Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Flattery no substitute for cash when it comes to visions of a flagship city

Surely Auckland as the 'flagship city' deserves state support to ensure its flagship functions are realised. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Surely Auckland as the 'flagship city' deserves state support to ensure its flagship functions are realised. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Mayor Len Brown's plea to Auckland councillors to "put on your big city hats" and hand over another $3.17 million of ratepayers' money to prop up the Rugby World Cup was inevitably successful. The Government had twisted Auckland's arm high up its back and said: You will host three extra games that quake-wrecked Christchurch can no long entertain, won't you? It was enough to reduce old leftie councillor Cathy Casey to tears.

And so it came to pass that ratepayers will be shelling out for a new $625,000 broadcasting tower at North Harbour Stadium and for traffic control services and other odds and sods totalling just over $3 million. According to the accountants, that's $5.13 for each ratepayer, small change alongside the $100 million - or $171 per ratepayer - already committed.

But the mayor was right. Alongside the $171 each ratepayer is already up for, refusing another fiver each would have been churlish, and small-townish.

And Prime Minister John Key has been stroking our egos at every opportunity to persuade us that we're not country hicks. Indeed just the opposite. We're the world-class-city-in-waiting that will lead the nation out of years of stagnation - closing the gap, conquering the deficit, curing cancer. You name it, Auckland's going to do it.

And being the bigheads that we are, we enjoy the talk. And the massaging. But what we don't do, for fear of upsetting the yokels we've been put on this earth to rescue, is ask for extra cash to achieve our mission.

Which is weird. If, as every political and business leader in the land keeps saying, Auckland is the economic capital, the nuclear core that's going to power New Zealand up the OECD ladder, then isn't it time we asked for a few extra tax dollars to get the show on the road. Is it really fair - or sensible - to leave it to the Auckland ratepayers to underwrite these national functions?

For a century and a half, Wellington, as political capital, has had its capital city functions paid for by the taxpayer. Surely, as the new economic flagship city, Auckland deserves state support to ensure its flagship functions are realised.

At the "Unleashing Auckland" conference a couple of weeks back, Mr Key said international research showed very clearly that a flagship city mattered, that it could be a source of attracting investment and interest in a country. He said a country tended to be judged on its biggest city, and that "a better Auckland is good for Aucklanders, but fundamentally it's good for New Zealand".

What national politicians don't broach is the extra costs associated with being the flagship city.

Mr Key told journalists afterwards that he saw Auckland's competitors as the regional flagship city as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. He said Auckland had to compete successfully with them to stop the bleeding of "our best and our brightest to Australia".

What went unsaid was that these three cities are Australian state capitals, their key infrastructure and flagship roles part-funded by state and federal money, as well as by the local ratepayer.

Auckland councillors were told the extra $3.17 million for three extra games would miraculously produce an extra economic benefit of between $27 million and $40 million. But that's for bar owners and hotelkeepers and taxi drivers. What's in it for the ratepayers?

They might even miss out on their road being resealed for a year, as cuts are imposed in other areas of council expenditure to honour mayor Brown's pledge to cap the rates increases at 4.9 per cent.

What last week's decision highlighted is that if you want to create a flagship super city, you can't expect it to run on 19th century fuel.

Taxpayers pay for the "necessities" that go with Wellington being the political capital, such as a national library, national museum, national symphony orchestra, and headquarters of a vast bureaucracy.

If Auckland is to be the economic saviour city, common sense says it's going to take more than a rates-based taxation system to fund it.

To show willing, Aucklanders even persuaded the Labour Government to legislate for a local fuel tax to help pay for local transport improvements. The Key Government repealed this act of self-help but has failed to produce an alternative solution.

- NZ Herald

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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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