Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Election heads for low vote count

After extensive media coverage of Auckland's unmown grass verges, there was a pick-up in voting. Photo / Sarah Ivey
After extensive media coverage of Auckland's unmown grass verges, there was a pick-up in voting. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The Super City election race enters the final week with a stubbornly low voter turnout and a final push by Len Brown and John Palino for the mayoral chains.

Mr Brown is the favourite to win a second term, but the political novice Mr Palino is putting up a courageous fight with a conservative mix of policies.

The American-born businessman is promising to hold rates at the consumer price index inflation rate, control the region's "exploding debt", give greater power to local boards and build a second CBD at Manukau.

Mr Brown is asking Aucklanders not to deviate from the path he has set over the past three years, aiming for a start to the $2.86 billion central rail link by 2016 and promising rate rises of no more than 2.5 per cent in a second term.

Yesterday, he restated his policy of retaining public ownership of the port and airport shares and the city's water company, saying these core assets delivered dividends to invest in communities and keep rates affordable.

A Herald investigation last week of Mr Brown's first term running the city finances found debt had risen from $3.9 billion to a projected $6.7 billion over his first three budgets, staff costs had risen from $655 million to $702 million and he had delayed a funding decision on the city rail project until after the election.

Whoever wins Saturday's contest wins extensive mayoral powers - including appointing a deputy and setting budgets - but is still one vote on the 21-strong Auckland Council.

The political make-up of the council, which a pragmatic Mr Brown has shown a canny ability to get the numbers on in his first term, rests on the outcome of six wards. A more right-leaning council is a strong possibility.

By Friday, just 16.09 per cent of the votes had been returned, compared with 24.8 per cent in 2010. This points to a much lower turnout, when voting ends on Saturday at noon, than the 50.5 per cent figure in 2010.

There was a pick-up mid-week after extensive media coverage of the berm issue. The return of 20,357 votes on Thursday was almost on par with the same day at the 2010 elections.

Some people contacted the Herald to say the berm issue was influencing their vote.

Mt Albert resident Janne Galbraith said about half the berms were not mowed and halfway up her calf in the predominantly state-house street she lived in.

"God forbid I'm tempted to vote right-wing Palino just to get the place looking tidy. At the moment it's Third World," she said.

Council figures show that 68 per cent of the 409 people who submitted on the berm issue during this year's budget process supported keeping the service on the isthmus, while 33 per cent agreed it could stop.

The Herald asked frontrunners Len Brown and John Palino to say why people should vote for them

Len Brown

Much has been achieved since the establishment of the Auckland Council, but there is more work to do. We've brought our region together and are tackling the big challenges facing Auckland.

We're seeing progress on the infrastructure needed to unclog the roads. Average rate increases have reduced from 5.7 per cent under the old councils down to 2.9 per cent, and I've pledged to reduce them to 2.5 per cent next year.

If I have the honour of being re-elected mayor, my priorities will be:

Fixing Auckland's transport, with a focus on starting the city rail link, better bus services, school transport plans and upgrading local roads

Keeping rates low and delivering efficiencies across council budgets

Increasing the housing supply with more affordable housing, so families have a place to call home

Supporting economic development and more jobs for Aucklanders

Protecting our beautiful environment and cleaning up our harbours

Investing in the pools, parks, libraries and town centres that make our communities special

I'm proud of this city, its spirit and the diverse people and cultures that make us unique.

John Palino

I'm going to put the "local" back into local government. That means more power and responsibility for you, your community and local boards on one hand, and on the other means I'll be able to focus on keeping rates down, controlling our region's exploding debt and providing the best possible regional services for you, your family and your business.

I've committed to keeping rates at the level of CPI inflation (currently 0.7 per cent) or below that every year that I am mayor.

I'm going to strengthen local boards so that decisions are made closer to residents, removing the need for bureaucracy, and improve transparency of council processes so you can monitor progress.

For new growth to Auckland I will concentrate in priority areas where there is both public support and public transport.

The most significant such area will become a second CBD in Manukau, because that's where the strongest growth is, where the biggest need remains for jobs and where there is existing infrastructure.

I'm going to target congestion by making it easier to take public transport, not more unpleasant to drive. I will greatly expand park-and-ride facilities and, with growth focused on transport-equipped priority areas, will reduce future traffic increases.

- NZ Herald

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