In 2016, then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron oversaw a referendum which resulted in the decision to exit the European Union – Brexit.
The referendum was, in itself, unnecessary. The result will be traumatic for the UK for many decades to come because, alongside the fragmentation and deep divisions within British society surrounding the decision, the UK economy must also deal with the twin calamities of Brexit and Covid-19. Whichever way you look at it, Cameron led the UK to economic disaster.
So, how does this relate to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff in 2020?
The so-called Auckland Council Emergency Budget, a product of the Mayor's Office, is the principal means by which the mayor demonstrates his policy goals and objectives. It is also one of the key ways he demonstrates leadership of the council.
Until very recently Goff consistently advocated for a proposed rates increase of 3.5 per cent per annum, which he outlined in his proposed 10-year budget document, published in November 2017.
This has seen huge gains for Aucklanders in terms of services and capital investment. But we now have a situation where Aucklanders are being asked to express a preference in terms of the 2020-21 budget: a rates freeze or increases of 2.5 or 3.5 per cent.
There are two issues here. Firstly, like Cameron, Goff is essentially abdicating responsibility. He is failing to show consistent political leadership. He, too, is in danger of becoming the tool of narrow-minded, largely unrepresentative sectional interests such as the Taxpayers' Union and its acolytes.
Fellow travellers to the Taxpayers' Union in the UK essentially distorted the Brexit debate in their favour with smoke and mirrors. We are in danger of something similar in Auckland.
Auckland Councillor Desley Simpson is leading arguments in the media about the dire straits of Auckland Council's finances – and the need to cut $550m from the budget in 2020-21.
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The way the debate is being presented is sensationalist and based on flawed assumptions. The most obvious of these assumptions, made in March, is that we would be at Alert Level 2, or higher, until October – with the accompanying lower levels of economic activity.
At no point has this gross error been redressed. If you were to conduct a detailed examination of the 112 pages of material in the Emergency Budget Supporting Information, you'd also find a puzzling budgeted cash surplus of $910m.
What I'm left wondering is, if the picture is so rosy, why the sudden urgency to cut budgets by $550m?
In stark contrast, we have Finance Minister Grant Robertson delivering an unprecedented budget with the dual objective of recovery and rebuilding our country.
Compare this to a proposed Auckland Council budget that will dramatically cut capital expenditure on essential infrastructure projects in Auckland and severely undermine the many essential services Auckland Council provides.
As with all public service budget cuts, the impact of these will be felt disproportionately by the poorest sections of our communities – those without a voice or input into the consultation process.
The Emergency Budget 2020-21 could destroy a decade of advances made by Auckland Council on much-needed infrastructure development and developing innovative services for our diverse communities.
After such a long and distinguished life of public service, does Goff really want to be remembered as the mayor who was responsible for the undoing of 10 years of achievement?
He is at risk of becoming New Zealand's very own David Cameron – written off as the politician who abdicated his responsibility and led to discord, destruction and hardship.
• Dr Andy Asquith is a local government and public management academic at the Massey Business School.
Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams responds: Andy Asquith has taken a swipe at your humble New Zealand Taxpayers' Union and goes on to link the Taxpayers' Union to the UK Brexit movement. The column is appalled that Auckland Council is offering ratepayers a choice of between a rate hike of 3.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent and compares this choice to the one offered to UK voters in the Brexit referendum. If only our choice were so stark. The two narrow rates "options" presented to Auckland ratepayers do not scratch the surface of what the council could actually do. The official consultation form didn't even offer a rates freeze, as Dr Asquith claims. Let's give the Brexit comparison more thought: if Britain was able to ditch a major diplomatic union during times of relative prosperity, surely Auckland Council can temporarily ease off on rates during a literal recession? A Brexit-equivalent option at Auckland Council might be to actually decrease rates. This would probably involve deferring the City Rail Link, abolishing ATEED and Panuku Development, and selling off the airport and port. These moves might be bold, but would reflect the scale of the Covid-19 crisis. Dr Asquith is clearly incensed at the Taxpayers' Union's support for a rates freeze, calling us "largely unrepresentative", and "sectional". Putting aside the fact we have 60,000 subscribers and supporters – making us one of the largest unions in the country – it's a point worth considering. How mainstream is the view that Auckland rates are too high? We suspect, had Auckland Council actually asked whether Aucklanders supported a rates freeze, the answer would have been a resounding "yes". In Christchurch, just 2 per cent of residents we surveyed supported Christchurch City Council's proposal to put up rates. Two thirds wanted a zero per cent rates freeze, the rest a cut.