In an all-out media assault, Justin Lester launched his campaign for the Mayoralty over the weekend. Sycophants fell over themselves retweeting Labour politician’s gushing words while the right went into a minor meltdown. But right now, it’s all about Justin because there is no other candidate willing to stand.
I’m going to look quickly at the Mayor’s record, in plain English, then the policies that he is pushing, and finally the other candidates that have thrown themselves at his robe in an orgy of idol worship.
The Mayor’s Record
The press releases have been flying, and one has caught my eye because it has all the hallmarks of the kind of clever political PR spin that we have come to expect in Wellington. It’s a good example of what we are likely to see as the election moves forward. We are going to dissect this in quite some detail, so feel free to move on to other sections that interest you.
Press Release – Justin Lester
Mayoral candidate Justin Lester yesterday launched his campaign and introduced his Labour team for the October local government elections. The campaign will focus on addressing homelessness, creating a people-focused CBD and a Welcome Home package for refugees.
In front of a large crowd at Wellington’s Wharewaka, Lester outlined his Council’s achievements so far.
“When I was elected Mayor three years ago, the Councillor relationships were considered toxic and many people felt the city lacked a clear plan,” he said. “Over the last two years Wellington has been recognised as the World’s Most Liveable City and this council has delivered our entire triennium programme”
I’m not sure that I am entirely convinced by the confidence in this statement. Certainly, the word on the street is that toxicity is allegedly still an issue, I am not sure by which standard we are the most “Liveable” city (particularly given housing issues), and I can’t comment on the entire triennium programme, because, I don’t think we’ve seen it.
“Issues are no longer put in the too hard basket and the Council is making necessary decisions to drive Wellington’s future.
“We’ve had unanimous votes on the vast majority of major decisions including the Convention Centre construction, a vast array of housing projects, Omāroro Reservoir and the strengthening of both the Town Hall and St James.
Vanity projects certainly have continued to have support despite a lot of opposition. There is a feeling in the city though that priority is out. Resilience, infrastructure, housing, and transport are at the top of everyone’s list, along with climate variables, but these are often not well enough funded and attended to. Those areas have either seen an insignificant actionable change (some activity) or have got worse.
The too hard basket has got heavier, the lack of response on Shelly Bay is the latest example of a number of hard issues not being spoken about.
“Our Central Library needs to be repaired and our transport system requires modernisation, and that’s what we’re working towards. We’ll have decisions on both soon.”
Promises promises… Just like three years ago.
Lester said he was determined that over the next three years, homelessness would become an exception on Wellington streets.
“Three years ago, one of my campaign platforms was dealing with the homeless situation and I’ve focused much attention on that area, to the point where major housing developments in Wellington now include a significant number dedicated to supported living. This emphasis on our most vulnerable citizens is a step change.
“Our aim is to deliver enough supported living units to get our homeless population off the streets and into a home.”
How is that going to happen? Dear readers, as we approach the election, I want you to have one word in your mind at all times; “how.” Because it is easy for a candidate to make promises, but it is difficult to say how that will work.
He said he wanted to help transform Wellington into a people-focused CBD.
“We aim to transform the way people travel around our city and particularly in the Eastern and Southern suburbs, we’ll upgrade our laneways, remove private vehicles from the Golden Mile, have more parking for electric vehicles, motorbikes, scooters and bikes and prioritise people when designing our city’s spaces”.
“We aim…” How? Effectively this is the continued anti-car policy this Council has pushed. Let’s not call it anything else. It’s about getting cars out of the city, which will naturally increase congestion around the city.
Lester said that in the wake of the March terror attacks there would be an emphasis on building inclusive, diverse and strong communities.
“We will introduce Welcome Home, a comprehensive package of initiatives designed to integrate refugees and their families when they settle into Wellington. It will include free entry to Council-provided services, including swimming pools, swimming lessons, visitor attractions, library services and recreation facilities. The Welcome Home package will dovetail with our Leisure Card programme, which will provide affordable access to Council services for those on low incomes.”
I’m struggling with this one. This feels pure Labour policy, and we’ll have a look at this later. Frankly, there are a lot of struggling families in this city who could do with this policy now as well as refugees and migrants. Otherwise, those families on a lower income are going to leave; they’ll have no choice. We have seen a lot of less well off families move from places like Strathmore Park, and they started as refugees and migrants. This is a feel-good policy that demands some deeper analysis.
He said that over the past three years he had worked hard to make necessary decisions and get things done. “I’m seeking a second term so I can implement what we’ve started and ensure Wellington is positioned strongly for the future.”
