The absence of inconvenient figures

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    This is Auckland’s anniversary weekend, a celebration of 156 years of civic life and achievements. On many levels, our city has done us proud. We sprawled across the landscape and lived the New World’s suburban dream of home ownership and middle-class trappings, complete with cranky motorways and many cars.

    However, until not so long ago, the majority of our households also had a boat of some kind for the family, which wasn’t a bad key performance indicator. We knew ourselves as the City of Sails and, if we closed down on weekends and for the summer, that was as it should be.
    Wellington might have ruled the national roost but Auckland was the undeclared capital of the Pacific – alive and vibrant, a handsome city with its expansive harbour and volcanic cones. We felt Polynesian, relaxed, cheerful, given to collective celebrations and local pride.

    That easy, largely moneyless elegance of being has taken a king hit since New Zealand ‘got’ money in the 80s, of course.  The watchword of neo-liberal dogma is ‘competition’ and money in this context is an acrid taskmaster. Ostentation was in. Debt – formerly anathema to Kiwis – was fashionable and developer ambitions and influence grew in each round of central government tinkering with Auckland’s governance.

    I’ve noticed myself being thoroughly irritated since I realised that the Prime Minister had secured the signing of the odious Trans Pacific Partnership agreement for Auckland, due to happen within the next week.

    We will turn out and hate it, demanding, in the absence of any checks and balances or even identifiable advantages, that it should not be rammed through.

    That our summer city should be a platform to remind the lobbyists and deal-makers of marauding global capitalism that we have virtually no limits on corporate international plunder seems rather sick.

    House prices to attract the world’s elites – while working citizens are ushered out the back door – will only increase our distaste for being pimped as a poster-child for capitalist fundamentalism.

    Auckland’s house prices are not an act of God and the sooner our trivialized news media abandons its air of naïve surprise that the figures are now within single digits of being the world’s worst, the better.

    This is exactly what you get when regulation is abolished and there is no political will to stop what is at worst global money laundering and at best a bonanza of tax-free hand-ups for the already favoured. As in the UK, it will result in emptying young and working people out of the city, the creation of disaffected slave classes and what would formerly have occurred for us as intolerable indignity.

    Unsurprisingly, the Green Party’s proposal this week to establish an independent unit within the Treasury to cost political party policies was shot dead in the water by the National Party.
    Elections should be a contest of ideas, not political spin, and New Zealanders deserve more transparency from politicians so they can be better engaged in the political system, said Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei.

    At present, Treasury has a role in costing political party policies but requests must be made through the Minister of Finance. The costings then go back to the Finance Minister, not the political party itself.

    “Ministerial oversight of this process does not fit with the realities of politics,” said Ms Turei in something of an understatement, given the last two election campaigns when inconvenient (or any) figures were glaringly absent. “We need a neutral, widely-used umpire to cost policies so the public can access the information they need to make informed decisions,” she said.

    The proposal has an annual cost of between $1 and $3 million depending on its place in the electoral cycle and would provide figures and non-partisan analysis for rival policies that the public could see and trust.

    “This National Government doesn’t get its numbers independently checked like we do and as a result they promise to spend more than they have, a prime example being the assets sales spending,” said Ms Turei. The concept is common overseas, and in the meantime the National Government is denying New Zealanders a chance to make decisions on proper figures, she said.

    One hopes it is an idea whose time will come, sooner rather than later.
    Liz Waters

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