Why Is The Govt Riding Out The Super-City Uproar?


None of the big media throng at the late afternoon post-Cabinet news conference at the Beehive asked prime minister, John Key, a question about Auckland’s governance.

Not even the Royal NZ Herald , which has been running a daily attack on the super-city plan, especially the CCOs, including Auckland Transport. If he had been asked, he may have given the same answer he gave about mining on conservation land, that , in his opinion it was “hysteria in the media.”

Or, if he had been asked by the Herald, he may have used the same answer he gave about Sunday Star-Times’ pathetic flawed “investigation” into rugby ground security, by saying, the Herald’s campaign was also” a stunt to sell papers.”

Key has given not the slightest indication he has any plans to change anything which means:

  • a) his faithful polling suggests it’s not an issue needing panic
  • b) he will let the select committee go through the process, despite Joyce and Hide rushing out defensive newspaper op-eds,  even before the committee has reported back, insisting nothing is wrong and nothing will change
  • c) he thinks Auckland will love the scheme, once we see it in action and there has been a successful RWC which, conveniently happens just before National goes to the polls (not so good if the All Blacks bomb badly) or
  • d) he has caught Helen Clark’s problem in her latter days of office, by being blindly arrogant to the wishes of her subjects; (to be fair, that was coupled, in her case, by media advisers underestimating the popularity factor of Key compared to the grumpy stern headmistress Clark).

Joyce is all smiles about the super-city plans

The media, however, also seemed to miss the significance of last week’s SuperGold debacle, which seemed to be Joyce’s first ever public mis-step.

He blustered out that the SuperGold scheme needed reductions in funding and the Waiheke ferry concession was an obvious first target.

But while he can wave his hand and order billions to be spent on a new motorway even if it means demolishing houses in its path, older people are more grumpy, settled and have had years of standing up for themselves. So mess with their long-fought SuperGold transport concessions and they’ll be on the phone to Winston Peters, architect of the scheme, telling him all is forgiven and if he wrestles the concessions back off Joyce, they’ll vote for him again. Or Labour or anyone.

Less than 24 hours after Joyce’s statement, influential aged groups were getting emails from Joyce’s office, saying it was all a mistake and mis-interpreted, by the media of course, and there was no reason for them to feel agitated. Key publicly fronted that transport concessions were safe..

Key had quickly sensed the fast shifting sands of 65+ votes and dampened down the grumpy growls of the oldies.

There were obtuse explanations that cuts would be made but not those sort of cuts In other words, whatever budget cuts are made, they won’t be publicly visible at the Waiheke ticket office.

So it’s a little significant that the mounting super-city opposition, from even previous supporters like Mike Lee and conservative blood brothers like the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, is flowing off their backs without any such damage control.

Key, Hide and Joyce are taking the Auckland City criticism in their stride. The Hide is now joined at the hip by Joyce, who has sharper media skills and been happy to publicly confirm he is the genius behind the plans for Auckland Transport.

They are acting like a powerful rugby scrum with their bullish heads down, refusing to let anyone else have the ball. It will be fascinating to watch it all unfold.

Aucklanders in mass, probably do tell the pollsters they are sick of all the politics around any Auckland issue, including transport and want someone, as in one person, to make some decisions to move the city forward. But the CCO arguments have gone way off message. To argue , as Hide does, that there are already council-developed CCOs is a twist of the facts.

The best example, The Edge, Auckland City’s entertainment CCO, has not been without its own financial problems over the years and is handling bookings for theatre and concerts, not multi-billion dollar major public transport matters. We have never had a CCO on the scale proposed.

We also didn’t expect the dreaded “Wellington” (the dirty word for Aucklanders) to be pulling the strings and for it all to be done in secret.

Not all Aucklanders may understand the fine print of the plan, but tell them, they can’t front up somewhere to argue about the bus stop or cycle lane in their street, and they fast conclude, this is not democracy as they know it and expected.

This, being National’s second year in office, is the year the government can do what it really believes in, such as setting up TVNZ for sale next term, pushing those cardigan-wearing lefty Radio New Zealand people into the commercial world, increasing GST and pandering to the mining interests.

But the government seems to have forgotten is that while, they have their third and final year of the parliamentary term to recover lost votes before the post-RWC election, this right now is the year of Auckland’s first ever and very publicly fought super-city election. Too much unhappiness expressed in the campaign against the government’s plans may start to put some National seats in Auckland at risk.

And while Joyce was National’s super-efficient campaign manager with an admirable ability to get things done without any political meltdown, he may be too passionate and close to this issue, to sense when the issue is entering the danger zone.




  1. Chris says:

    d is my preference!

