Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Show 'em who's boss, council

Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Natalie Slade
Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Natalie Slade

It's taken a revolt from councillors of the left and right to make Mayor Len Brown and his advisers have second thoughts about the Maori Statutory Board's exorbitant funding demands. The task he now faces is to firmly remind these unelected "representatives" of who ends up paying the bills.

To me, the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance's original plan for three Maori seats on the Auckland Council was a lurch back to the 1800s. But it was certainly a more acceptable option than the undemocratic compromise Prime Minister John Key and Minister of Local Government Rodney Hide pushed through.

The Key-Hide solution was a Maori Statutory Board of nine, appointed by the Maori Affairs Department, with broadly ordained powers, including the right to send one or two delegates, with full voting powers, to any council committee meeting and dealing with "the management and stewardship of natural and physical resources".

In addition the board is "to assist" Auckland Council by "promoting cultural, economic, environmental and social issues of significance" to Maori and by "ensuring that the council acts in accordance with statutory provisions referring to the Treaty of Waitangi". A strange combination of advocate and auditor lumped into one.

It is also to be "independent" from Auckland Council, except when it comes to funds, which Auckland's ratepayers are expected to provide, as long as they're "reasonable".

Given the vagueness of term, what is "reasonable" is a highly debatable issue and should have been the subject of much discussion when the first invoice was dropped in councillors' laps this week. But instead of debate, the finance committee agreed to rubber stamp, under urgency, a first instalment of $2.066 million to cover the eight months from November 1, 2010, to June 30, 201,1 and to add the proposed budget for the 2011-12 financial year of $3.435 million to the draft annual plan for consultation.

Mayor Brown, under intense pressure from many councillors, has now said a mistake was made delegating the decision to the strategy and finance committee, and put the decision up for a replay at next Monday's full council meeting. There, the mayor and councillors will have the chance to do what they should have done this week - to tell the board its demands are excessive. They might add that the money the board wants for legal advice and so on would be better spent on issues dear to the board, such as protecting volcanic cones and free swimming lessons for toddlers.

Giving unelected delegates from an unelected body an equal say alongside democratically elected councillors about how my rates are spent is offensive enough. That I'm supposed to fund their expenses as well just rubs salt into the wound. It's akin to state funding of just one political party.

Of the $2 million in the current eight-month budget, $250,000 is for property "fit out". By far the largest item is "expert" advice. There's something ironic about a body set up to provide expert advice on Maori tikanga requiring $440,000 to pay other experts for guidance on "legal, communication, professional advice" and, would you know, "tikanga".

Salaries and remuneration are also a major part, with board members down for $330,000 for the part-year to June and then $494,500 for 2011-12. In addition, there's office staff salaries and expenses of $512,000 for this year and $946,500 for 2011-12.

There's also $280,000 a year for "engaging and reporting to Maori community".

You can hardly blame Maori leaders for testing the elasticity of the board's boundaries. Mr Hide's defence is that "ultimately the power the statutory board has and its budget is up to the Auckland Council and they don't have to accept any of this".

That's not altogether true. The council does have to accept two board appointees to a vaguely defined number of committees. The board also has a statutory role "to assist" the council in achieving all sorts of high- minded goals. Finally, it can seek reasonable expenses from the council. But Mr Hide is right in implying it's up to the elected politicians to set the boundaries. And not just budgetary boundaries.

One boundary would be how many advisers is enough. Does Auckland Council need "independent" advice from the board when it already has on staff 19 Maori advisers inherited from the old councils?

On Monday, councillors get a second chance to tell the advisory board, politely but firmly, who is boss.

- 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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