Auckland Council has suddenly pulled its own version of Brexit.
At the urging of Mayor Wayne Brown and down to his casting vote to break a 10-all tie, Auckland will not renew its membership of LGNZ, declare Auckxit, and in the process save itself $350,000 in annual fees.
LGNZ proclaims on its website: “Our aim is as simple as it is lofty – to be local democracy’s vision and voice,” and “now more than ever, our communities need a vision and a voice to unite the shared interests of Aotearoa.” Auckland has three of the 17 seats on its national council.
But Brown argued LGNZ had not advanced Auckland’s interests adequately and branching out on its own would mean Cabinet ministers and others would have to come direct to him and Auckland Council to liaise and consult on major legislation and issues.
He said of LGNZ: “They need us more than we need them.”
His move to withdraw came after a council officers’ report on renewing LGNZ membership. It said all 78 councils nationwide – with populations ranging from 600 in Chatham Islands to 1.67 million – belonged, but Auckland was by far and away the largest.
“Auckland Council … is large enough to provide policy advice and elected member development without calling on LGNZ services,” Brown said.
However with a major reform of local government structures and financing underway, the report said it could be beneficial for Auckland to remain involved, “in which case a future council might choose to re-join LGNZ if the current council resigns its membership”.
It’s the second time Brown has moved a council of which he was mayor away from LGNZ membership, having temporarily withdrawn the Far North District Council in 2008. That decision was overturned the next year.
Opinions were sharply divided around the council table over the benefits of remaining a member.
Some backed Brown that LGNZ had let Auckland down in the way it dealt with the government on both Three Waters and the multi-party housing intensification law change but others said it was “petty” and futile for the city to turn its back on other councils.
Brown said he had been lobbied by other mayors to remain in LGNZ, so that he could “fix it” but he had too much fixing of Auckland to contemplate and did not have the time or will to do so.
Veteran Auckland councillor Mike Lee had once been a committee member of the local government association but felt it had moved away from its main focus and was more aligned with the central government and power, not local body issues.
John Watson, of Albany, agreed, saying it was perhaps time for Auckland “to paddle our own canoe for a bit”.
And Manurewa’s Daniel Newman said the nub of the issue was whether Auckland got value out of its membership of the sector group. He agreed central government would still need to seek Auckland’s viewpoint on issues. “The government of the country, whatever colour, is going to be interested in Auckland’s opinion – it’s because of the number of voters.”
But Richard Hills, of North Shore, said leaving would be seen as petty, and would put the LGNZ budget and staffing at risk by withdrawing funding. “We seem to have been talking a lot lately about the cost of things but not about the value we get from them.”
Alf Filipaina from Manukau ward refused to “follow the leader blindly”, saying there had been benefits over the years from LGNZ and he had personally been involved in an organisation that promoted diversity in representation.
Jo Bartley of Maungakiekie urged the council to focus its time on more important issues for constituents struggling from storm and economic conditions but said Auckland ought not to “buy into the JAFA complex. We have as much to learn from them as them from us.”
Brown won important support from Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson, who said she’d been unsure of her position before the debate but questioned LGNZ’s influence for Auckland of late and said she would support a one-year withdrawal to see if that prompted change.
Fifteen of the 21 local boards had backed staying in LGNZ and several councillors said their wishes should be heard and followed.
But Brown thought local boards could benefit if Auckland held its own conference. With 150 or so elected representatives it was sizeable in its own right. He joked the gathering could be at Waiheke to stimulate local business and many of the elected members could travel for free using superannuitants’ gold cards, given their age distribution.
Brown said he’d seen first-hand a local government conference in the Bay of Islands with 800 people getting “pissed” and that could have swayed his view of the merits of the organisation and its events. (Two Auckland councillors, Lotu Fuli and Julie Fairey, felt the need to say they’d attended such events and that they do not drink alcohol.)
The vote on pulling out saw 10 councillors (Andy Baker, Josephine Bartley, Angela Dalton, Chris Darby, Julie Fairey, Alf Filipaina, Lotu Fuli, Shane Henderson, Richard Hills, and Kerrin Leoni) vote against Brown’s proposal.
Nine councillors (Mike Lee, Daniel Newman, Grey Sayers, Desley Simpson, Sharron Stewart, Ken Turner, Wayne Walker, John Watson, Maurice Williamson) voted for withdrawing, with Brown joining them to make the outcome 10-all.
He then had a casting vote, which he exercised in favour of his proposal. “I vote ‘For’.”
LGNZ’s president, Stuart Crosby, said the council had let down the local boards it represented.
“It’s really disappointing that the Mayor has used his casting vote to leave LGNZ.
“The irony of cost savings now means Aucklander ratepayers will now have to pick up the bill – Auckland were to benefit from more than a million dollars a year in savings associated with their membership,” he said.
“This decision also has an enormous impact on elected members who are underrepresented such as our Maori elected members and young elected members. By leaving, they’ve ignored the view of the majority of local boards.”