Saturday, March 7, 2009

Here are the arguments AGAINST

Hats off to John Collings. He's the organiser of the petition against the Thames-Coromandel proposal which you will find in many local shops.

He was kind enough to send this excellent assessment of the arguments against the proposal.

All set? Then here we go.....


1.1 The proposal has been initiated by Nobilangelo Charison Ceramalus ("Ceramalus"), a resident of Rocky Bay. After publicly canvassing support for the proposal over several months, Ceramalus achieved the necessary number of supporters (10% of registered electors) to enable him to initiate the reorganisation process.
1.2 The reasons behind Ceramalus's initiative are clearly stated in his blog site ( He has an abiding antagonism towards the Auckland City Council (the "Council"). He refers to the Council as "Akl Qaeda" and the "Machine". He refers to the bureaucrats (presumably those within the Council) in this way:

"They are dysfunctional people, they have low self-esteem, and therefore have impaired wiring in the emotional centre of their brains, the place where all our decision-making begins. So they tend to make decisions that are not in their best interests or in the best interests of society. The strength of that tendency depends on the seriousness of the impairment involved in a decision. But the more they make decisions with it the worse an impairment becomes. The habit becomes set in psychological concrete. The mechanism is the same as the one at work in serial rapists. That is the neuroscience of it. We, unfortunately, must live in the consequent 'reality'."

1.3 Ceramalus refers to the need to stop "bureaucratic corruption from trashing Waiheke". He rails against the Council on many fronts. It is not clear what personal experience or thought process has triggered this mindset but he considers that the only way to "remove the constant problems caused by the Auckland City Council is to remove it from our lives". Ceramalus would prefer to revert to self-rule of the kind that Waiheke overwhelmingly eschewed 20 years ago when the Island elected to become part of the Council. But he acknowledges that "self-rule, unfortunately, is impossible, because we don't have the population needed to apply to the Local Government Commission. Even with Great Barrier included we fall well short of the necessary 10,000". So he is attempting a back-door approach, being a merger with Thames-Coromandel District Council ("TCDC"), upon the basis of entrenched provisions which seek to provide effective self-rule and financial ring-fencing for the Island. He rejects out of hand arguments relating to the cost benefits which the Council rates provide to the Island, the value of the infrastructure and facilities available to the Island through the Council, and the physical difficulties of transport between TCDC and the Island.

1.4 Ceramalus's thinking and proposal is rooted in the past; it ignores the progress which Waiheke has made in the last 20 years as part of the Council; it does not reflect where we are in the 21st century. Ceramalus wishes to return to the status quo of 20 years ago.

2.1 There seems to be an underlying theme in the proposal which:
• seeks to prefer permanent residents over non-permanent residents on Waiheke;
• imposes greater financial burden on owners who improve their properties to an extent greater than the average.
These are the politics of envy and seek to penalise those who have holiday homes on the Island or who build houses to a standard above the average.