  2. jarbury says:

    Very good post Jon. I wonder myself why Key hasn’t stepped in and alleviated some concerns. Surely the Nats are taking a lot of political damage over this issue.

  3. joust says:

    a swing in Auckland is what won them the last election if the party votes count commentaries from the west are to believed. Mt Albert by-election anyone?

  4. Cambennett says:

    I think (a) is what’s happening. If you look at the last poll out all the keffufle over the super city has not hurt them there at all.

    If they pick their battles they can just about do what they want at the moment they have a 20+ point lead in the polls that does not look like eroding any time soon.

  5. Ian says:

    I can not recall a time in the past when the media has been so compliant. This, more than anything else, has allowed the government to achieve or rather not achieve what is has to date.

  6. Joshua says:

    National are just doing everything asked of them from the previous election, and successfully, they are secure as the majority of Auckland Voters are in the buisness market and all these developments are good for them.

    I believe the Auckland Council is a good thing and from what I’ve heard from people, despite the media fixation, are very supportive of it’s set-up, but as normal you only hear about people non-supportive of the event, the others have no concerns to voice. I do have concerns myself but from what I’ve heard on the streets many don’t.

    I think I see the Auckland Transport situation going forward as a good thing, as they will have more control to carry-out the projects Auckland really need, the main problem will be who is in charge, but by the way it’s turning out, banksy or brown will have control of whom is running the agency.

  7. Matt L says:

    I think most people want a single council, I know I want this, to get rid of the bickering and lack of cohesion that has gone on between the councils we have now. I also agree that a single transport agency is needed, what I don’t agree with is the lack of accountability and transparency that should be required by law.

    In the end the problem is the finer points of the changes and as with anything its the finer points that tend to get ignored by the masses but that can have a bit impact.

  8. Doloras says:

    I agree with Matt. Supercity, yes, stand-alone ATA, probably, but a DEMOCRATIC supercity and an ATA responsible to the elected councillors and Mayor.

  9. max says:

    “National are just doing everything asked of them from the previous election”

    I don’t remember Auckland being a major theme of the previous election. Certainly they didn’t get elected on a “mandate” to do all this.

    “and successfully, they are secure as the majority of Auckland Voters are in the buisness market and all these developments are good for them.”

    Dream. On.

    It all depends at what time the brown matter hits the rotary air circulatory. For example when we will get the first massive cost blow-outs as part of the super city, or the first really contentious projetcs of Auckland Transport or any other CCO. Then people will look around for someone to blame. If National was smart, they would set it up so Auckland Council should take it (as would be democratically appropriate). However, if the Council can make a case that it wasn’t their fault, “it was those bloody CCO’s!”, then it could come back to haunt them. You don’t need to lose Remuera to lose Auckland.

  10. bob says:

    National & Key & Act & Hide are willing to take immense flak and punishment at the polls & next elections to pass through the new Supercity with the CCOs intact. The CCOs are the sole purpose of National-Acts supercity laws (and Labour seemed to intend them too - they started this process).

    Why? As the CCOs offer National-Acts corporate mates the chance to control and award vastly lucrative infrastructure contracts with virtually no public awareness or control - all paid for by those same public. Recall it was Stephen Selwood of the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (representing the companies that profit from building roads, stadiums, etc) who was prominent in pushing this CCO madness.

    There is a world of difference between Joyce’s flip-flop on saving a few million a year in PT subsidies for the Goldcard, and restructuring Auckland’s councils to make all council operations a cash-cow for corporations to profit from.

    Public fightback? Tricky. Despite rhetoric, rates are a small proportion of peoples expenses (less than petrol or PT fares usually), so attract less attention. Add to that the complexity that Hide has buried the CCOs in, and many people just don’t understand the CCO rort. Finally, the only effective protest - refusing to pay your rates - carries the huge penalty of having your home forcibly sold (often at below market price) to pay a couple of grand in outstanding rates. No wonder people aren’t marching in the streets!

    Think of how few State Owned Enterprises formed in the 1980s by Roger Douglas have been changed back to government run operations. Just Kiwirail really. That is the kind of long term ‘lock-in’ of these council changes that Key & Hide want. Let’s their mates profit for decades…

    On the plus side - a decent rates boycott campaign would kill the CCOs dead, and could leave us with a better council structure. :)

  11. The “Authoritarian Daddy State” has already decided “we will do as we are told until the rights to us are sold’. Then they will suck us dry, we will be told to just pay the bill.

    Rodney Hide is on a power high and John Key is enjoying being the CEO setting up the Authoritarian Daddy State for the 3 who were junior ministers behind Ruthless Ruth and senior ministers now, these 3 John English, Tony Ryall and Murray McCully are beevering away putting in place the policies Ruth could not while in office.


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