Now to those pledges, promises, and previous pork barrelling. For this, we took the table in the press release and we added a third column on analysis. We also added back in a few policies that appear to have been left off the list.
|Build a Wellington convention centre||Plans finalised and project underway. Construction to start in the third quarter of 2019.||Hasn’t actually been built. Has been the subject of much problems including the loss of the film museum and continued escalating cost projections.|
|Create a one-stop shop for building consents||Online portal completed and rolled out to more than 25 Councils. Case management system being trialled and rolled out.||Building consents are up, so let’s give them this one on the assumption the “portal” had something to do with it.|
|Remove outdoor dining fees||Done||Achieved.|
|Work toward becoming the world’s first Predator Free City||5000 households on board, Predator Free Wellington established, Capital Kiwi underway and first initiative to remove all predators from Miramar Peninsula underway.||Achieved.|
|Transform Wellington transport by investing in new infrastructure to improve congestion at the Basin Reserve and deliver mass transit for Eastern and Southern suburbs||Let’s Get Wellington Moving plans will be released to the public before the end of May.||Not actually a pledge from 2016. See actual pledges at the bottom. Note, transport considerably worse across both public and private. Congestion increased significantly. LGWM plans will offer no hope this triennium coming.|
|Work with GWRC to introduce student concessions fares and off-peak discount fares.||Done||Achieved.|
|Work with GWRC to retain fares at current prices.||Retained for two years.||Achieved.|
|Accelerate electric vehicle infrastructure to assist growth in EVs||CBD and suburban networks completed and continuing.||Minor fiddling around the edges if that. Could be considered more PR than practical. A handful of carparks converted.|
|Commitment to maintaining and increasing over time investment in libraries, pools and parks.||Done||I’m not sure how you can achieve a “commitment.” Note, costs increasing significantly for users.|
|Free entry for under 5s and guardians at swimming pools||Done||Achieved.|
|Retain Jack Ilott Green as public space||Done||Disingenuous. Originally Council intended on getting rid of this, then after significant public backlash, backed down.|
|Put Culture and Creativity at the heart of city||Aho-tini strategy completed and significant increase by $1m+ per annum for arts.||Signed off as of this week just gone?|
|Help grow Wellington-based events like WoW, CubaDupa, Homegrown, Beervana and Wellington on a Plate.||Done||Sponsored them.|
|Create a community-based Matariki Festival||Done||Achieved. Then again, we always had one.|
|Ensure all WCC staff on Living Wage||Done||Achieved. But spare a thought for those in CCO’s such as WREDA who have not seen a dime.|
|Work toward all WCC contractors on Living Wage||Done||“Work towards” is not an achievement.|
|WCC to become an accredited Living Wage Employer||Done||Achieved.|
|Provide a $5000 rates rebate for first time home owners in a newly constructed dwelling||Done||Achieved. Good PR policy stunt from last election. Negligible difference to housing overall, as evidenced.|
|Invest in and grow Wellington social housing||WCC Te Kopahou and Te Mara initiatives completed. Partnerships for new social and affordable housing with Housing NZ and private partnerships for apartment conversions. Program for 750 new dwellings underway.||Achieved. Something that Council has always done well.|
|Work towards New Zealand’s first wet house||Terminology refined to ‘supported living units’. Three separate projects underway to create 95 supported living units in Wellington.||Not achieved.|
|Create Build Wellington within WCC to be focused on affordable and social housing delivery.||Done and will work alongside Government’s proposed new Urban Development Authority to progress Wellington projects.||Achieved.|
|Support an extension of Wellington Airport||Project went to the Supreme Court. Now being considered by the Civil Aviation Authority and resource consent to be re-submitted.||Utterly failed project that the airport and WCC refuse to just let lie. Never going to happen and completely at odds with other proposed policy such as climate change initiatives.|
Now for the ones that appear to have been left off the list, these were promised in 2016, source is here.
|Kickstart Wellington’s economy||I’ll invest in the film museum, the airport extension and the convention centre to kickstart our region’s economic growth.||The film museum failed, the airport extension might as well have failed, and the convention centre hasn’t begun. The economy, according to some commentators, is not doing that well at all and possibly has the slowest GDP growth in the entire country.|
|Get Wellington Moving||I’ll get a second tunnel built at The Terrace and Mt Vic, freeze fares on public transport and introduce concession fares for students.||No second tunnel and no real progress on LGWM, but certainly achievements on the latter.|
|Green Our City||Lower carbon emissions on public transport, accelerate electric vehicle infrastructure and reduce waste emissions at landfills.||Arguably, not within the Council’s remit, the bus changes have increased carbon emissions significantly. Some small gains around electric infrastructure for vehicles.|
The Mayor’s Policies
Interestingly, the ten “policies” listed on the website are not the three that have been picked up by media in the last few days. It reads more like a list of achievements over the last triennium than a list of policies.
