Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Want corporate greed? Try council's legal bill for chastising Occupy

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A protestor holds his ground as security staff remove Occupy Auckland from Aotea Square. Photo / Dean Purcell
A protestor holds his ground as security staff remove Occupy Auckland from Aotea Square. Photo / Dean Purcell

Scientists would have you believe that after Armageddon, cockroaches will be the last creatures standing. I won't be around to collect, but my money's on lawyers.

As the sky falls in, what's the bet they'll be bustling about looking for a local body with ratepayers' cash to waste wanting to go to court to argue someone else was to blame.

This month, lawyers acting for Auckland City were in court seeking three months' grace in which to identify some of the pre-Christmas Occupy protesters, so they could be "served" with offence notices. All heart, the lawyer said the council was no longer seeking to have them jailed, just fined as a warning to others.

At the time, I suggested the council cut its losses and stop hounding the occupiers. They were long gone, and the only winners in dragging out the process were the glass tower lawyers the council insisted on retaining.

I had no idea then of the enormity - in both senses - of that bill. Auckland Council has now admitted the cost so far of dealing with the Occupy Auckland protesters totals $356,587. By far the biggest item is $194,626 in legal fees for the services of Crown solicitors Meredith Connell.

If I wasn't one of the ratepayers expected to pay this bill, I'd find the irony delicious.

The Aotea Square occupiers were riding on the backs of the protesters in New York, London and other financial capitals. They were enraged by the corporate bankers and lawyers whom they blamed for not only master-minding the global economic crisis, but then persuading politicians to bail them out with public money.

It was never clear why the ragtag collection of Auckland protesters camped outside the Town Hall rather than in front of one of the glass towers where the money men of Auckland do their business.

My guess is the grass of Aotea Square was rather softer to sleep on than the concrete of the CBD proper. But with hindsight - and the council's expense sheet now out in the open - it's clear the choice of campsite was brilliant.

The council's expense sheet highlights an example of the sort of corporate greed the protesters were on about. A homegrown example we can all relate to.

My beef is not so much with the Crown solicitors. If they can get away with charging nearly $200,000 for some legal advice and a handful of court appearances which left the situation as messy as before they came on the scene, good luck to them.

It's the new corporatised Super City that deserves most of our ire.

A council press release with the account claims: "The cost to ratepayers is a direct consequence of the refusal of Occupy Auckland to voluntarily cease their occupation, and to extend it to three other sites."

This is not true. The costs were all the result of decisions made by the council about how to deal with the demonstrators.

Who were the security guards and fencing - at a cost of $57,800 - protecting? The protesters, or the passing public?

I passed by the site many times, and all the occupiers wanted to do, when they were out and about, was discuss their cause.

What were the private investigators hired for?

Then there's grass restoration at $17,650. Weekend news reports had farmers rhapsodising about how the wet summer had miraculously transformed brown pastures across the land into lush green cow paddocks.

Even if a few patches required reseeding after the tents were removed, the vast sum mentioned conjures up pictures of Mayor Len Brown and a cast of expensive artists out on their hands and knees painting each brown blade of grass green.

No doubt in the good old days, a chap from the works department would have ambled up from the local depot and cast a few handfuls of seeds about, strung up a rope barrier and ambled back to base. With luck, an in-house lawyer would have been there to give some common sense advice too.

It's as though the Super City is so fixated on big ticket items like the $2.86 billion train tunnel that the pennies don't matter. Perhaps not now, but come election time they do.

- 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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