Wildly different sets of priorities look to inform the new governing body, as new councillors blow out the candles and make a wish on the 12th birthday of Auckland Council
A range of ambitions were on display as the seven new councillors gave their maiden speeches in the first meeting of Auckland Council’s governing body in council chambers.
The new councillors’ wishlist for Auckland Council’s 12th birthday – a milestone passed just as this fifth term begins – was a diverse array of hopes for the city.
In his inaugural speech, new mayor Wayne Brown spoke of 2022 being an opportunity, forced by circumstance, to reimagine Auckland Council.
As the governing body reaches puberty, the seven injections of fresh blood in the form of the new ward councillors who made their maiden speeches today may be the ones to truly leverage that opportunity.
There was a clear dividing line between the speakers.
One the one side, three younger women with ambitions of healing inequities and furthering climate action. On the other, four older Pākehā men who fit well into Brown’s philosophy of keeping a tight hand on the purse strings while bringing a no-nonsense reform approach to the wider council group.
Andrew Baker, Franklin ward
Franklin councillor Andrew Baker takes over from the retiring deputy mayor Bill Cashmore after 12 years on the Franklin local board. Like new deputy Desley Simpson before him, he was quick to point out he would not be Cashmore 2.0 – a claim both councillors seemed to bookend with tributes to the retired local politician.
Like a number of the new councillors, Baker is used to being on the other side of the council chambers ring of tables, presenting to the governing body as a member of the local board in what he likened to a political apprenticeship.
Baker said as a local board alumn, he can “bring an unparalleled understanding of what life is really like within the other arm of our shared governance model” to the machinations of the governing body.
Coming from the southern rural border of the city, he said Franklin is “by and large a community still struggling to get their heads around being a part of Auckland, and with a real suspicion … that not all parts of Auckland are treated equitably”.
Baker called on the governing body to make efficient use of council time in this forthcoming term, imploring himself and his fellow councillors to “speak only if you can improve on silence”.
Julie Fairey, Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa ward
Yet another new councillor who has climbed to the position after more than a decade on local boards, Julie Fairey began by giving her new colleagues a bit of an autobiography as part of her maiden speech, recounting how she was first drawn into local politics by a position as executive at the University of Auckland student association, where she worked with Efeso Collins and fellow new councillor Lotu Fuli.
“At the time I thoroughly rejected any of that was local government, as that was supremely uncool,” she said. “Little did I realise I was in fact already hooked.”
Fairey threw her hat in the ring for the Puketātapapa local board when the Super City was first formed, but at the time had a level of scepticism over how local boards would work, imagining them too remote from the halls of power.
While she said council sometimes needed to get out of the way, her vision of the job seems to be more holistic than some of her fellow new councillors who focused on their budgetary role.
“Every time you flush the toilet, enjoy the shade of tree, walk to the dairy, eat at a local Thai place, have a go on a basket swing, even when we hear a ruru while up writing a speech late at night… council touches all of these things and more,” she said.
Lotu Fuli, Manukau ward
Fuli comes to the job taking the space Efeso Collins used to hold, as a Labour-aligned councillor from the Manukau ward.
Like Fairey, she comes to it from years in a local board position, and wants council to play a role in reducing inequities across the city.
In fact, she made a point of making it clear that equity would be a repeated area of interest for her this term, saying: “Please don’t be surprised if you hear that word coming out of my mouth every day”.
She said issues like the digital divide and housing availability would be at the top of her agenda.
“Many of our families didn’t vote because for them it was more important to put food on the table,” she said.
Fuli paid tribute to her parents and talked about her childhood as one of nine children and immigrating from Samoa as a small child in the 1970s.
Mike Lee, Waitematā and Gulf ward
This wasn’t Mike Lee’s first maiden speech.
The political veteran previously held the same office from 2010 to 2019, and has been a local politician in the Auckland area for more than 30 years.
However, his brief hiatus from the halls of power afforded him the chance to lay down a speech which Wayne Brown called a “sobering address”.
