Rodney Hide’s Real Agenda
By Penny Hulse

Waitakere City Deputy Mayor

Be afraid…be very afraid.

Over recent months the National/ACT government’s moves to trample all over democracy by creating their own version of a “Super City” in Auckland have, rightly, caused alarm up and down the country.

But as the NZ Herald editorial yesterday (June 11) points out, much worse could still be to come.

The Minister of Local Government, Rodney Hide, is proposing an even more radical shake-up which would see Councils’ everywhere having their powers stripped back to the provision of “core services” only.

In many ways that statement alone shows how little the Minister of Local Government understands his own sector.

For example, in Waitakere over 80% of our expenditure is on the basics- things like stormwater, wastewater, parks, libraries, pensioner housing, roads, streetlighting, footpaths, animal control, emergency management (civil defence) and so on.

We can do the traditional three “R’s” (roads, rates and rubbish) with our eyes closed. That’s the easy bit. But in the 21st century towns and Cities are about much more than that.

“Core business” should also be about economic development and building vibrant, sustainable, communities that people are safe and prosperous in.

The arts and cultural related programmes are also in the Minister’s sights. Yet a major 2008 research project headed “New Zealanders and the Arts: Attitudes, Attendance and Participation” showed that the majority of New Zealanders support public funding of the Arts. At least 70% of adults agreed that:

– the arts should receive public funding

– my local council should give money to support the arts

– my community would be poorer without the arts

– the arts contribute positively to the economy

As the self-proclaimed “Minister for Ratepayers” perhaps the Minister could be more effective if he looked at removing GST on rates (and water rates). This charge is, after all, simply a tax on a tax.

In Waitakere’s case that accounts for over $18miilion a year collected and shelled over, straight into Government coffers.

While long on rhetoric and short on detail, the Minister’s comments do however point to an entrenched ideology. One only has to go to the ACT website to see what they have planned for Local Government.

Among other draconian measures are the following. I quote:

Roads and piped water will be supplied on a fully commercial basis.
Promote contracting out of many council services.
That is a pretty clear pointer to one thing: privatisation.

The neat bundling up of water services into a stand-alone entity as is happening under the Super City will make it ripe for sale. And without public ownership of such a basic necessity as water we will all be at the mercy of some, no doubt overseas-owned, corporate.

After all, that is exactly what has happened in the United Kingdom, France and South America.

The commercialisation of roads is simply code for tolls. That is a concept the public at large has very strong opinions on. Yet is seems none of us will have much of a say at all.

And contracting out of services is little better than a sell-off. Again, the Minister hasn’t yet revealed details of what those services might be, but don’t be surprised to see things like libraries, swimming pools and perhaps even cemetery operations run and managed by private enterprise.

At the moment, as is the case with Manukau City’s free public pools policy, there is recognition that there is a “public good” component to those services.

That will go out the window when the imperative becomes profit.

And good-bye to the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent in local communities on local contractors and businesses. ”Super contracts” in the Super City will only be the preserve of big business.

Clearly the agenda to corporatise local government in this country is well underway.

And, surely, if Mr Hide values democracy he should have stood an ACT candidate in every local body election in the country and let the people decide whether they supported his views. Instead he slid into Parliament with barely 5% of the vote and is now intent on forcing his will on us all.

Penny Hulse is deputy mayor of Waitakere City


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