The three policies that are gaining media attention are getting cars out of the central city main routes (even though buses are mooted to stay), a package for refugees, and eliminating homelessness.
I think the removal of cars is a winning policy, on balance. We are going to see a lash back from the likes of The Wellington Party that has been described as “pro-car.” That’s inevitable, but I suspect for a lot of Wellingtonians, they expect that the central city is more pedestrian friendly, similar to other larger international cities.
The problem with getting rid of cars from the CBD is that you need public transport to work better and right now it’s a complete shambles. Once people move back to cars, it is difficult to get them to move back to buses. I should know, I’m one of those people. The mental block to get over to return to public transport is high, particularly when media continues to point out the deficiencies.
It will be a polarising policy, and should it go ahead next triennium likely to increase the congestion around the CBD. The routes mooted for closure to the private car are heavily used in peak and over the weekends.
It surprises me that the homeless issue has not been solved already. In some respects, this feels like a quick win, but I do not understand the logistics behind it. What we do know is that it is an increasing issue and difficult to define. For example, are workers in the CBD that drive in from other regions, then sleep in camper vans or cars on city streets, designated homeless? Are we talking about the mentally ill? Are we talking about begging?
It’s important to define because some are far more vulnerable than others. What we do know is that generally, housing by the Council is good, despite the calls from the right for them to “get out of that business” (as if it were a business), that has been ongoing over the years. This is something that is very achievable.
The final policy, essentially a package for refugees that gains them free access to various Council facilities, seems a little more feel-good than substantive. With most policy, you are trying to solve a problem, and I am failing (enlighten me) as to the problem that is being solved here.
The problem in my mind is that generally, Council facilities are quite expensive and the costs to the resident either through direct contact (such as going to Freyberg pool or a Council gym) are increasing as well as rates increase. Frankly, some services are far more expensive than any market owned operations.
That cost puts the use of those facilities outside a lot of families and individuals, not just refugees, but other migrants, students, the elderly, and families. In other words, anyone who is forced to directly or indirectly pay increasingly expensive rates in a highly congested city where wages are not increasing while costs are. Anyone who has travelled to other smaller centres in New Zealand, or larger centres in the international region, will know that Wellington is a very, very expensive town to live in by comparison.
Do we want people to feel welcome? Absolutely. It’s a principle of this city in which statistically, well over half the population was not born in New Zealand, and many more were not born in the city itself.
The other candidates; Labour’s Political Hack Pack
It may be somewhat unfair to label the other five Labour back candidates for the Council Elections as “hacks.” However, this is a political term, and the definition is starting to feel like it fits. Time will tell, but right now, on balance, it feels that way.
Political hack is certainly a pejorative term that describes a person who is part of the party political machine but is more interested in victory than following personal conviction. When you have a group of political hacks operating together, it is known as a “hack pack.”
Therein ends the lesson.
The five that have been promoted by Labour, one in each ward, so far have no substantive policy of their own. They either echo Justin’s policies or offer a short biography of themselves. To be honest, except for one candidate, I don’t see the depth of experience required to be a Councillor.
Frankly, they’ve already got a bit of a problem when it comes to campaigning. Lacking any voice or policy they appear to simply be the Labour Party puppets looking for a tick because of the Big Red Machine. Coasting in on the back of a brand is going to rankle some people in a town that is fiercely independent.
So far, most of them have shown zero understanding of the wards they are campaigning in. They are almost entirely focussed on the CBD, aside from one, and the residents in the wards would do well to ask what those candidates see as their local issues, what they are going to do in their suburbs, and how they plan to achieve that.
Further, the fact that their political pages are all hanging off Justin Lester’s campaign page makes them seem subservient to the Mayor. None of them that I am aware of have their own pages. Sorry, social media doesn’t count.
But this time around the city doesn’t seem to give a flying one that there are almost no new candidates and only one Mayoral candidate. I suspect that the growing trust issue between residents and the Council has turned people off. I also suspect that this year will be the worst turnout voting turnout in the history of Wellington.
We may have convinced ourselves that the Council is largely irrelevant and effectively impotent when it comes to the issues that most matter.
Here are five good candidates that could have stood under an independent banner, each one of them, and instead they have probably chosen the hope of victory over their personal convictions.
So far, disappointing, but as I said, time will tell.