Q+A March 24, 2013
PANEL DISCUSSIONS: HOSTED BY SUSAN WOOD IN RESPONSE TO NICK SMITH AND LEN BROWN INTERVIEWS
SUSAN: Have we just seen peace breaking out here between - Len Brown's laughing at that question - between Len Brown and Nick Smith? I mean, they, it seemed, Jon, were at loggerheads, and now we're talking about words like "constructive tension", "a robust relationship". I mean, Nick Smith even said they're in the same paddock.
JON JOHANSSON, Political Scientist, Victoria University: Yeah, well, we've seen like that Frost poem: "We dance around a ring and suppose, and the secret sits in the middle and knows." Although looking at that [the Unitary Plan], it's going to be pretty hard to unearth exactly what the secret is. I think, one, what Len said is exactly right - it's crucial that Auckland reaches its best potential for New Zealand to thrive as a country. Next to the Christchurch rebuild, I think it is the next most significant issue we have. I think the government created a structure that is a pseudo-federal structure, and for a government that talks a lot about mandates, the Mayor has a mandate, you know, with a set of promise around it. He's going back to Aucklanders this year to refresh that mandate and in a lot senses reconfirm the key planks of that mandate, and that does give Auckland and its representatives quite a bit of power in its relationship with central government - more power than previously.
SUSAN: And is that part of the problem - the power that they have, Sandra Lee? Because Auckland's a big city. Len Brown's got a lot of power.
SANDRA LEE, Former Alliance Party Leader: Look, hypocrisy was rife, in my opinion, in that interview with Nick Smith. There's been a housing crisis in Auckland for a very long time now. The government appointed a minister from Nelson who's come and opined on the Unitary Plan. This plan and the supercity were created by Nick Smith's government. This plan is a statutory obligation on Len Brown's council. Now, if we really had peace, love and brotherhood breaking out for housing's sake in Auckland, what the government could do is lead by example. Here's some suggestions: stop foreign, non-citizen, non-resident speculation in the Auckland housing market; introduce a capital gains tax for the rack-renting landlords and speculators so that people looking for homes-
STEPHEN: Are you trying to get something built or not?
SANDRA: …could get better and decent accommodation. Yes, build affordable houses. Let's have a look at Hobsonville - the Prime Minister's electorate. We were building, Housing New Zealand was building affordable social housing there. The Prime Minister said, "Not in my electorate." And now in fact if you look at that whole development, there is almost no affordable housing there, even though it's been led by the Crown-
STEPHEN: This has got nothing to do with-
SANDRA: …and in fact it's the fat cats moving in.
SUSAN: Let's bring Stephen Franks in.
SANDRA: So you actually have to have a multi-pronged approach.
SUSAN: Alright, Stephen Franks.
SANDRA: And just-
SUSAN: Sandra, let Stephen Franks in.
STEPHEN FRANKS, Former ACT Party MP: None of that had anything to do whatsoever with whether the council is producing conditions for building houses. The problem you have is the council is elected by Nimbys. We are all Nimbys, when we get a chance, if that's what the law gives us. "Yeah, put people in high-rises, but not near me." Milford was supposed to have high-rises. They blocked them. "Yes, put people in buses, but make sure I can drive." So this is a theatre. Len Brown is probably praying that the government will tell him to do what he knows must be done so that he can still get elected by the people who will only elect people who promise them- You know, selfish people, old people, rich people don't want brownfields development in their suburbs, and that plan says it right at the beginning: "We're not going to intensify in the centre city." You can live in your Remueras and your Epsoms without the risk that your leafiness will go.
SANDRA: The government can't have it both ways. They have made it clear for years and years and years that they don't want to share picking up the bill for Auckland's public transport and roading woes.
STEPHEN: Hang on, let's just talk about housing.
SANDRA: But then they say, "We want more intensification." That appears in the plan, love it or hate it, and then they say, this minister in particular, "We demand more urban sprawl." You can't have it both.
STEPHEN: He didn't say that. You're just blathering.
SANDRA: Well, that's what greenfields is all about.
SANDRA: It means going out into the green, rural areas-
STEPHEN: We are already-
SANDRA: …and enlarging the-
STEPHEN: In Auckland- We are more intense in Auckland than any of the big Australian cities by a long margin. 2300 per square kilometre. We're going to try and compete for people who can go to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and live in lower-density and say, "No, you're going to live in a high-rise near the station." Auckland has to get real about where it is. They model themselves on Vancouver. Vancouver is the second-most unaffordable city in the world, and this plan is reflecting Vancouver ideas. And all Nick Smith is saying is if you're going to have a plan which makes it really hard to develop - and they want a new tax on development land - you're going to make it even more expensive. Where is the promise going to lie? The only good thing is that underneath it all, I'm sure they know that they're just making empty political promises. If they were company directors-
SUSAN: Let's get Jon in.
STEPHEN: If that [the Unitary Plan] was a prospectus, they'd be in prison.
SUSAN: Let's get Jon Johansson in.
JON: Don't you think that housing is emblematic of, you know, the raft of issues that separate local from central government? Now, the government has decided to change the configuration of power by bringing these eight councils together, right? So it has to accept consequences to do that. Did it not anticipate that things would be put before it that it might not then agree with? Or did it think that it would have its person as mayor and it would just sort of facilitate what central government wanted to do?
STEPHEN: No, no, no, if you look at the establishment legislation, it clearly contemplated a veto power. It said it in several places. And we're just seeing it exercised.
JON: Yeah, OK, but my point here is that, particularly with the city rail loop, right, isn't that really going to be where the rubber hits the road, where you have a clash? How Len and his council have develop their relationship with central government over that issue is going to go a long way as to whether Auckland is going to actually be a city in charge of itself with support from central government or if we've just got our own Kiwi version of divided government.
STEPHEN: Well, we've just got what all states have, where- Essentially, this is a state government now-
SUSAN: So you're looking at layers of government here, as they have in Australia and the United States?
JON: No, no, no. It's very different here. New Zealand is uniquely different. Perhaps only Ireland is similar to us, because we have such a proportion of the population here in Auckland, so, you know, there's a cascade effect for the rest of the country that also has to be looking at what's going on in Auckland, thinking, "How is our voice going to be heard when we have this powerful unitary council-?"
SUSAN: Quick last word from each of you. Is there anything in here that's going to give us more housing more affordably? Sandra Lee?
SANDRA: It's the only show in town. That's the law invented by this current government, so I think potentially there is. But, as the Mayor has already pointed out, the government can't play a two-faced game with them on this. There has to be, by the natural of the council of the supercity they created, the government actually has to come on board and work in a co-operative way. Otherwise it's just going to be another empty document.
STEPHEN: This is an idea that somehow regulators build buildings. The government has said, "We're going to ensure there's more space." They're going to wear the problem. The local politicians can get re-elected by saying, "We're for you, Auckland," even while they know secretly that they're not.
SUSAN: Briefly, last comment.
JON: Yeah, some sympathy, because the government has had- It's into its fifth year of being able to do something about housing affordability. One tool, many tools in the toolbox, some central, some local.