Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Palino's vote wake-up call for Brown

Newcomer's remarkable tally a warning to mayor that he hasn't won over voters who backed Banks in 2010.

Cameron Brewer  may be regretting not standing against Len Brown, as John Palino did. Photo / APN
Cameron Brewer may be regretting not standing against Len Brown, as John Palino did. Photo / APN

Auckland mayoral wannabes Maurice Williamson and Cameron Brewer must have gone through a few "what if" moments in the light of John Palino's remarkable achievement in the weekend's poll.

When a political unknown can take on the incumbent mayor in a field of 17 and score 107,672 votes to the mayor's 162,675, the two well-known identities who walked away from the contest - veteran National MP Williamson and Councillor Brewer - must be wondering if they'd been over-timorous.

On the other hand, flushing another 55,000 anti-Brown votes out of a semi-comatose electorate would have been a huge task and might well have stirred an extra burst of support for the incumbent.

So to the victor the spoils, and with 48 per cent of the vote, Mr Brown has the sort of backing he needs to continue his battles with central government over transport and affordable housing. However, the Palino votes are a reminder to him that the large numbers on the right who supported John Banks three years ago have neither gone away nor been converted to his homeboy style or his activist policies.

Some commentators have noted a slight drift to the right in the political make-up of Auckland Council. On paper, the mayor has lost three allies in veteran ex-Labour MPs Ann Hartley and Richard Northey, both defeated, and Sandra Coney, who has retired. But Mr Brown, a card-carrying Labour supporter, but "independent" as mayor, has made much play of demanding councillors leave their politics at the council chamber door.

As contradictory as that might sound, left and right blocks did not develop in the council's first term, partly because the mayor used the powers of patronage that he possesses, in particular the allotment of committee chairs, to his advantage.

John Palino had 107,672 votes to the mayor's 162,675.
John Palino had 107,672 votes to the mayor's 162,675.

When he can woo a former Act MP, Penny Webster, into his inner circle in his first term, right-wing newcomers like Linda Cooper and Denise Krum should be no problem.

Also, right-wing councillor Noelene Raffills is trailing Labour's Ross Clow - by 48 votes - in her Whau ward in the preliminary results.

Mr Brown's rejection of party politics is mirrored in voter behaviour. In the Albert-Roskill ward, for example, voters have backed former National minister and Auckland mayor Christine Fletcher, but rejected her new ticket-mate in favour of colourful, dog-loving leftie incumbent Cathy Casey.

And in the wealthy central city ward of Waitemata, former left-wing chairman of the Auckland Regional Council Mike Lee has been returned with double the votes of his right-wing rival, former Auckland City councillor for the area Greg Moyle.

A big loss is the departure of Ms Coney, a former regional councillor, which leaves Mr Lee a lone voice in carrying the flag for regional parks and conservation, both maritime and land-based, that were core ARC functions. Former ARC deputy chairwoman Christine Rose contested Ms Coney's seat, but lost. It's an area which was neglected in Mayor Brown's first term and Mr Lee will have his work cut out to change this.

As for voter turnout, Mayor Brown has been banging his head over the low figure, 34 per cent for Auckland Council compared with 51 per cent three years ago. He's declaring postal voting's days are over and is promising electronic voting in 2016, which is rather jumping the gun, seeing the Minister of Internal Affairs, Chris Tremain, has only offered to trial "electronic" voting next time.

Whether introducing new systems will give more than a temporary boost to turnout is debatable if postal voting is any example. On Friday, I did give postal voting less credit than it deserved. Made available to all local councils as part of the 1989 local government reforms, it did help raise turnout nationwide from 55 per cent in 1986 to 58.4 per cent in 1989.

Turnout declined to 44 per cent by 2007, followed by a small bounce in 2010 to 49 per cent.

In 1986, the old Auckland City introduced postal voting in conjunction with a new ward system at the urging of the then Minister of Internal Affairs Michael Bassett, a former councillor.

Turnout doubled, from 30.4 per cent in 1983 to 59.8 per cent in 1986. But three years later, it plunged to 44 per cent.

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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