tamaki deliver her next month – a reflection of her continued focus and hard work over the past three years.
Mr Mayor, apart from the debt, thank you for all you have secured Auckland. You’ve done well to bring the region together – apart from some in North Rodney! Thank you for your commitment and relentless cheer. This month I was very pleased to support the City Rail Link because you not only got the National Government finally on board, you got them well on board. I appreciate the friendship you have shown so many of us. And we all wish you, your wife and girls all the very best, and of course more grandad time awaits!
Thank you also to my beautiful and supportive wife Kate, daughter Lucy who’s now 11, William (2), and Rupert (3 months). My personal circumstances have changed a lot too since arriving here. But I have to say the good thing about this Auckland housing boom is if you lose 50% of your equity, you can regain it back quite quickly if you’re prepared to buy and sell a few times and move around as we have done over the past five years
We’re now locked into the lovely community of Riverhead, and family is the priority. I intend to continue growing my public relations business, Cameron Brewer Communications Limited, as well as hopefully serving on the Rodney Local Board as part of the Rodney First ticket.
Whether I have the political portability of Tim Shadbolt to seamlessly move between the constituents of Kohimarama to Kaukapakapa is yet to be seen. But regardless I am grateful to you all for this experience, your comradery and the public’s forbearance. I have tried to be a friend of the ratepayers. I hope I have also been a friend to you.
I may be signing out of the council chamber today, but sorry I’m not signing off from politics just yet.
My very best wishes to my fellow retires on the Governing Body and local boards and best wishes to the rest of you for election day.
Watch speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EciMcneAkHU