3 May 2016

What's going wrong for Auckland's Right?

3:30 pm on 3 May 2016

ANALYSIS: The National Party-backed local body ticket in Auckland may end up competing against strong centre-right candidates, with one refusing to sign a policy pledge, and others undecided.


Auckland Photo: 123RF

The new Auckland Future group could also face a head-to-head clash against former mayor and once National Party cabinet minister Chris Fletcher.

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Nikki Kaye Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Auckland Future was promoted by National Party figures such as Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye to create a more unified centre-right group that could take control of the council.

The group will today settle its second candidate for the two-seat North Shore ward, a move that would set it up against former North Shore mayor and two-term councillor George Wood.

Mr Wood was elected in 2010, standing for the traditional National Party-aligned Citizens and Ratepayers (C&R) ticket, but has declined to sign a pledge committing to Auckland Future's fiscal policy.

George Wood

George Wood Photo: FACEBOOK

In the Citizens and Ratepayers bastion of Albert-Eden-Roskill, its members have begun a three-week period to nominate candidates for the two-seat ward.

Auckland Future ruffled C&R feathers in March by announcing its own candidate for the ward, lawyer Rob Harris.

If C&R members nominate two or more potential candidates, the ticket will run two against Mr Harris and others such as the sitting left-wing councillor Cathy Casey.

So far Auckland Future has signed up one existing councillor to its brand, Denise Krum, and has named six other candidates with more to come.

Auckland Future's Denise Krum, left, and mayoral candidate Vic Crone launching the join Fiscal Responsibility Pledge.

Auckland Future's Denise Krum, left, and mayoral candidate Vic Crone last week. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

'You need to know what and who you're voting for'

Auckland Future wants to formalise a group of centre-right councillors, rather than the coalition of independents who often don't vote as a bloc on big issues.

Former National Party president Sue Wood is co-ordinating the campaign, and said it was a new approach for voters.

"It's saying the status quo is not acceptable you need certainty, you need to know what and who you're voting for and what they stand for. That's not the case now and they need clear fiscal direction," she said.

Auckland Future released its fiscal policy last week, and hopes to use it over the next week to secure signed commitments from existing centre-right councillors.

The policy caps residential rate rises at an average of two percent, a $500 million cut to council budgets over the next seven years, a cap on council staff numbers, and paying down council debt.

The centre-right councillors to be canvassed include some of the council's longest-serving.

Dick Quax.

Dick Quax. Photo: SUPPLIED

Dick Quax, who was elected unopposed in the Howick-Pakuranga ward in 2013, said he would vote 99 percent of the time with the centre-right, but won't be signing the pledge.

"If circumstances were to change drastically, either for the better or the worse for the council, those numbers might have to be revised anyway," he told RNZ News.

"I'm standing as an Independent and I don't think I need to sign a pledge to show that I'm a fiscal conservative."

Councillor Wood expressed a similar view saying that while he won't sign the pledge, his stance on fiscal matters was well-known.

"I am well and truly on record many times in the recent past as expressing my concern at Auckland Council's levels of debt and wastage."

Some councillors have expressed reservations to RNZ News about committing to firm numbers, without knowing whether its do-able.

Three centre-right councillors - Linda Cooper, Bill Cashmore, and Calum Penrose - wrote letters to the editor this week outlining why they supported the council's long term budget and the introduction of the $114 annual household transport levy.

They argued the city's growth, and the need to move swiftly on infrastructure critical for transport, water and stormwater, demanded pragmatic and not ideological decision-making.

Auckland Future's goal of gaining a centre-right majority committed to fiscal prudence, hinges more on success in wards like two-seat Albany, Waitakere, Whau, or in the south.

Centre-right tension in Auckland mayoral race

There's also centre-right tension in the mayoral race, where two of the three leading candidates have connections to National Party.

Vic Crone was encouraged into the race by a former party president Michelle Boag, among others, and joined with Auckland Future to launch the "Fiscal Responsibility Pledge".

Mark Thomas was a past national Party candidate for Wellington Central, and a two-term member of the council's Orakei Local Board. Both have business backgrounds.

Auckland mayoral candidates, from left: Vic Crone, Mark Thomas and Phil Goff with ACT leader David Seymour, right.

Auckland mayoral candidates, from left: Vic Crone, Mark Thomas and Phil Goff with ACT leader David Seymour, right. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Ms Crone has publicly called the mayoral contest a "two-horse race" between her and veteran Labour MP Phil Goff. Her team denies claims they have tried to have Mr Thomas excluded from multi-candidate forums.

ACT MP David Seymour wouldn't comment on a claim that the Crone camp had asked to be the only centre-right candidate at an event staged last week.

A statement from a spokesperson said only : "We invited the three candidates on the basis that the event would be a three-way discussion. They accepted on this basis."

Mr Thomas told RNZ News he'd heard the organisers of an upcoming mayoral forum had appeared to be under pressure to provide him with an invitation.

The South Harbour Business Association would not comment, and a spokesperson for Ms Crone said they had only expressed a preference that it include only Vic Crone and Mr Goff.

Mr Thomas said it was up to Auckland voters in October to make that choice.

"I'm in this race to present the best ideas for Auckland and to be their next mayor and that's the way I approach this, I talk to a lot of people on the right and on the left and centre before I got into this race, and it's on that basis that I'm moving forward."

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