2.2 There are many implications in the proposal which are unclear and which make a sensible analysis of its implications for Waiheke impossible. For instance:
• What will be the cost to ratepayers and individual classes of ratepayers as a result of adopting the new rates regime?
• What effect on ratepayers will the cost of future capital infrastructure and rubbish collection have?
• What facilities (including libraries and other community amenities) are presently being provided to Waiheke by the Council and at what cost? Is TCDC able to replicate these and at what cost?
• Given the size of TCDC's human resources and infrastructure at Thames and its physical distance from the Island, how will TCDC be able to provide the services that the Council presently provides to Waiheke?
• Upon transfer of Council assets to TCDC (eg. Matiatia land), is there to be an obligation for compensation to the Council? TCDC would not wish to bear that and the cost may fall to Island ratepayers. What if the Council or TCDC chooses to sell non-core assets, such as the land at Matiatia?
• Would there be adverse implications for other services provided to the Island by central government and other organisations eg. health providers?
• How would we replace the Council's tourism support for the Island?
• How is the physical problem of distance and transport overcome?
• How could the local community board hope to govern, given the enormous time and skills that would be required to manage this function under the proposed arrangement? The Island would return to the quality of governance which prevailed prior to the decision to join the Council 20 years ago.
• The Hauraki Gulf District Plan has been developed by the Council over many years with a great deal of time, effort and public input. What happens to this following any reorganisation?
• How is the proposal impacted by the Royal Commission of Enquiry on the best form of local and regional government for Auckland? It seems nonsense to be even considering this proposal against that background.
• How do we know what TCDC might do with our community assets once it gains control of our Island?
• Will TCDC be able to continue to provide the cash grants and other benefits which the Council presently provides to Waiheke? The Council provides significant monetary grants to bodies on Waiheke. Details of these benefits are being collated and will be provided shortly.
• How could Waikato Regional Council effectively provide benefits to Waiheke as the new regional council?
• To what extent do our present Council rates and ARC rates subsidise the costs of the ARTNL wharfs at Auckland and the Matiatia wharf terminal and would levies on these (reflected in the Fullers cost of tickets) rise as a result of the lost revenue suffered by the Council and ARC?
• How would Waikato District Council effectively deal with those aspects of Waiheke life governed by regional council mandate, such as the harbours and moorings around Waiheke?
In the absence of answers to these questions, it is simply not possible for Islanders to make a sensible judgment in favour of the proposal.

2.3 In relation to resource consent applications, the proposal reflects comments by Ceramalus in his blog site to the effect that the prescriptive rules, which all district councils adopt throughout New Zealand, should be passed over in favour of single concept, to be determined by the community board in its absolute discretion, as to whether the application is necessary and/or good for the Island. If it doesn't meet that test the proposal does not proceed. This would bring enormous uncertainty to the process. An example is provided in his blog site. He refers to the modern house erected on the ridge above Matiatia as the "Matiatia Monstrosity" which would never be permitted under his regime. The process would come down to one where the subjective views of the community board would prevail. That would be disastrous.

2.4 The proposed financial firewall would mean that the rubbish collection process will cost ratepayers significant additional expense in the future, given the present subsidy by the rest of Auckland City to this process, and Island ratepayers would bear the full burden of capital expenditure likely to be required in the future for the Island.

2.5 An analysis of the points of connection that Waiheke has with the Council and TCDC respectively provides a stark picture of the incongruity of Ceramalus's reorganisation proposal:
• Physical proximity and transport lines: Auckland is the hub of air, rail and bus transport in our region. It is the portal to our Island. Auckland City is 35 minutes by fast passenger ferry from Auckland. The passenger service is efficient. For Island residents having dealings with Council officers in the city or Council officers having business on the Island, the ferry service provides a quick means of transport between those destinations. Islanders have many dealings with Council officers in the city which require personal attendance. An example is provided in the many dealings of the Waiheke Golf Club with Council officers in relation to leasing arrangements, resource consent issues and cash grants. Our community board members and local councillor travel to Auckland City frequently for meetings. The Council offices are a short walk from the ferry terminal in downtown Auckland. In contrast, the requirement to have physical meetings with representatives of TCDC would present significant difficulties in terms of cost and time. If public transport were employed, one could expect to spend the best part of a day in a meeting at Thames or, for Council offices, on the Island. That simply doesn't make sense. There is no direct transport service between Waiheke and Thames. At best there is an intermittent ferry service provided between Orapiu (the South end of the Island, half an hour's drive from the main residential area on Waiheke) and Coromandel, and the need to rely on public transport to travel between Coromandel and Thames. That is simply not a viable option. Similar issues arise if Waikato Regional Council replaces ARC as our regional authority. Must Islanders travel to Hamilton in their dealings with the regional authority?
• Public and cultural amenities: Although Waiheke is well-served by shops, restaurants and entertainment, the main providers of these amenities for Islanders are situated in the Council district. The range of shopping opportunities, entertainment centres (including art galleries, mass entertaining stadia, theatres, restaurants and bars) are situated in downtown Auckland, within walking distance from the passenger ferry.
• Medical facilities: Although the Island does provide a good primary health coverage, many Waiheke residents are required to visit specialists in Auckland City and the Auckland District Health Board provides hospital facilities for Island residents.
• Other points of contact between Auckland City and Waiheke: Approximately 1,200 commuters travel to Auckland City on a daily basis, many of whom are employed within the Council area. A significant number of holiday residences on Waiheke are owned by Council residents. A high proportion of visitors to Waiheke are Auckland residents who populate the Island on day trips or excursions, taking advantage of Super Gold Card privileges. Many others from Auckland attend events staged on Waiheke, including music concerts, the wine festival, Headland Sculpture on the Gulf (24,000 attendees), the APO at Cable Bay Vineyard, and many others. Coromandel does not have any such close associations with Waiheke.
Although a reorganisation involving the transfer of Waiheke to TCDC may not interrupt these amenities and connections, the whole point is that Waiheke Island's overwhelming nexus is with Auckland City. It is the centre of gravity for many aspects of our life. There is no nexus whatsoever with Thames.
2.6 And, it would be fair to say that both the Council and ARC, through their investment on the Island and the region generally over a long period of time, are entitled to regard Waiheke as their 'Jewell in the Gulf' and to expect some loyalty from Island residents. It has been remarked by others that the mischief of the Ceramalus proposal is a real embarrassment to a very great majority of residents on Waiheke. It is certainly a distraction which nobody needs. It is also very damaging to Waiheke. Why should the Council continue to invest in infrastructure and public amenities on the Island against a backdrop of perceived ungratefulness and risk of rejection by Islanders? If this ill-founded proposal gets any more traction, we are likely to suffer from a damaged relationship with the Council in the future.

