Jeers and boos greet Banks' stand-in at debate

By Simon Collins

That was the choice posed by Auckland City councillor Paul Goldsmith on Friday at what was effectively the first public debate for the election of the first mayor of the new, region-wide Auckland Council.

It was only a quasi-debate; just one of the two declared candidates, Manukau Mayor Len Brown, was present.

Auckland City Mayor John Banks, the other candidate, was represented by Mr Goldsmith, his biographer and chairman of his council's community services committee. Mr Goldsmith made it clear he was speaking only for himself, and that his speech might not endear himself to his boss.

"I think there will always be a certain number of councillors and mayors who deep down really want to be MPs and will try to achieve their ambition to fix all of society's problems regardless of the office.

"I can easily see it creating a parallel social welfare department and a parallel housing department and extending itself into a host of social policies. I think that will be a mistake. I think the cost will cripple ratepayers who are at the end of their tether already."

Ignoring howls of outrage from an audience mainly composed of social service agencies, he said local councils had to rely on rates and did not have access to the range of taxes that funded central government.

"I think we have got things back to front if we think that, because central government's housing or welfare agencies are not sufficiently responsive to local concerns, that the answer is for local government to take them over or guide them. We should resist the temptation to create a second Parliament in Queen St."

Mr Goldsmith sat down to boos from the hecklers. The audience waited for a riposte from Mr Brown, speaking last, after Mr Goldsmith.

He didn't disappoint them.

"You cannot build a great city without lifting people's education levels," he declared.

"You cannot keep streets safe without very strong, very clear connections between our councils and police and the people in the community."

A great city required good healthcare, education, and jobs or training for every school-leaver. Local councils were involved in that through the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs.

"It's critical that we have a strong and compelling role in the development of social services," Mayor Brown said. "That is not developing a Parliament, that is building a community."

He said the Auckland Social Policy Forum, to be chaired by the Minister of Social Development, should debate issues such as free swimming pools, library development, liquor licensing, prostitution and the topless "Dykes on Bikes" parade.

Mr Brown said the forum should set the city's values, showing that the city's leaders are "compassionate and caring and listening to and understanding our community".

He said it should also include ministers of other social portfolios such as health and housing, and should reach out to include ethnic groups and community organisations.

That remains to be seen. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she would issue a discussion paper on the proposed forum early in the new year, with submissions due by May.

By then the first mayoral election will be just five months away, and Mayor Banks will then be speaking for himself.

- NZ Herald

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