CONFUSION OVER AUCKLAND'S FUTURE
By Richard Harman (author)
Auckland’s mayoral race is becoming more confused by the day.
Speculation has been mounting that National MP Maurice Williamson might announce his candidacy.
But so far he has not and if he did POLITIK understands he would do so as an independent without the endorsement of the National Party or the new centre right group that is forming in Auckland to try and take control of the Council.
Meanwhile the current Mayor, Len Brown, is apparently undecided on whether to run.
This is despite his campaign team standing by to help Labour MP Phil Goff if he decides to run.
It seems they believe Mr Brown should recognise that his time is up and retire gracefully.
It would seem that the Mayor’s political support group, City Vision, are reluctant to support him again.
However POLITIK understands that Mr Goff’s family are yet to be convinced that he should stand.
Meanwhile the new centre right group, which has yet to get a name, is working on policy and getting finance before it unveils itself.
Only then will it start looking for a Mayoral candidate.
The new centre right group also faces some opposition from within the National Party.
One of those thought to be opposed is Desley Simpson, wife of National Party president Peter Goodfellow but also the chairperson of the Hobson Community Board.
That board is a stronghold of the old Citizens and Ratepayers’ Association which was the centre right vehicle in Auckland City prior to amalgamation.
But the new group – which involves two current Ministers, Paul Goldsmith and Nicky Kaye --- clearly sees itself as a replacement for Citizens and Ratepayers.
So far the National caucus has refused to endorse the new group and there may be some resistance from the National Party board to the group using National Party resources.
However things are beginning to move and Bill Ralston, who though he says he is standing as an independent, is closely linked with the new group has been upping his media appearances announcing his candidacy for the Waitemata Board.
It is likely that the new group will have some basic centre right baselines such as committing to a limit on rate increases and a more flexible approach to Council assets.
Privatisation of assets like the airport will be on the agenda.
They may also support moves from within the property development industry in Auckland to do public-private partnerships on the stations for the new underground central rail loop.
It would also not be surprising to see them undertake a thorough review of the Council’s balance sheet.
This was hinted at by Finance Minister Bill English last month in an interview with POLITIK when he said “the Council should have a discussion about what they can do with their balance sheet “because they might have more or less debt than they thought because they’ve never really looked at it that hard.”
If, as is suspected, the Council has room to borrow more that would reduce pressure on rates.
As far as central Government is concerned, the stakes in Auckland are huge.