'He's not worried about the pledge I made' - Auckland councillors hit back at mayor

7:59 pm on 1 June 2023
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown about to address the media about the Auckland flooding on 30 January 2023.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has lashed out at the council over budget negotiations. Photo: RNZ / Finn Blackwell

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has named and attempted to shame councillors who oppose the sale of the council's airport shares, but some are returning fire, saying the mayor does not have the votes to pass his plan.

In an event this morning, Brown laid out his plan to plug the city's $325 million budget hole by slashing council spending while keeping residential rates in line with inflation.

In between attacking the media, council organisations and his own councillors, Brown offered to bring back some services facing the chop - as long as his vision to sell the Auckland Airport shares got approved.

The mayor's biggest push was telling councillors to back his vision to sell the airport shares.

He singled out councillors who had previously signed a pledge not to raise rates by more than inflation, yet would not support selling the airport shares.

"If you're signing that, I don't know how you're going to put you're hand up and vote against selling the shares.

"I'm expecting you to honour your pledge."

One of the councillors targeted by Brown was Wayne Walker, who said the mayor was applying considerable pressure to councillors.

"I still don't believe that the councillors have had all the options put on the table, and obviously we need to go through them in a step-wise fashion," Walker said.

Other councillors called out by the mayor included Mike Lee and John Watson.

"He's not worried about the pledge I made not to sell publicly owned assets, particularly those that earn income and provide an alternative funding stream to rates," Lee told Checkpoint tonight.

"He's not holding me to that pledge, which I certainly made very explicit."

Lee said he could not support the mayor's proposal.

"I don't think he's got the numbers ... It's a majority of the 21 people around the council, and I don't think he has a majority.

"So he has to think about a Plan B that's acceptable to the elected members, but also more importantly, acceptable to the people of Auckland and he needs to focus on that rather than calling out people."

Lee said Brown kept his plan to privatise all the Auckland Airport shares secret until after the election.

He was not inclined to support a partial sale of the shares, unless it was the only way to save "some sort of catastrophic outcome".

"I will look at it, but I see that as opening the door to the enormous pressure that has been put upon councillors by council management and outside consultants who were almost frantic to get the council to start selling airport shares.

"I'll tell you this now, there are people out there who are desperate to get their hands on ratepayers' property, and if there's one pledge that I will honour, over all others, I will not sell out the heritage of future Aucklanders or the people today."

Eden/Albert-Puketāpapa ward councillor Christine Fletcher said she expected the mayor would have a tough time convincing his colleagues to support his budget proposal.

Fletcher told Morning Report she did not support his plan to sell all of the council's Auckland Airport shares.

She would only support selling a very small portion of the shares - not all of them.

"The reality is those shares were given to Auckland - you know, they have been the opportunity for us, in bad times, to know that we can fall back on."

Lee said the council needed to co-operate.

"The people of Auckland put us all into office, and we have to work together, and there's no point in sort of calling people out - it's silly, really."

Lee said Brown needed to look closer at the advice he was getting to sell the shares.

The battle Brown now faced was whether or not he could get the numbers around the council table to back his revised budget.

At Thursday morning's event, members of the media were told they could not attend.

Newshub, TVNZ and Stuff were blocked from entering the announcement.

"Some of the media have been pretty nasty, but we did invite some of the media who are sensible," Brown said.

The journalists were eventually let in after the mayor's chief of staff Max Hardy eventually gave them access to the room - mid-speech.

Brown concluded this morning's event with a parting shot at Auckland Transport and what he called the "culture of extravagance" represented by its downtown offices.

"I expect that we'll be out of here with in the next two or three years, and into the more utilitarian building in which the council is.

"Personally, I'd have them in Nissen huts in Huntly, but that's a bit harsh.

"We could house the entire AT workforce in council-owned buildings, and I expect that they'll be there before I finish.

"If you're the last to leave, turn the lights off, thanks for coming."

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