Brian Rudman: 'Auckland Card' best way to ensure councils pay fair share

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It's hard to imagine a procession of card-carrying Auckland oldies off to Beaurepaires in deepest Alexandra to save $10 on a new car tyre, even with the lure of collecting extra Fly Buy points at a Wellington New World supermarket on the way through.

But even if the benefits of Winston Peters' new SuperGold Card will be underwhelming, the thought behind it will surely do the wily New Zealand First leader no harm electorally.

It's such a successful gimmick, I'm surprised one or other of the 15 wannabe Auckland City mayors hasn't seized upon it as a way of establishing a point of difference for themselves. With an Auckland Card, a candidate could not only offer a fair deal for Auckland City residents at council-supported facilities, they could also play Mr Peters' other trump, the xenophobia card. With such a card it would be possible to discriminate against those freeloaders from North Shore and other outlying districts, who flock to the big smoke to enjoy the CBD pleasures their councils steadfastly refuse to fund.

Not only would it be a winner with Auckland City voters, it would also be a wonderful way of embarrassing outlander politicians like North Shore Mayor George Wood and North Shore MP and National Party spokesman for Auckland issues, Wayne Mapp, who actively support the unfair status quo.

On presentation of an Auckland Card, holders would gain entry to venues such as the Town Hall, the Civic, the Edge and the Zoo at the normal price. Non-holders would face a 5 to 10 per cent surcharge to cover their share of on-going costs. Some arrangement could also be made with performing arts companies and other organisations heavily subsidised by Auckland City, to ensure city residents got an appropriate discount on ticket prices or rescue services.

If nothing else, the card would be a dramatic means of ramming home the funding imbalances that have emerged within the region.

I've written before about the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Bill, which 11 regional organisations, ranging from surf lifesaving to opera, have drawn up in an attempt to make regional funding more equitable.

It was to have been introduced into Parliament this month, but refusal by the National Party, on advice from Dr Mapp, to guarantee support left the bill in limbo. New Zealand First has now agreed to back its first reading at least, which means it will have enough support, with Labour and the Green Party onside, to get sent to a select committee when introduced in mid-September.

What has infuriated backers of the bill is the opposition campaign being master-minded by North Shore Mayor George Wood.

Rather unwisely, Mr Wood's secretarial helpers didn't check their mailing lists, firing off letters of opposition to the very organisations backing the bill. Surf Life Saving spokesman Steve Johns, who acts as joint spokesman for all 11 groups, was one to receive a plea from Mr Wood asking him to write to his local MPs telling them how "flawed" and "unwelcome" the proposal was.

Mr Johns' reply was swift.

North Shore residents, who make up 16 per cent of the total regional population, "account for 18 per cent of total direct usage of the organisations covered by the bill and North Shore City contributes only a small fraction of the total annual grants provided to the organisations by councils". He pointed out the first year levy of approximately $2.2 million on North Shore City Council proposed by the bill, represents 17 per cent of the levy across the region.

Answering complaints from Mr Wood that the Auckland Festival was included, Mr Johns pointed out North Shore residents account for around 21 per cent of the festival's audience. He also noted that North Shore-ites made up 23 per cent of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra audiences, 21 per cent of the Auckland Theatre Company's and 22 per cent of National Maritime Museum visitors, concluding "the main purpose of the bill is to get each council to pay their fair share of a base level of funding".

An Auckland Card would help embarrass them into seeing sense. And if not, it will at least squeeze them where it hurts, to say nothing of generating some much-needed funds.

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