Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Cave-in to bullying truly alarming

Brown's siding with helicopter trust in stoush raises grim prospect of politicians doling out the dosh to community groups.

Mayor Len Brown's rapid caving-in to Putin-like bullying by the Auckland Helicopter Rescue Trust is exactly the reason the funding of Auckland's amenities should be kept at arm's length from politicians.

Instead of standing up to the pressure of a disgruntled applicant, Mr Brown surrendered, declaring, "This funding model is not working for Auckland".

That was on March 13. The week before, he was singing a different tune. On March 7, Brown proudly announced the reappointment of six existing members of the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board - the very board, a week later, he said was not working.

Welcoming the reappointments, he said they "follow careful consideration of the need to balance funding board experience with fresh talent joining the board".

He then went on to say that "retaining the skill-set and expertise of the current board was considered critical to the success of the funding board's work programme".

Yet within a week he had crumbled, calling for a review, saying "a more consistent and fair approach is needed to funding Auckland's arts organisations and emergency services providers".

Then why all the purple prose the week before? And why did Brown and his councillors decide on February 20 to allocate an extra $400,000 to the amenities board so it could defend itself against the helicopter trust's high court challenge, against last year's allocation of funds?

That judicial review began on March 4 and the decision is still pending. Yet before Justice Susan Thomas delivers her decision, Brown has decided to back the helicopter trust's criticism, even though he funded the other side.

Brown has done a deal with the helicopter trust to "review" the funding model and somehow give them the $900,000 they had been refused by due process. In return for that, the trust has withdrawn its threat of further litigation each and every year it doesn't get its way.

Imagine the egg all over Brown's face if Justice Thomas rules in favour of the amenities board.

The helicopter trust is so wealthy and successful in its fundraising that the amenities board says the rules built in to the 2008 legislation mean the trust is not eligible for as big a handout from ratepayers as in previous years. This has upset the fly-boys greatly, and gained Brown's sympathy. The question remains, what is the mayor planning to do differently?

What is truly alarming is the thought that grant money goes back into a pork barrel controlled by the politicians. That's certainly what former mayoral candidate, and possible 2016 contestant, John Banks is advocating. Contrary to Act Party philosophy, former Act leader and retiring MP Banks claims "funding decisions for regional amenities should pass back to the elected members of the Auckland Council where it belongs".

At a national level, we have an arts council to do just the opposite and keep politicians at arm's length from all that lovely cash. With the present mind-set of the Auckland Council, there's the additional risk that the $14.7 million on offer this year might, if left to the politicians, be diverted into someone's favourite tunnel or road.

Banks and Brown seem to think the independent funding board for the 10 specified cultural and rescue amenities is superfluous now that Auckland's eight former councils are now combined. Far from it.

It's true that back in 2005, Auckland City Council and assorted amenities decided to fight for an act of Parliament that would force the outlying councils to pay a fair share of support for funding Auckland's key arts and rescue amenities. There was great opposition from the bludgers in the outlying cities, on the North Shore, vehemently so. In the end, good prevailed and in August 2008, the legislation was passed, 113 votes to seven. The result was security of funding for the beneficiary organisations, and a boost in activity that has helped achieve the mayor's goal of becoming a liveable city.

But for how long? Brown's quick surrender gives the old guard a chance to refight old battles. Sure the old councils have gone, but the politicians who led them have not. Former North Shore mayor George Wood is still there. So are Manukau City Mayor Len Brown, Rodney Mayor Penny Webster, Papakura Mayor Calum Penrose and Waitakere Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse.

- 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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