Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Time for council to pull weight

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Auckland Council can't take credit for the Wynyard Quarter. Photo / Natalie Slade
Auckland Council can't take credit for the Wynyard Quarter. Photo / Natalie Slade

Savvy Aucklanders smelled a rat when they opened their letterboxes and found a pamphlet from their council headlined: "Now we're together we're really moving forward." Or, in other words, "Hold on to your wallets, have we got a rates increase for you".

That pamphlet, which essentially told ratepayers they would be getting a rates bill - something most of us had already worked out for ourselves - cost Aucklanders more than $300,000 to produce.

It was meant to soften the blow of a rates increase that would be necessary partly because of a blow-out in the pamphlets budget. Public outrage was characteristically short-lived. When it comes to civic issues, Aucklanders have the attention span of a brain-damaged kitten.

They may be more excited when they get the rates bill itself. Once the current round of capital-value assessments is complete, Aucklanders will pay rates based in part on market value. Market value means, in some areas, hysterical real-estate bubble prices.

The key phrase behind the valuations is "probable selling price". In other words, the property is only "worth" its rateable value if it is sold. It's supply and demand gone mad. There is no fairness in this. Those who just want to live in their houses will never benefit from the increased values - unless you count the dubious benefit of being able to ramp up their mortgages and fork out more interest to their banks.

I don't have any special sympathy for the residents of the inner Auckland suburbs. The latte-huggers of Ponsonby, Westmere or Grey Lynn will react with their trademark smugness and console themselves with their recently announced ultra-fast broadband. But I struggle to find the logic in a rates increase based not on increased costs or improved service but on the guesswork of "probable selling price".

And the only option that those who are forced to pay have is moving somewhere else.

Admittedly, Auckland has perked up since it became a Supercity but it's little thanks to the new administration.

Recent developments to get a big thumbs up from locals were either started long ago - like the Wynyard Quarter - or are only happening because of private investment, like the Harbour Bridge cycle path and walkway. In that case, it was widely noted that the council did not, as earlier councils would have done, strangle the plan in red tape at birth. It's a pretty feeble organisation that can congratulate itself on something it didn't do.

The no longer new greater Auckland council must start proving its value - financial and otherwise - to Aucklanders. It needs to point to achievements for which it can take the credit, rather than borrowing them.

GADDAFI OUT

The West spent the week congratulating itself on the fact that Muammar Gaddafi is no longer running things in Libya. Relief all round. Apparently we have been feeling the pain of our Arab brothers for years, though have been trying hard not to show it.

In reality, Western governments have spent the week uncrossing their fingers and thanking their lucky stars that the illegal Nato intervention in Libya has produced a result. Freedom has come to yet another Arab state.

The West champions democracy and human rights not where it needs to be championed but wherever it can afford to. It does not, for instance, champion democracy in China, where making a stand could prove expensive if it decided to make trading with it difficult. And not in Australia, which has a shocking human rights record when it comes to its indigenous people. Nor in India, where the caste system is illegal in theory and everywhere in practice. And so on.

Having done something about Middle Eastern dictatorships, perhaps the West could now do something about its own hypocrisy.

RWC - SHOW ME THE MONEY

The threatened Australian media boycott of the Rugby World Cup was sparked by restrictions on the amount of match video footage that can be used online, which in turn will limit the amount of advertising those media can tie to their coverage. Fair enough. If we're not making any money out of the Cup, why should anyone else?

IP SETTLED

In news you may have missed, the UK Intellectual Property Office has finally settled the dispute over which former members of the group own the name Bucks Fizz. For most people, the highlight of the affair has been the opportunity to use the words intellectual and Bucks Fizz in the same sentence.

- Herald on Sunday

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