NZ WHISTLEBLOWER HONOURED AT LAST

Good Penny turns up
Rebecca Blithe

The Aucklander February 2009 Cover Story: “You CAN fight City Hall”.

She’s been arrested 22 times, often at the council chambers. So why is Penny Bright receiving a good citizen award? Rebecca Blithe talks to Auckland’s relentless radical.

She is relentless, radical and has been arrested 22 times – several times at the Auckland City Council chambers during meetings. She is also the latest recipient of a good citizen award from the Eden Albert Community Board.

The two sides of the coin indicate the lengths to which activist Penny Bright has gone in her battle against the big boys: namely the council and Metrowater.

The announcement amuses the Kingsland resident as much as it may bewilder some. “It’s a bit of a hoot. I’m surprised but thrilled,” she says.

Board chairman Christopher Dempsey says the controversial character is being honoured for focusing attention on water privatisation and pushing for transparency in council contracts. “If you put aside her persistent techniques – the controversial heat that she generates – she has done very valuable services for us.”

Councillor Cathy Casey has spent many occasions waiting with Ms Bright for police to arrest her after clashes at council meetings. With Cr Glenda Fryer, Dr Casey nominated Ms Bright for the award.

“She’s tenacious, she’s indefatigable. For years she’s campaigned and her time has come to be acknowledged.

“Penny can take her place among the best of them. She is very well deserving. And all the things she’s predicted are happening,” she says.

Water is this watchdog’s elixir. She has been 12 years in the business, or rather war, against the privatisation of water and those she believes are making money out of a basic human right. Activism is her sole purpose – one she pays for out of her own pocket.

“I choose to do this. I’m helping make a difference,” says Ms Bright, spokeswoman and founder of the Water Pressure Group.

Ms Bright says her colleagues deserve the kudos. “As far as I’m concerned it’s the entire Water Pressure Group. I’m really proud to be the spokeswoman for these people. They are really gutsy, with fire in their bellies.

“We’ve all been blowing the whistle till our eyeballs bleed.”

Ms Bright has never enrolled at university and has no legal training, yet she has won 21 out of 22 court cases.

Mr Dempsey says Ms Bright’s efforts are unprecedented. “No one else has done this. As a citizen she’s properly asked the questions. If she didn’t do it, who would?”

Mayor John Banks has had Penny bundled out of the council chambers several times but was not at all surprised to hear about the award.

“I think if the Eden Albert Community Board want to award Penny, then it’s okay by me. You’ve got to admire her pluck, her tenacity, her strength of conviction,” he says.

Ms Bright’s next challenge is running against Mr Banks in the Auckland regional mayoral race. “I will be staging a rates revolt,” she says. “I’m looking forward to going head-to-head with John Banks and Len Brown.”

Asked if there is an end in sight for her activist role, she replies with a resounding: “Hell no. I’m in my prime. I’m just getting up to speed.”

Penny was one of 19 citizens honoured at an awards ceremony on Tuesday night.

Fighters: 2
City Hall: 0

Penny Bright featured in The Aucklander’s February 2009 Cover Story: “You CAN fight City Hall”. Another activist featured in that article, Mary Whitehouse, from the Clevedon Cares group, has also had recent success.

Last week, the Environment Court cancelled a contentious district plan change that allowed a canal housing development in rural Clevedon. The decision ends a five-year battle by Mrs Woodhouse and her neighbours against the Manukau City Council.

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