John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Memo to Key - listen to Brown

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Meanwhile, in Australia the Gillard Government is at an end

Auckland mayor Len Brown is offering a sense of direction and Prime Minister John Key should not stop him. Photo / Dean Purcell
Auckland mayor Len Brown is offering a sense of direction and Prime Minister John Key should not stop him. Photo / Dean Purcell

If I were in the National Party here, I would be looking for a quiet moment with the Prime Minister for a discussion about Auckland. The arts of politics are so obvious to anyone in a political party that its practitioners must be amazed they are not more transparent to those outside.

The commentaries coming from Australia yesterday were utterly confused about the outcome of the governing Labor Party's leadership vote. It was variously thought to be a victory for Julia Gillard, a back-down by Kevin Rudd and an inexplicable switch of allegiance by deputy Simon Crean.

It was none of those. Even from this distance it was obvious what happened. It has been clear for some time that the Government is finished. It is going to be slaughtered in September.

Political commentators don't like to say this categorically because it might sound partisan and you never know, a miracle might occur. But it is not partisan, it is obvious to politicians on all sides and they don't wait for miracles.

In Australia on Thursday, Crean tried to stop Rudd destabilising the Government by encouraging him to challenge for the leadership again. It was the classic poisoned chalice - nobody can save them now. As obvious as that was, even to Rudd, it was just possible his legendary ego could not resist it.

Crean and the rest of the caucus who dumped him three years ago had no illusions that he could save the Government but there was a slim chance they could take him down with it.

I wish they'd succeeded; Rudd has no interest in New Zealand, Gillard does. Unfortunately, his ego was not that silly. His career can now survive the election and he will hope to lead the party back to power at the next one.

Enough of Australia, let's come home.

If I was in the National Party here I would be looking for a quiet moment with the Prime Minister for a discussion about Auckland. I'd start by saying I think he might be on the wrong side of the city's plan.

I wouldn't say this was a major problem for him; Aucklanders are not so enthused by Len Brown's vision of high-rise and railways that it is going to cost John Key votes at the next election. But it is, forgive the word, a "vision", it has that vital ability to give people a sense of direction. Nobody is offering Auckland an alternative.

It is already clear the Labour mayor is unlikely to face a serious challenger at the election this year. "Len", as even National Party folk now refer to him, retains the city's confidence in much the same way that Key still commands the national stage.

That is to say, we sense we are going somewhere with them and they will continue to be elected until we need someone new.

Key knows all that. He also knows there is no point adopting new directions, or dropping old ones, once you start to lose people's interest. It makes your desperation evident and the electorate's confidence ebbs a bit further. It's important to get on the right side of the future while you still can.

I don't know whether Len's "liveable" city with its fixed boundaries and its central city rail link is the future of Auckland. I have been expressing my doubts for years.

If you were investing in residential land at the moment you probably wouldn't put your money on many of the intended zonings in the plan published last week. Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse may have traded her place on Auckland's periphery for an apartment in New Lynn but I doubt many of the planners have put their own money on it.

She may even take the train to the city, as Len once said he does if he is not in a hurry. You have to love that.

The Auckland plan may not be the future but it is about the future and that is what matters for the present. You don't have to live in a high rise to like them on the landscape, and you don't have to work in the central city to want Auckland to have a big, dirty, greedy downtown pulsating with commerce and entertainment.

If a rail circuit is all it would take to enliven the inner city, Len's underground link would be worth the $3 billion he wants. The Government is right to doubt it, but if the mayor dares to ask Aucklanders for half that sum, he ought to be given power to do it.

Granted, $3 billion is a significant slice of the national economy, and the Government has to worry about that. But Len is going to get this money from the next government one way or another. If he wants to talk about road tolls, congestion charges, a tax on carparks, encourage him. You set up a super city. Let it do something.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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