2.7 To a significant degree, the Council has served Waiheke well over 20 years, which have seen many changes in the region, including Waiheke. There will always be issues that arise from local government. It is not possible for local bodies to please everyone. And the nature and scale of the resource consent process has been a fertile area of complaint. But this is a national issue and is presently being addressed by amending legislation. There are no other sufficiently serious shortcomings of the Council which would suggest that a divorce from that body is justified, particularly when the characteristics, competence and capability of the alternative proposed are quite unknown. There must be an overwhelming need for change before a step like this should ever be considered. There is no such present need. It is better to be aligned to a large council in close proximity which has the financial strength and proven resources to provide for the future of the Island. It would be disastrous for Waiheke to reject a local council which we know in favour of one which we don't. If the proposal were implemented and it transpired to be a disaster, there may be no going back to the status quo before the change.
2.8 As to the statutory criteria which the Commission must apply in considering this proposal:

• Given the infrastructure and resources required to provide existing services to Waiheke by the Council, there must be significant uncertainty as to whether TCDC has the resources necessary to carry out its responsibilities if the reorganisation proposal proceeds, including cash grants and other benefits provided to Waiheke by the Council.
• The inclusion of Waiheke in the district of TCDC will not provide a district appropriate for the efficient and effective performance by TCDC of its role as specified in Section 11 of the Act.
• The proposal will not give rise to a region having sufficient distinct community of interest.
The Commission must not implement the proposal against cogent reasons for remaining part of the Council and ARC and the uncertainty surrounding many aspects of the proposal. If it does so, it burdens Waiheke with the very real risk that, if it doesn't work out, it could lead to disaster for Waiheke's governance and future financial stability. The Commission should not be persuaded to take such a step at the behest of a vocal minority engaged in a personal crusade against the Council and bent on a return to self-rule of the past.
The proposal does not make sense, having regard to the area of impact of the responsibilities, duties and powers of the Council and TCDC respectively and the area of benefit of services provided and the long-standing and substantial nexus enjoyed between the Council and Waiheke residents.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the Ceramalus proposal is spectacularly badly timed and due to the Royal Commission report will get little critical assessment. We'll be too busy dissecting the Commission report instead!
    If the new Auckland structure is a bad deal for Waiheke, we can look at Ceramalus again, and scrutinise it as thoroughly as we will the Royal Commission findings.