Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: 'Self-serving greed' and council pay

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The other morning I woke to the nightmare of the pre-transmogrified John Banks bellowing out of my radio-clock alarm. The Auckland City Mayor thought it obscene of his Auckland Regional Council rivals to take a 3 per cent pay rise.

"When the country is strapped for cash ... and good citizens across Auckland are losing their jobs, this is an act of greed ..." Not just ordinary greed either, but "a self-serving act of greed".

I stabbed at the alarm buttons until the noise stopped and lay back. Poor old "Nice" Banksie was having another relapse.

Like the one a couple of weeks back when he unfairly monstered Patrick Strange, the chief executive of Transpower, after a brief cut in electricity to Auckland.

I couldn't help chuckling at the huge task former journalist Bill Ralston had set himself by signing on as Professor Higgins to Banks' Eliza Doolittle.

As the election pressure builds up, the only way poor old Bill is going to stop his pupil dropping his Hs in public is if he starts sleeping over at his paymaster's house so he can intercept pesky early-morning journalists who call before Mr Banks has donned his new persona.

The cheap shot about councillor wage increases was textbook Old Banksie, and a perfect example of why, several years ago, the setting of remuneration rates for politicians and statutory officials was put in the hands of an independent Remuneration Authority.

It's a fair system as far as the public is concerned because it prevents politicians giving themselves unwarranted wage increases.

It's fair for the politicians because it helps protect them from the criticism that they are feathering their nests. It also ensures politicians get a justifiable wage increase that they might otherwise be afraid to give themselves for fear of cheap shots from, among others, their millionaire rivals.

Morning Report opened by claiming "Auckland Regional Council have voted themselves a 3 per cent pay rise just months out from the organisation's demise. It took less than a minute ..." While the facts are right, it doesn't tell the true story.

This time last year, in the midst of the worst international economic crisis in decades, three Auckland councils - Auckland City, the ARC and North Shore - baulked at accepting the 3 per cent wage increase proposed by the Remuneration Authority. In all, around 15 of the country's 85 local councils told the Remuneration Authority they preferred a zero adjustment.

This despite a letter from authority chairman David Oughton pressing them to take the money, saying "a zero increase from July 1, 2009 would create a situation where a large and perhaps less publicly acceptable adjustment may need to be made from July 1, 2010".

He added that "the raison d'etre of the Remuneration Authority's role in setting the remuneration of elected representatives and statutory officers is to remove the political responsibility and associated pressure from those persons".

Despite this plea, the 15 councils held firm and the authority agreed that, given the special circumstances, they needn't take the pay increase. The other 70 councils did. Mr Banks' council actually fudged the issue, squirrelling away the "obscenity" in a special money box.

The Mayor's conservative Citizens and Ratepayers allies had wanted the equivalent amount siphoned off into a special fund to pay for a sculpture - whether of Mr Banks, or what, is not clear. The leftish minority wanted the cash in hand.

The compromise was to put the equivalent amount into a special pool to provide meeting allowance fees for politicians attending extra "Super City" meetings.

The authority has now decided on a nil adjustment for the year from July 1, 2010. However, it has written to last year's 15 refusenik councils noting how it had registered at the time "our major concern over ongoing, ad hoc holds on remuneration, which could lead to remuneration becoming a matter of politics in an election year".

Chairman Michael Wintringham says it's now catch-up time for last year's hold-outs. "The authority now requires you to recommend allocation of this amount [last year's 3 per cent increase] pro-rated for the period from July 1 to election day."

The ARC and North Shore have both agreed to this "requirement". Auckland City has until March 31 to respond. With the authority insisting Mr Banks and his council accept this obscenity, Professor Higgins-Ralston is going to have his work cut out rescuing his Eliza from this one.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

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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