Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Fix-up misses more wrong lines

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The report implied Mt Eden be split into two with a line through the suburban shopping centre. Photo / Martin Sykes
The report implied Mt Eden be split into two with a line through the suburban shopping centre. Photo / Martin Sykes

Given the increasingly party political nature of Auckland local politics, the way we select the 20 councillors governing the new Super City has a vital impact on Auckland's future direction.

A line on a map - or the lack of one, with the number of people in each ward, could make all the difference in whether we get a council of the right or the left.

The Local Government Commission has now revealed its final solution, and though it's an improvement on its initial determination released last November, it still raises questions of fairness and balance.

Despite a lengthy justification from the commissioners, they still fail to convince me of either the fairness or effectiveness of having 14 of the 20 councillors elected from two-member wards.

There was an outcry following their November draft proposal, which lumped working class Otahuhu, Glen Innes and Onehunga into a ward dominated by the wealthy burghers of Remuera, Mission Bay and St Heliers.

The commissioners have now admitted that on reflection they were wrong and split the ward into two, single-member wards.

"Our investigations did identify a clear distinction between the socio-economic characteristics of the northern area and the central/southern area [and] we are persuaded that the proposed ward would combine distinctly different communities of interest and traditional voting patterns suggest effective representation for the central and southern areas of the ward was unlikely," say the commissioners in their latest report.

Simply put, it was a gerrymander that would have guaranteed the rich area would have dominated the ward.

The commissioners' confession does beg the question about what sort of investigations were made before the November report.

Tourists are taken on bus trips to view the sumptuous clifftop mansions of the rich half of this ward. How come the commissioners, and their advisers, were unaware of the obvious lack of commonality between the two halves they tried to cobble together?

But all's well that ends well, I guess, except for the two Citizens and Ratepayers grandees, Doug Armstrong and Ken Baguley, who instead of being elected arm in arm as the two councillors for the big ward, will have to fight it out with each other over who represents the new small conservative bulwark.

Combining these two disparate areas was not the only howler. Another was splitting Mt Eden into two with a line through the suburban shopping centre.

At last week's press conference, commission chairwoman Sue Piper admitted they realised that error as they drove through the town centre on the airport bus after releasing the November report. This has also been corrected.

Unfortunately, the commissioners were not willing to learn from their Orakei-Otatuhu mistake, and split the seven remaining two-member wards into 14 single member wards as well.

Even with 20 single-member wards, each councillor would be representing more people than a member of Parliament. I fail to be persuaded that communities of interest can be better represented by a few two-member wards, rather than by twice as many single- member wards.

Devonport and Takapuna have been forced together into one two-member North Shore ward representing 143,200 people.

The whole region knows the villagers of Devonport see themselves as slightly different from the rest of us. And especially different from their flashy next- door neighbours.

So where's the harm in having two wards to acknowledge this?

The problem with two-member wards is that the winning ticket tends to win all.

Another large two-member ward asking to be split down the middle is the central isthmus Albert-Eden-Roskill ward.

Surely the gentrified villa-lands of Eden, Greenlane and Kingsland have a community of interest that differs from the Bible-belt lands to the west of Mt Albert Rd.

It also still rankles that my vote in the inner city ward of Waitemata and the Gulf is going to be worth 35 per cent less than that of the electors of Rodney - and not just because the ungrateful Rodneyites don't want to be part of the brave new world.

It's a slight improvement on the 48 per cent differential embodied in the November draft, but it's still not good enough.

Last weekend I ventured out into the Rodney badlands and encountered a gravel road. The car ahead's delicate city tyres got a puncture. Come November, we city folk will no doubt be paying to pave these backwater roads.

It seems only fair that if we'll be digging in our pockets to improve the fringe-dwellers' infrastructure, at least our vote and our voice should is worth as much as theirs.

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