With Auckland's local politicians meekly surrendering their powers of governance to the bureaucrats, the port company and anyone else who goes boo loudly enough, it was refreshing to see Greater Wellington regional councillors are made of sterner stuff.

No sooner had the Local Government Commission scrapped plans for a Wellington super city because of the lack of public support than a majority of regional councillors demanded the resignation of chairwoman Fran Wilde, a leader of the amalgamation campaign.

Ms Wilde stepped down. In office at the pleasure of her fellow councillors, she had no choice. Deputy chairwoman Prue Lamason put it bluntly: "We rolled Fran."

How different it is in Auckland where our politicians, trapped with a presidential mayor answerable to no one but a lethargic public, seem to have all but given up.


Tomorrow, for example, even though only seven of 20 councillors support the mayor's proposed 10-year budget, it is likely to be adopted, because possibly five opponents will look the other way and abstain.

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett calls this abstaining "a total nonsense" and "a breach of trust with ratepayers", and I agree.

In a democracy, if the executive can't get a majority to support its plans, the accepted course is for the rulers to go away and prepare a budget the majority will support. Apparently, the abstainers have been swayed by a private briefing by "senior officials" who warned of the dire consequences of not passing the budget - inability to set or collect rates, refinance loans and the like.

Could they be from the same stable of senior officials that misdirected the mayor and councillors so badly over the Bledisloe Wharf extension?

Justice Geoffrey Venning, in overturning the non-notified consents for the extension as "flawed", has exposed Mayor Len Brown, the port company and the "senior officials" as all wanting. Yet no one has been held accountable. The mayor has meekly accepted the ruling, while port chairman Graeme Hawkins has come out fighting. Not a head has rolled, or an apology been offered.

The judgment highlights how the culture at Ports of Auckland, a fully owned council enterprise, has changed little from the bad old days when as an independent fiefdom, the old Auckland Harbour Board ruled the harbour edge like a little Vatican.

Despite its now being a member of the Auckland Council family, nothing seems to have changed. Ports of Auckland carefully kept its plans to extend the wharf secret from the politicians and public. Justice Venning underlined this when he says the port company has itself to blame for any extra costs resulting from his ruling.

Similarly, within the council bureaucracy there was no effort to alert either the politicians or public to Ports of Auckland's plans. Just the reverse, it would appear. Justice Venning highlights an email between two planners in which the author says she's talked through the application with the independent commissioner "as she was having a bit of concern about notification! She is feeling much more comfortable now - phew!"


The first the mayor and councillors knew their officials had secretly granted consents for the wharf extensions was the Herald story on February 12. Mr Brown then defended the secret consents, claiming the "Auckland Council could not legally decline or publicly notify them".

Justice Venning has ruled this was all bunkum. The reverse was true. Existing rules required that the wharf extensions had to be notified.

Mr Brown, a lawyer, presumably relied on bureaucrats for this advice, even though they had earlier kept him in the dark until the Herald story broke. He was misled.

The upshot is not only is the mayor's credibility damaged but ratepayers face a legal bill of about $500,000. And at the end of the day, we have an unrepentant, ratepayer-owned port company doubtless readying itself to try again.

That's unless our politicians start earning their keep and become the governors we elected them to be.

For years they've been claiming their advisers have said they can't interfere in port company affairs. It's time to seek better advice. Look where following the official line has landed them in recent weeks.