Auckland councillors face a long week under siege as Mayor Wayne Brown continues to push for the sale of its Auckland Airport shares.
The mayor told councillors on Thursday to either sell the shares or the spending cuts will be reinstated, but he doesn’t appear to have the numbers to do either.
Councillor Alf Filipaina says the ultimatum runs counter to the values of Pacific people.
“This is not how we do things the Pacific way; we sit around and talanoa about all the alternatives, around the levers we have in front of us.”
He says the debacle playing out over the council-owned airport shares was a new experience.
“This is a most unusual time. I’ve been in council for 19 years, and 12 of those in the new Auckland City.”
He labelled the mayor’s ultimatum as a veiled threat: “That’s blackmail, that’s wrong, and it’s something we have to rise above.”
Filipaina said greater transparency was required around the proposed budget, calling for a more comprehensive review of all council assets; he also noted that the airport share prices had recently increased.
However, he was greatly encouraged by the growing capability of Pacific people, and young Pacific people in particular, to express their opinions strongly in the Have Your Say forums.
“I am encouraged by so many of our younger generation having their say, just encouraged. Been really awesome hearing that.”
Councillor Josephine Bartley agreed the current state of affairs was concerning.
“It would be so much better if we did things our way, the Pacific way, treating everyone with respect and having talanoa.”
She said yesterday’s press conference was a circus, witnessing some journalists clearly in shock at being declined access.
“There was a lot of security. It was hard to get into.”
The Mayor’s comments about some councillors being financially illiterate weren’t helpful.
In one of the closed workshops, Bartley had commented that Pacific families sometimes looked at borrowing to cover bills for the week if they were struggling.
“I didn’t think any of us were financial experts. That’s what the financial advisers are there for. We’re trying to do our best, use our experiences and background, the community aspirations of us, to do the job.”
Bartley says the level of tension was obvious, with councillors being targeted on social media platforms and emails sent attacking them.
“His office had forwarded to those of us not agreeing with the mayor. It was all about pressuring the way we vote. We try to do things with some kind of fa'aaloalo [respect] to show our elders respect.
“That is missing from this environment. It’s lost in what we’re supposed to be there for. We don’t attack each other. We don’t do that.”
Councillor Lotu Fuli emphasised they were considering all the advice and information regarding the budget.
“We are still considering all the advice and keeping an open mind until the budget decision meeting. What we want to do is look at all the levers. There’s more to it than just money.”
Auckland Council Group Chief Financial Officer, Peter Gudsell, said staff advice supporting the Mayor’s proposed budget for the 2023/2024 financial year has consistently supported a review of the council’s shareholding in Auckland International Airport Limited to help address the council’s financial position.
“We continue to note that a range of options are needed to close the budget gap, with a sale or partial sale of the shares as one option, along with rates increases, debt increases and operating spending reductions. This was noted in the public consultation, where submitters were asked to substitute another option if they did not agree with a sale or partial sale of the shares.”
By Kim Meredith for Local Democracy Reporting.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.