Lee said he ran for his old seat because he believed Auckland Council was in crisis.
“I think our mayor has made that point long and hard over many, many meetings on his very arduous campaign trail,” he said. “That crisis is financial, but I have to say it’s also cultural in the sense of how the council is perceived by the people we are meant to serve.”
He said he would agitate for reform from where he was sitting, particularly when it came to areas like profits going to private contractors and the quality of public consultation processes.
He said he heard more criticism of the council’s Have Your Say consultation programme on the campaign trail than he did about rates.
“False, fake consultation where people are repeatedly asked to have their say but the council and CCOs almost inevitably have their way,” he said. “We need to look very seriously at the way public consultation is treated.”
He also called for more transparency from the council group, saying as a member of the public he found it difficult to obtain information he said should be public.
“Up on the 26th floor of 135 Albert Street, there’s a sign that says a lot. It’s on its own wooden stand and it must be used so routinely that it stands there as a permanent fixture, just outside the door. The sign says ‘Confidential, public excluded’.”
Lee wants a rethinking of the attitude towards barring the public from meetings and make sure it only happens when there is are proper legal grounds.
Kerrin Leoni, Whau ward
The governing body’s first wahine Māori representative comes from Whau ward, where she overtook incumbent Tracy Mulholland by a nail-biting 300 votes.
Like Fuli and Fairey, Leoni sees council as able to use tools to foster community connection and ease the pains of growing inequities that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic years.
She spent around 10 years working in London, where she said she saw local bodies able to provide social outreach with more funding.
“We can not only rely on central government to break the cycles of poverty,” she said.
Leoni came back to Auckland in the mid 2010s because she saw there were still significant areas of inequality in the city and wanted to join the fight.
Priorities for her included providing economic recovery from Covid, clean water and working on a 15-minute city where transport needs are lessened.
“This is what we need here in Tāmaki Makaurau and this is what we deserve,” she said.
Ken Turner, Waitakere ward
Former pig farmer Ken Turner said he’d been on a nine-year journey to land this job, and now he wanted to be the eyes, ears and voice of his constituents.
Although he recognised councillors had a responsibility to the entire region, it seemed his focus would turn first and foremost to his own corner of the west.
“I understand that a councillor has a regional responsibility to act in the best interest of Auckland, but that said a healthy and prosperous Waitakere benefits the whole of Auckland,” he said.
Turner said he would oppose actions that “fly in the face of technical advancement and rational thinking”, such as speed bumps he said cause more emissions and plans to truck food scraps down to Reporoa.
He spoke about a holistic approach in which the governing body wields an evidence-based approach across all issues.
“We need to ask those three core questions: compared to what, at what cost, and what are the facts?” He said. “We need to ensure we don’t throw common sense and public money out the window.”
Maurice Williamson, Howick ward
Another political veteran, although having spent his years largely in Parliament, Williamson joked about being asked to do a maiden speech.
“Coming at the end of a very long list of phenomenal speeches, I sort of feel a bit like Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth husband,” he said. “I know what’s expected of me, but how am I going to make it interesting for you?”
Levity aside, Williamson’s speech was an evisceration of spending patterns of previous councils. He was particularly appalled by the lack of a confirmed price tag on the City Rail Link.
“We’ve got to stop spending money we don’t have,” he said. ”Accumulating debt is a ghastly thing for any of us to be doing for a future generation.”
Williamson characterised himself as a socially liberal fiscal conservative, despite his call that most of the body might think of him as a “right wing evil horned devil”.
His disdain for council spending was the centrepiece of his campaign, and it seems it will remain his watchword now in the governing body.
“I don’t want anybody here to be putting up suggestions for anything unless they are absolutely confident they know where the funding for that will come from, or whether we will be taking it off another programme.”
Like Turner, Williamson had some choice words to spare for speed bumps, especially a set that had been constructed by a local school, and criticised speed limits on the well-used Pakuranga Road.
“It’s the lunatics running the asylum,” he said.