Editorial: CCO powers show scale of civic shut-out

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The CCOs responsible for transport, waterfront planning and economic development will determine priorities in areas that command huge public interest. Photo / Dean Purcell
The CCOs responsible for transport, waterfront planning and economic development will determine priorities in areas that command huge public interest. Photo / Dean Purcell

Throughout the week, a Herald series entitled "Super City - the public lockout" has focused on the seven council controlled organisations proposed for the Auckland region. The starting point was a belief that these represented a fundamental shift in the proposed democratic constitution of the Super City.

Seeking to refute that view and allay widespread concerns have been the Local Government Minister, Rodney Hide, and the Transport Minister, Steven Joyce. Their response was unconvincing.

At the start of the series, the Herald said the current proposal could not stand. This week's articles on the extent of the work to be undertaken by the CCOs and the powers at their disposal have served only to reinforce that verdict.

In several ways, they will bring an undemocratic element to the Super City. First, they will operate out of the public eye and be virtually unanswerable to Aucklanders.

They can meet behind closed doors, and do not have to issue agendas and minutes, apparently to lighten the administrative burden.

Such a paltry attempt at an explanation can only underpin the view that the directors of the CCOs are deliberately being cushioned from local pressure and political influence. In no way can this be healthy.

Defenders liken the CCOs to state-owned enterprises. But SOEs are purely commercial operations that need consider nothing more than bottom-line profit. The CCOs responsible for transport, waterfront planning and economic development, in particular, will make important policy decisions and determine priorities in areas that command huge public interest.

Many of these cannot be measured solely on the basis of financial outcome. Every Aucklander has an interest in this decision-making and needs to be a part of it. It is vapid to say the CCOs will be subject to the Official Information Act. That will merely enable people to learn of the decision-making after the event.

Not only the public will be neutered. There is also no guarantee that Super City mayors will be able to deliver the platforms on which they were elected. The Auckland Council will also find its hands tied.

Under the third and final Super City bill, the transport CCO can, for example, prohibit the council from exercising any transport functions unless it delegates them. The directors wielding this power will, in the first instance, be largely appointed by Mr Hide and Mr Joyce. Thereafter, the council will appoint but not directly control them.

In essence, the CCO boards will run more than 75 per cent of services in the Super City at arm's length from its elected representatives. The councillors will be restricted to writing spatial plans and statements of intents with the CCOs. Even the most worthy of these will be a pallid expression of democracy when every level of the decision-making is in the hands of unelected directors. Local-body politicians of every hue, including the leading mayoral aspirants, John Banks and Len Brown, have voiced their concern over this flight from democracy. They sense, correctly, that this is the recipe for a frustrated and disappointed citizenry.

In response, the Government has hinted at minor changes to make the CCOs more accountable to the council and ratepayers. But there has been no sign that it might, say, shelve the transport CCO or limit the waterfront agency to development issues. It seems resolved to impose this model on Auckland.

Better sense must prevail. If not, Aucklanders will, indeed, feel locked out of the major decisions on their city's future. It is hard to think of the Super City starting life under a more serious handicap.

- NZ Herald

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